Category Archives: world music styles

Juan Manuel


Juan Manuel

What motivates you to compose?

Composing is, for me, an inner necessity: music is a fruit of the spirit that can sometimes lead us to the Absolute. When you compose, it becomes possible to fulfill the desire to create a world of your own, a personal microcosm where you set the rules and also make their exceptions. Along with my constant goals, there are everyday events that, providentially, act for me as inspirational triggers: I unconsciously absorb these stimuli before combining them spontaneously into the seed of a musical whole that may not necessarily resemble its primeval components.

Through inspiration, during an ‘inner vision’, one’s mind often hears and sees fragments of a new work before even writing its first note, as if the piece was already finished; knowledge and experience then help me to process them through work and intuition (something that reminds me the way in which alchemy processes the prime matter). And, somehow, this seems to be connected to a sense of duty: one is moved to compose what it needs to be composed (thus, avoiding superfluous initiatives), focusing on oneself as the first listener of a new own piece, but bearing in mind its future audience as well.

How would you describe your music?
My music is a faithful reflection of myself.
Within the frame of classical music, my output embraces many styles, techniques and genres while keeping an inner unity that can be often found in a sonorous discourse which dialogues with past and present towards future. You could say, in Chomskyan terms, that my music tends to manifest itself through varied surface forms which are often derived from a common deep structure. At the same time, some of my compositions are frequently nourished both by elements taken from Argentine folk music and urban dances-which I then incorporate into the classical music I write, often related to Viennese trends due to my relationship with Austria-and concepts like ‘numinous’, ‘anamnesis’, ‘unity in variety’ and ‘union of the opposites’, while containing references to fields that can range from theology to biology. By the use of different approaches and perspectives, including intertextual and ekphrastic ones, as well as by employing new technologies.
I always try to give my music a balance between emotion and thought.
Can you explain a bit about your cultural influences?
UNESCO reaffirmed in 2001 that “culture should be regarded as the set of distinctive spiritual, material, intellectual and emotional features of society or a social group, and that it encompasses, in addition to art and literature, lifestyles, ways of living together, value systems, traditions and beliefs”.

Within that context, I have been always exposed to cultural diversities since I came to life, receiving influences from both my family (rooted in the present states of Spain, Italy and France, but recently settled in Argentina) and the countries where I lived and studied: Sweden (where I was born), Switzerland, Spain, Argentina, Italy, Austria, Germany and Poland. At the same time, I must also add to this those influences coming from my multiple objects of study, which I gladly absorbed as a composer, in this case, and not a as researcher (thus, avoiding any possible positivist controversy).

How does cultural influences inspire your music?

I think the way that this happens is mainly due to the interaction of the previously mentioned cultural influences I have received during my life and the generative process related to musical composition I have just described in my answer to your first question.
Are you interested in any particular kind of world music?
 In 1994 Carl Rahkonen stated that “World music means different things to different people […]. It is not Western art music, neither is it mainstream Western folk or popular music. World music can be traditional (folk), popular or even art music, but it must have ethnic or foreign elements”. In that case, I must confess that my interest comprises every possible kind of world music available: from Greenland to Antarctica and Alaska to Kiribati; from the settlements near Mount Everest to those communities close to the Dead Sea. However, in my compositional output you may usually find those elements taken from Argentine folk music and urban dances I previously cited, which I often integrate into my classical music works (as I already said, frequently linked to Viennese trends, given my relationship with Austria) without neglecting, at the same time, those elements coming from the aforementioned different cultures I absorbed.

Simultaneously, I have been always fascinated by some world music historically linked to Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and other religions.

All this explains why some of my works are entitled “Chacarera meets the Puna”, “Pésame (Actus contritionis)”, “Huayno meets the Milonga”, “Pentecostés (Veni Sancte Spiritus) “, “Chacarera endebussyada”, “De coelesti hierarchia”, “Chacarera beatboxera”, “Dialogos between Moses, Demosthenes, Virgil and Turing”, “Milonga meets Malambo”, etc.

