Soundbites: Khalil’s keeping the spirit of the kanun alive
At the time of year when other musicians have to scale down their activities, Khalil Gadri can play more passionately.
Syrian-born, the 35-year has lived in Dubai for more than 12 years and as a traditional kanun player, the Middle Eastern stringed instrument, is enjoying one of his busiest seasons during Ramadan.
“I still insist music is not only for entertainment but is a language,” said the artist, signed with Dubai-based artist management company The Fridge. “Everything on our planet can understand it. If invested in well enough, it can be a powerful message to the world.”
Aspirations to play the kanun on stage with Metallica aside, Gadri says playing at such a special time of the year is important to him.
“I don’t mind hearing music sometimes in a Ramadan tent along with the ‘blog-blog-blog’ sound of the shisha. Music is life and we don’t always have to take life seriously. We also don’t always need to be sending a message, sometimes we just want to talk.”
Excerpts from the interview:
Q: Tell us a bit about your music?
A: My music is my life and how I live. My friends, neighbours and even people I meet all have the potential to end up in my music. Even a strong wind or a quiet breeze, the rustling of leaves or silence can inspire me to compose. In a recent concert, I performed a piece called Sunset, a conversation between two lovers. After a long period of miscommunication, one says: “Emotions, before they die, go through a sunset moment. Now, madam, I present to you the sunset moment of my emotions.”
Q: How does one start playing an instrument like the kanun?
A: If you love anything, you can learn it quickly and you do it by following your heart. Age is a key factor in this regard, because the muscles will be stronger and softer for learning the hard and fast technique.
Q: Was it a skill passed down through generations?
A: Yes, there are many different styles of playing kanun and in each region there is a different style that develops. It’s the same between music schools in other parts of the world such as Europe.
Q: Was there ever a time in your life when you wanted to play a more Western-inspired instrument or genre like the electric guitar or the drums in a rock band?
A: (Laughs) I think you read my mind. No and yes. No, because I have no interest in playing different instruments. However, there have been many moments when I felt I wanted to play kanun with a rock band like Metallica. Throughout my career I have often played classic music with my kanun such as Bach and Vivaldi and Mussorgsky live with an orchestra and it was a great experience. I currently compose music for my own fusion group, called Khalil Gadri Acoustic Fusion Band. It’s the only group currently performing true fusion in the region incorporating many styles, both Arabic and Western and including instruments like Indian percussion and flutes as well as a flamenco guitar and traditional Arabic Tar and Oud.
Q: Have you ever tried to teach someone else your skill?
A: Yes, I was teaching in Syria but unfortunately I don’t have time in Dubai to teach because all my time is spent either with my family, practicing, composing or at rehearsals and performing. I also work as an artist booking manager with The Fridge, which takes up my time as well.
Q: How will you celebrate Eid?
A: For the past 12 years I have celebrated Eid in the UAE and each year I enjoy the mix of festivities. However, because of the current situation in my country there are families without children, children without parents, so my Eid will be far more solemn. My thoughts and prayers will be with those in Syria who have been affected by the tragic events during such a normally joyous time.