A broken oud is the inspiration for the fusion artist Kamal Musallam's new album Homemade in Rome.
Many strings to this oud player’s new album
Congrats on the new album Homemade in Rome – it had you travelling to Italy?
That’s right. With this album I wanted to do something different than going into the studio and working with all these producers and engineers. I wanted something to sound less technical and less perfectionist. So I had the chance to go to Rome in February and stayed with friends who were musicians on the album. We started playing music together and we brought an engineer from southern Italy and he turned the house into a studio.
One thing missing from the new record is the heavy oud element of previous records. Was that a deliberate choice?
Before I travelled, I had already written some compositions on the oud, but once I arrived in my friend’s house in Italy, I opened my case and I found the oud broken in pieces. It was somehow damaged on the journey.
People get upset when they lose their luggage. How does a musician feel when his instrument is broken?
Like your leg or arm is broken. It is painful because it’s not like it’s lost. It is still there in front of you, but you can’t use it. I didn’t know what to do and I called around at some luthiers in Italy but they couldn’t get it fixed for at least a week. I remember thinking “this is just the beginning” and this phrase made me sit down and compose a song on the guitar with that title. I recorded the main parts of this album on the electric guitar and when I came back to Dubai I recorded some oud parts.
Did it feel strange to enter a new record without your trusted oud in your hands?
Yes, because it made me create new ideas quickly. That pressure inspired me to think of the album in a different way. Instead of it being a mellow, oud-oriented thing it became more acid jazz, a heavier fusion, and because of the guitar the album has a heavier rock feel.
There are also some nice flamenco flourishes in there as well. How did that happen?
During the recording, I met a flamenco dancer and I decided to add this Spanish touch to the album, because there is a connection between flamenco and Arab music. I recorded the sounds of her clapping and tapping her feet and used it as a percussion element.
You enjoy mixing music with your travels. Do you consider your albums as postcards from your journeys?
Each album does have a geographical element to it. For example, the second was called Out of My City and that was really about my home in Dubai. The next one, Lulu, was about collaborating with Emirati musicians and the fourth album Songs for Seung-eun had some South Korean touches to it. Music asks me to search. It makes me go beyond, search for new elements, knock on doors and hear new sounds and cultures. It opens me up to new ideas and feelings. Nothing is really pre-planned. What makes it special for me is the music is often done on the spot and very intuitive.
What can fans expect from your show on Monday?
It will be the first of a series of concerts where we will play music from Homemade in Italy. People are invited to see the amazing interplay between the band. You know, as much as we play what is on the album, there is a lot of freedom in the music and we often create things on the spot. There will also be a flamenco dancer and it will be great to see how she responds to our playing – it will add a lot of value to the show, visually.
• Homemade in Italy is out on November 15. Kamal Musallam closes The Fridge Concert Series on Monday at Alserkal Avenue, Unit 5, Al Quoz 1, Street 8, Dubai. Doors open at 7.30pm, music starts at 8pm. Tickets are Dh50 per person, Dh25 for students and free for those under 18 years of age. For more information, go to www.thefridgedubai.com
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