Who has influenced you as a composer and why?

A considerable source of influences came directly from the composers I studied with during my studies and courses at the University of Music and Performing Arts Vienna, Krakow Academy of Music, ‘Manuel de Falla’ Superior Conservatoire of Music Buenos Aires and other institutions: Krzysztof Penderecki, Kurt Schwertsik, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Helmut Lachenmann, Wolfgang Rihm and Roberto García Morillo, among others.

Other classical music influences came through some of the many composers whose works I have studied, conducted, played and listened to: from medieval plainchant to current contemporary pieces of different trends, passing through Renaissance, Baroque, Classical, Romantic and 20th-century music. And, within this context, I must also mention the influences I also received from some folk and popular (including film) music I have been in contact with. All the influences I referred to previously were absorbed by me during a natural process of interaction; I consider them beneficial to me and hold them in esteem.
ABRAS-Photo-3You won the Grafimuse Prize (Brussels, 2011). Can you tell us a bit about this prize?
The Grafimuse Prize (Lachert Foundation Brussels, Deposito dei segni) is the latest of more than a dozen awards and scholarships that, thank God, I have won during the last decade (three of them in Vienna, Austria). Its artistic director was Piotr Lachert, the jury was headed by Joerg Gruenert and its organizers (IRIC Thracica was one of the partner organizations of the competition) stated that the “first contest/festival of Grafimuse is open to all musicians around the world, professionals and students, of all ages. The purpose of the contest is the creation of two-dimensional works of visual art”. The “winning works will be printed […] and will be exhibited in the following places: Chieti, Fermo, Kraków, Pescara, Sambuceto, Santos, Sofia, and Warsaw. During this exhibition, concerts/artistic happenings (instrumental, dance, vocal, and movement) will take place using the winning entries. The works will be treated as sources of artistic inspiration for improvisation, as well as graphic scores”.
Can you tell us a bit about your current composing?
I am currently working on a ‘birthday’ piece for the Ensemble Aleph (France), whose members kindly asked the composers who took part in the several editions of their International Forum for Young Composers (Program Culture 2000 of the European Union) to compose a work to celebrate the ensemble’s 30th anniversary, a composition which will be premiered in Paris during June 2013 at the Théâtre Dunois. At the same time, I am sketching a new concerto while giving shape to a number of symphonic, choral and solo works which are planned to be premiered during 2013-14 in Europe and the Americas. Last but not least, I also keep on working on various pieces related to one of my two ongoing PhDs at the Pontifical Catholic University of Argentina.
Any exciting plans for 2013?

Yes! God willing, moving back to Europe, where I was born and raised, to continue there my work and studies as composer, conductor and researcher. However, in order to do so, I must call a halt to my teaching activities in Argentina, where I hold five chairs, in total, as Professor at the National University of Lanús (Techniques and Chamber Music of the 20th-Century) and the Superior Conservatoire of Music of the City of Buenos Aires ‘Astor Piazzolla’ (Analysis, Performance Practice, Contemporary Stylistics, Classical-Romantic Stylistics); and the same applies to my activity as researcher at the ‘Carlos Vega’ Institute for Musicological Research of the Pontifical Catholic University of Argentina. Nevertheless, I hope that going back to the Old World will contribute to consolidate and widen my current international career. May God grant it!

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Kareem Roustom


photo credit: Elias Roustom

What motivates you to compose? 

I’d have to say that the musicians for whom I’m writing a piece for are a very motivating factor.  It is very difficult for me to write a piece of music in the abstract, without a performance date or no person in particular.  When I connect with a performer and begin to understand what makes him/her excited and challenged and we can share that energy, that is very motivating.  Also, the setting of the premiere can also motivate.  Perhaps the most motivating factor is a deadline.

The other motivating factor is simply trying to get “it” right.

