Part 1

Name: Ibrahim Maalouf
Nationality: French-Lebanese
Occupation: Trumpeter/composer
Current Release: Capacity to Love on Mister Ibé
Recommendations: In The Name Of Identity, written by my uncle Amin Maalouf. Interstellar by Christopher Nolan and the soundtrack by Hans Zimmer. It’s the most extraordinary music ever composed for a movie.

If you enjoyed this interview with Ibrahim Maalouf visit his website to keep up with shows and new releases.

When did you start writing/producing/playing music and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?

I was always into music, even as a very small child (maybe even a baby). Both my parents are musicians and they always encouraged me to express everything I had to say, feelings or any kind of emotions through music. So right from being a baby/little boy I’ve always been playing music, creating, composing, playing on the piano with my mother, playing synthesizers and inventing my own music. This helped me a lot to live in a society that was very different from my education. I was born in Beirut and raised in a Lebanese family where we used to talk in Lebanese/Arabic - when I went to school in France - and in French - it was very difficult for me to understand what people were saying and be integrated into the French society. So, I think music was a bit of a refuge for me.

Some people experience intense emotion when listening to music, others see colours or shapes. What is your own listening experience like and how does it influence your approach to music?

I’ve always felt that music was the best way to connect people. Even today, when I’m working on music, at a concert or in the studio with people, what I really love the most is when I’m sharing music with some friends in the studio, sharing the concert with people in the audience. Every time it’s about sharing, it moves me. This is the way I see things - I see music as a wonderful emotional connection between all of us.

How would you describe your development as an artist in terms of interests and challenges, searching for a personal voice, as well as breakthroughs?

When I was young, studying music and doing all those international trumpet/classical competitions, it was about being a good trumpeter. It was about not disappointing people when I’m playing and being on top of the quality that my father taught me. And then, at some point, I understood it wasn’t about music, it was about being a trumpet player or a composer, but it wasn’t about music itself. So I think, with time, things have changed, and I now really value the music more than anything else. When music moves me is when it shares emotions, when it says something that speaks to most people, and when we all feel the same. When you do a concert in a big venue of thousands of people, we are all different and we all come from different backgrounds, we all have problems in our lives. We have different educations, different religions, different convictions, and yet we all share, at some point, this emotion we are feeling. I think the biggest challenge ever is to create music that makes everyone with all those differences, share exactly the same emotion.

Tell me a bit about your sense of identity and how it influences both your preferences as a listener and your creativity as an artist, please.

My concept of identity goes very much with the way I compose and the way I create music. For me, an identity is the fact that we add everyday a new colour to who we are, we are not the same people as we were a few hours ago, a few days ago, a few months ago, a few years ago. We constantly change and this is what makes our identity constantly changeable. I don’t think it’s good to define ourselves with one particular thing, that scares me actually. People, when you ask them ‘who are you?’ and they say ‘I’m Lebanese’ or ‘I’m French’ or ‘I’m Christian’ ‘I’m Muslim’ or ‘I’m Jewish’. ‘I’m a trumpeter’ or one other single thing. I think this is maybe something that is now something people do more & more - wanting to define themselves into one single thing. I think this is a huge mistake, because this is what will divide us. My music has many, many different identities that we share, more than one specific thing that defines us. Music for me, works with this kind of philosophy.

What, would you say, are the key ideas behind your approach to music and art?

Pretty much what we’re talking about now - I love improvisation for example, and I think improvisation is one of the most important keys in culture, in education, in society in general. To improvise is to face what isn’t planned, right? This is the Latin definition of improvisation, to face the unexpected. I think more than anything else, my approach to music & art is based on improvisation. Even though you have to learn the codes, you can’t improvise a symphony, you have to learn how to build a language and how to express yourself through it. But once you know how to do that, it’s important to deconstruct everything you’ve learned, in order to recreate something new, and take the risk of creating something new & different.

How would you describe your views on topics like originality and innovation versus perfection and timelessness in music? Are you interested in a “music of the future” or “continuing a tradition”?

As a musician who came from traditional classical music & learned jazz for years and played traditional jazz & Arabic music, tradition is very important and codes are very important. But as I was saying, as important as tradition is, re-defining things the way we want it to be is also essential, otherwise we will be all the time just copying & copying, over & over what people did for centuries.

I taught music & improvisation for over twenty years and one of the things I used to tell to my students, was what if Mozart or J.S. Bach came back to us and watched us playing their music, what would they think? Would they say ‘Oh this is perfect, you are playing my music perfectly’ or - and this is what I think - would they say ‘What?! You’ve been playing my music for five centuries exactly the same way, don’t you have more imagination!’ That makes my students laugh usually, but they understand what I mean - our missions is not only to keep the tradition alive, it’s also to change it and transform it in order to create something new. So, this is what I’ve decided to do for the last seventeen or so years. Always trying - like a researcher - to experiment with new things, and not rely on the perfection (because it is perfect!) of what geniuses have done before me.

Over the course of your development, what have been your most important instruments and tools - and what are the most promising strategies for working with them?

It’s not easy to answer this as you’re not always conscious of the tools you’re using, sometimes it takes years before you realise the importance of some little things you’ve been using, or details. So, I would answer by saying maybe the fact that I’m using a very specific trumpet that my father invented 50 years ago. It is such a gift from him, and from my heritage. It’s something really, really very powerful for me. It’s a tool that helps me in defining my own style, my own personality, the method I want to share with people. Without this instrument, I don’t think I would have even have done music after I finished my studies. I wanted to be an architect, I really believe if I didn’t have this trumpet, I would have definitely been an architect or something else not in music.

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