Composers are, by nature of their craft, tinkerers. Like watch makers always working with intricate parts trying to make the watch tick accurately but also being pleasing to the senses.  The ever elusive target of achieving fine craftsmanship, is also a motivation.

Lastly, it is simply feeling a need to say something with the utmost sincerity.  If I cannot find that feeling at the outset of writing something, it is very likely that the piece won’t see a final bar line.

These are my motivating factors for concert music.  In film, if the project is inspiring it is easy to move forward and find the right motivation.  When the film is not so good, that becomes more difficult.  Luckily, it has been a long time since I’ve experienced this difficulty.

How would you describe your music?

This is also a difficult question, as whatever I might think of it may not have any relation to what someone hears. 

I suppose it is fair to say that my music has roots in Arabic music but has branches that can go in any number of directions.

Here is one example of Arabic music roots but with a very free harmonic interpretation  <>

Here is an example of a very traditional type of writing based on a folk dance called Dabke’ <>

Do you have a preference? Film work? Concert hall or television?

I really enjoy the variety. However, concert music is the only place where I feel I can ask the really big and difficult questions in life.

It is one of the few creative outlets where I feel I am able to meditate on and contemplate the human condition in a thoughtful and mindful manner.  The constraints of commercial music (stylistic demands, deadlines, budgets etc.) aren’t there.  There is a great deal of freedom in concert music, but that freedom can also be intimidating.  Film, however, allows for a composer’s work to reach a large audience and if the film and the music have a really good synergy, it can be a very rewarding artistic experience.

Can you explain a bit about your cultural influences? How does cultural influences inspire your music? Are you interested in any particular kind of world music?

I was born and raised in Damascus, Syria and then moved to the USA for 7th grade on.  In the last decade and half, or more, I’ve been actively trying to find a way to make meaningful and thoughtful connections with the music of the Arab world, specifically the Near East. For a time that meant performing traditional and Classical Arabic music at the highest level available to me in the USA.

I’ve since moved on to really think deeply about how this music, and culture, moves me and inspires me. My work is based on finding ways to incorporate these elements into my writing in a natural way.

Rather than add these elements as a mere spice to be sprinkled on the top of the meal, I like to have these elements be part of the broth, so to speak.  In other words, I will use these elements for the foundation of a work rather than just as a coloristic after thought.

My background also includes jazz and concert music as well as a lot of other styles of music.  One has to be flexible to survive so I’ve had to wear many stylistic hats.  At times though, people want to paint my work into one corner, or say that I’m not a serious (for lack of a better term) composer because I’ve worked with artists like Shakira.  I’ve confronted this attitude from both concert music performers, other composers and non-musicians.  There still seems to be a habit to Orientalize composers or musicians who come from the Arab world. However, those performers who have taken the time to learn and perform my music have always given me very positive feedback, whether students in a university choir or world class performers like clarinetists Kinan Azmeh or Ricardo Morales.

To demonstrate what I’ve been talking/writing about, here is example taken from my chamber piece Buhur (2008).  The work is based on the poetic meters of classical Arabic poetry (called Buhur).  My goal was to see if I could re-imagine poetic meter as musical meter and this, the final movement of the work, is the result <>.

Another example is Abu Jmeel’s Daughter, which is based on a folk tale.  Here the, musical language supports the drama of the text and there are elements of Arabic folk music, avant-garde writing techniques and even influences of Ravel.  The piece was originally co-commissioned by a French ensemble so I suppose that just came through at times.  <>

Who has influenced you as a composer and why?

Anything in life can be an influence to a composer.  I suppose that this is what it means to aspire to be an artist, the we have to respond to things and people around us. I aspire to always do this with sincerity and with craft.  That said, I’m drawn to traditional music from the Arab world and beyond.

As far as Western classical music the work of Benjamin Britten is a constant source of inspiration, as is that of Witold Lutoslawski, Henryk Gorecki and many other Eastern European composers. Somehow, I find much more depth their music than in what a lot of what is happening in America these days. I suppose I’m drawn to the drama, the angst and the dazzling colors in their works.

The music of Giya Kancheli and Valdimir Martynov have also been very inspirational to me of late.  Of course, there is a wide range of other music from the Arab world (the songs of Umm Kulthum for instance) that is a constant source for inspiration.  Over the years I’ve also been involved with Early Music and I love exploring those sounds as well and finding the early connections between the East and West.

Can you tell us a bit about your current composing projects? Any exciting plans for 2013?

I’m very excited, and challenged, by a commission project to write a work for three string quartets: the Kronos Quartet, the Providence String Quartet and the latter’s students at the amazing Community Music Works program in Providence, R.I. USA (<http://www.>). The work is being commissioned by CMW and will be premiered in November of 2013.  Also in the works for 2013 is some piano music: a sextet for clarinet, piano and string quartet as well as some solo piano pieces that I’ve been wanting to write for some time.  These last two projects are still in development so I’ll announce them as soon as they’ve been finalized.  I recently completed a work for solo cello and solo clarinet.  These are shorter (about 6 to 8 minutes) pieces that are part of a series of pieces I’m writing as reflections on the ongoing war in Syria.

In June of 2010 you were awarded a fellowship to the prestigious Sundance Film Composers Lab held annually at the Sundance Institute. Can you tell us a bit about this and what it meant to you?

This was such an honor and a really fun and rewarding experience.  It is very difficult to get into this program so I was very excited, after applying for several years, to be accepted.  The program provides an opportunity for composers who are interested in film to compose music for various film cues and to have this work critiqued and guided by established film composers from Los Angeles and elsewhere.  The setting, the mountains of Utah, was stunning but most of our time was spent in little trailers writing into the wee hours of the night.  It was just a wonderful time and I was able to make some good friends in the process.

Kareem Roustom

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Samuel Yirga

Samuel Yirga Photography credit- York Tillyer

‘Love’ as motivation

Love motivates me to play the piano because for me, the sound of it is so much related to the feeling of love.


My two older brothers because they were so much into listening to instrumental music, especially the piano.

Earliest memory …

While I was playing in a reggae club called ‘Changes’ in Addis Ababa, the keyboard fell because the stand was not fixed well and it was a horrible sound that came out from the clash of the two keyboards. It was actually a unique sound for the reggae group and what’s worse, I had to play sitting on the floor until they fixed the stand.

Can you tell us more about life as a child and teenager growing up in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia – your dream to become a musician, and the many obstacles you faced?

When I was a very small kid, I had so many different interests. For example, I was very good in academic education which led me to the interest of being an engineer or a pilot. On the other hand, I was very good at playing football, I was good at acting, good at teaching, I was good at making a speech and presenting so that led me to the interest of becoming a president or a prime minister. In the later case, I had the chance to be the leader of different groups. However, the interest of being a musician was more than all the above interests.

Even though, I was very much interested in becoming a musician especially a pianist and a singer, my family didn’t want to send me to a music school. They told me that they would send me when I got to grade 10, but they didn’t and I was very much into the academic education.

Life as a child was not that comfortable for me and I don’t think that things were fulfilled for me. To get what you want will take ages and when the time comes you’ll be in a different life. I can’t say that I was in a high class school when I was in elementary and high school but I had a big passion in all of the courses I was taking. However those things didn’t stop me from being strong and accomplishing my aim.

The culture didn’t have that much respect for the music profession and those things were the big challenges for many of the interested ones. Actually it’s not only the music but Art in general that didn’t get the acknowledgment from the culture.

It’s getting better right now but again it’s not changed that much. My father was not happy when I joined the Yared school of music because he wanted me to be an engineer or doctor or something better than music.

He just let me do everything I was trying to do at that time because he thought that I would get a bachelor degree and not play my music. I can’t blame my father alone, but the whole culture. Right now, he’s so happy about my success and respects the arts in general. Now, he even knows many of the artists and he always discusses every details of music with me.

This will be a big lesson for other families and will really teach them how to help with the interests of their children. Because of all the problems that I mentioned above, most of us decide very late about what we have to be.

What are your plans and aspirations for the future?

My big plan is to change the production quality of Ethiopian music, helping to create as many good musicians as possible.

I believe that when the production of the music gets better and better, it will be possible to create good musicians because the music and everything will bring a challenge on the potential of the musician. If we are talking about the quality, the musicians will try to be as great as the record and if we are talking about the music arrangement, again the musicians will work hard to perform the same or better level of the arrangement which will make them good in performing as well as rearrangement.

On the other hand, when I think about my country, I don’t think that it’s promoted in a positive way.

I mean the other world knows about Ethiopia as a country of drought, famine, poverty and many other negative descriptions. However, I know my country better than the others because I see what we have and what we don’t have.

There’s poverty, drought, famine and some other problems, but i do believe that we have got much much better things and the country should be described in these great things.

I know that we Ethiopians have got the responsibility of showing the good side of the country and I am trying to do that.

Starting from the great culture of the country, there are many positive things about Ethiopia. We have great and unique music and it’s getting very good acknowledgment from the rest of the world. It proved that music is not only about theory but mainly feeling.

Our special mode called Anchi-Hoye proved this and people started understanding it. They started to see that people can sing those “weird” intervals that are found in the Mode or Scale.

I just mentioned part of our greatness but there is more to show. So as a cultural ambassador, I’m planning to change all these bad images about the country and bring out the positive side.

Proudest career moment (to date)?

For me I think every moment that I have had in my music life is great and I’m proud of all because I tried to show the real feeling about my music and about my country.

Cover image of the album – Guzo

Can you tell us more about ‘Guzo’ from a musicians point of view and composer – the musical influences behind it ?

GUZO is my debut album and it shows my different interests and potential in playing piano and composing. I have been experimenting with many different things in my music by fusing traditional Ethiopian music to classical and jazz, RnB and Latin, keeping the real identity of our culture. I have different interests and i am not restricted in one kind of creativity because I believe that there is no wrong thing to do with music. Anyone can say, this is my favourite or not my favorite but they can’t say that it’s wrong because it all depends on the interest and feeling that the music gives. It might be good to one and bad to the other. So I put my experiments on this album which gave a great impression to different people and gives this positive idea about creativity.

This album is a mix of different types of music from different parts of the country and the world. I divided it in 4 major parts:

1. Solo Piano– this part shows my piano playing and the influence of Jazz, Ethiopian, and classical music. I tried to put the different modes of the country in my own playing and tried to show the real description of those modes when an Ethiopian musician plays. I included some original and some cover songs in this part.

2. Traditional instruments of Ethiopia fused with Piano and some modern instruments – this part of the album was recorded in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in Solomon studio which is owned by a legendary Ethiopian and great bass player Abiyou Solomon. Great and well known musicians of the country participated on this part. The songs Abet Abet and The blues of Wollo (which features the great female singer Genet Masresha) are some of these fused ones.

3.Ethio-Jazz– This is like a big description of me. Having all the fights with the school professors because of the rules which only allows the students to play classical music, I’ve accomplished my aim to be a jazz musician. Many people know me as an Ethio-jazz pianist and have been performing with different jazz and funk groups. This part of the album contains the songs that I wrote while I was in school and after graduating. songs like Tiwista are in this part of the album.

4. Funk, Pop and Latin fusion- is a collaboration with other great and well known musicians and singers from other countries. The songs African Diaspora and I Am The Black Gold Of The Sun are in this category which includes the Creole Choir of Cuba that is an amazing group touring all over the world, Nicolette a Nigerian-British and the ex-lead vocalist of the group Massive Attack and Mel Gara, a British singer whose origins are in Iraq.

In general, you can see a little bit of each influence from my different interests. I can say that I was very much interested in playing Ethiopian music, to sing RnB and to get a new sound from the experiments. The great Ethiopian pianist Elias Negash made me think of experimenting on Ethiopian music and i always want to thank him for that.

This album is the product of a lot of hard work from Nick Page, the producer. He gave me many big lessons like how to take a song and make it big. He’s an amazing musician and an all-rounder. He sees things in different directions. I don’t know how to describe him but he’s an inspiration to me. He cares about the artist that works with him. I really want to thank him all time.

From the beginning it has been getting a great response from all over the world, including Ethiopia.

Any tips for young and aspiring pianists?

First of all I don’t believe in luck and I don’t think I’m lucky. But I’m a dreamer and a hard worker with a positive mind.

I always dreamt of being a  singer and a pianist, even though in the middle of this I was so much into my academic education. But I knew that I would be a well known musician and that I would travel outside my country and I got all what I wanted.

When you work on something you like or are passionate about, you’ll invest a lot in  it. But you have to know what you’re doing and it’s always good to start from the basics.

Spending too much time doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be good. Sometimes it’s better to sit for a small amount of time and do the right and precise thing which will make you more effective than spending too much time without understanding what you’re doing. However it doesn’t mean that you don’t have to spend or practice for a long time. You can use it if you really know the right way and the right elements of that interest.

So Dream, Pray, be positive, practice, sacrifice. VALUE=great results and great feedback.

Samuel Yirga – Photography credit York Tillyer








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Rekesh Chauhan

How has Indian culture and classical music shaped your technique and career?

Indian culture and music has had a huge impact on my playing and style.

My father is a vocalist, so I suppose having grown up with the influence of Indian Classical Music it eventually found its way reflected within my playing. I began my initial training by learning to play the harmonium (popular hand-pumped instrument played in India) and early on I studied western classical guitar, after I went on to learn the Piano – eventually I ended up amalgamating and adapting the style of Indian Classical Music onto the Piano.

You’ll find that my the majority of my recitals incorporate many of the fundamental elements of Indian Classical Music Ragas (Modes) and Taals (Rhythmic cycles) parallel with western harmonies- the Piano allows plenty of scope to explore Indian Classical Music.


I’ll try not to sound typical, but every artist I have come across has inspired me; I believe there is something unique that every person has to offer.

Appreciably, my father, who has been my teacher, has been a huge influence. I try to listen to and spend time with musicians from everywhere; there is always something inspiring to hear from each individual. I feel incredibly fortunate to have grown and performed with a variety of artists, this has had an influence on my listening palette too.

Earliest memory involving piano playing?

Learning to play a folk song on the harmonium and being put on the spot to play it on national radio!

Proudest career moment?

Performing as a solo concert pianist at the Birmingham Symphony Hall.

I remember growing up spending many weekends watching some of the world’s finest musicians performing concerts there. In particular I remember one night as a kid going to see Lang Lang perform there and daydream that I would have the opportunity to perform my own concert on that very same stage, little did I know it was around the corner!

Can you tell us about one of your favourite concert venues and why?

There’s so many, but if I had to pick one, Ronnie Scotts in Soho, London.

I played there with Tabla player Talvin Singh a few years back. There is an incredible energy in that space, it’s very intimate in a way that you immediately feel very much more connected with the audience.

In your opinion, what are the most important qualities in a great

There are so many important qualities to choose from, but if I had to pick one out, it would be for the individual to be themselves.

Focus and listening are definitely important too but it can be so easy to get engrossed in the technical aspects that sometimes you can forget to just let go! Letting the music reflect your personality is one of the beauties an instrument can offer. It’s central that the technical application is executed but also learning to let go and let your heart do the playing is just as important.

I would love to see more young pianists on the concert circuit exploring world music styles, I do always find that I’m playing to audiences older than me!

“Music of just absolute beauty” – Bobby Friction, BBC Asian Network


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