Ya Sharr Mout

Award for Best Portrait Sponsored by Entreprises Vidéo Service YA SHARR MOUT Sabine Gisiger (Switzerland)

SWITZERLAND/2008/BETA/COLOUR/70 MIN/ARABIC, GERMAN, FRENCH SUBTITLES A composer, guitarist and virtuoso oud player, Mahmoud Turkmani (b. 1964) grew up in the village of Halba in northern Lebanon. After being driven out by civil war, he completed his musical training in the Soviet Union, and now resides in Switzerland. His compositions, although based on Arabic musical systems, transcend these traditions, combining a personal vocabulary with a broad range of influences. In times of conflict and political upheaval, when cultural statements are exploited and fears of offending religious sensibilities are rife, Turkmani is courageously attempting to build a bridge between East and West. His efforts earned him the title of "Ya Sharr Mout" (in Arabic, this means either "Oh, evil, die!" or "Son of a bitch," depending on the intonation). This film recounts the story of this adventurous Swiss-Arabian project, which combines music, excerpts from poems by Lebanese writer Nadia Tuéni (1935-1983), and images by Swiss video artist Michael Spahr. Over the course of a year, the camera followed the evolution of this audiovisual production: the work of composing, the video collaboration, discussions with Lebanese intellectuals, rehearsals in Cairo with classical musicians from Switzerland, Egypt and Lebanon, and finally the premiere at the Al Madina theatre in Beirut in 2007. Biography Born in Zurich, Sabine Gisiger studied history in Zurich and Pisa. Initially a television journalist, she has been an independent producer since 1991. Filmography Die Farben der Hoffnung (1997) ; Moskau- ein Gedicht (1998) ; Do It (2001) ; Homeland (2003) ; Gambit (2005); Ya Sharr Mout (2008); Guru (2010)


Ya Sharr Mout

Fayza Bjayou, Daily Star 02.10.2007

'Ya Sharr Mout' plays with words and images on multiple levels

BEIRUT: On Tuesday evening, Masrah al-Madina in Hamra opened its doors for the premiere of Mahmoud Turkmani's audiovisual performance "Ya Sharr Mout." An innovative celebration of language, the piece, which was reprised on Wednesday night, joined images manipulated by Michael Spahr with words appropriated from the poetry of the late Nadia Tueni. The intimate Madina stage played host to six instrumentalists and Spahr, whose videos and images were projected onto a large screen erected behind the musicians. The sounds of random voices kicked off the performance, followed by raw noises created live on stage, lending an abstract quality of chaotic fusion to the piece. The music evoked unsettled, discordant emotion as words appeared on screen, succeeded by their translation as sounds, like a round of call-and-response. After the words "lower the sound" were projected on screen, for example, the instrumentalists transitioned from high volume to low and reduced their tempo. Visual images of Beirut's material destruction, by contrast, followed the high pitch of violin strings. Lebanese novelist Elias Khoury weighed in on the equation, intoning on screen: "Words only have meaning when they are put into context." "Ya Sharr Mout" made acts of interpretation and the malleability of meaning manifest in sound and image. The multidimensional performance aptly represented the mechanics of communication through language and art. Diverse images of buildings in Beirut - in the Dahiyeh, in Raouche, in Verdun - played across the screen with pictures of churches and mosques. The instrumentalists, meanwhile, performed like a team in the dubbing suite for a film, knocking their instruments or making scratching movements with them for a series of unexpected sound effects. The reinvention of words and letters was central to Turkmani's purpose, encapsulated in the title itself. "Ya Sharr Mout," written as words, means "Oh evil die." When spoken, however, it sounds like a common curse, used both abusively and to express familiarity among friends. The performance ended with an explanation of the name. Formally inventive to be sure, and conceptually clever as well.



Freequency \ V.C.

It will turn out that albums like one will be of use. They will be of use like the musical masterpieces of the many gipsies that are useful in order to withdraw the many prejudies that are circulating about the Rom people. In a time when the Islamic culture is being mentoined only for its extremist origins, an album like this one is quite a help to fully value its great awesomeness and thick emotional calibre. Classic Arab tradition interpreted by tipical instruments such as the oud, ney, qanoun, doffn req and turning into melodies by a sharp voice on wonderful pentatonic scales. An articulated ad demandid listening, that however, nowadays, is realy useful to deal with.


Zâkira \ Modernizing traditions

Cairo Times \ Richard Woffenden

Mahmoud Turkmani finds in the past for a contemporary sound

13 19 MM 2004 CAIRO TIMES 29 Some people delight in endless over-coffee debate over who is “the“ contemporary oud master. Of course, these debates can become heated when the contenders themselves get embroiled, hut for many people the whole idca of an oud soloist is in itself rather an odd concept. Organizers of the Arabic Music Festival here in Cairo said that they included many oud players to attract foreigners because many Arabic music lovers see the oud as an ensemble instrument, Yet the audiences who turaed up to the concerts were mainly Arab, proving that the oud revival is not just a foreigner-driven phenomenon. One of the names often brought up in the context of discussions of oud mastery is Mahmoud Turkmani. While he is known for his guitar playing as much as his oud skills, this Lebanon-born musician and composer provokes a lot of discussion because of the way he pushes the bonndaries of ciassical oud composition—experimentation that some audience members find thrilling, while others reject it outright. Much oud music, both live and recorded, leaves you with the feeling you get from some new -age music; that, while nothing stood out, it was nice enough and would do fine as background music at your next dinner party. Turkmani, by contrast, challenges your aural sensibilities both in concert halls and on your stereo. If you like to have music on while you read, Turkmani is not the man for you. With Turkmanis‘ latest CD, Znkira, you arc struck throughout by the very contemporary sound—at times it has the feel of the more avant garde sound of contemporary Western classical compositions—that is nonetheless firmly rooted by its whole approach, not just in the choice of instruments, in the tradition of Arabic music. The clear and informative booklet that accompanies the CD explains that Turkmani uses the traditional tnuivashah form that combines poetry and music as the basis for his composition. The booklet also points out how heterophony (where the single melody line is varied by being played in a variety of rhythm or tempos) has been used less in Arabic music as large ensembles arc used more and more widely to accompany singers. Turkmani reclaims heterophony and “radicalizes“ it so it has a modern sound. The end result is a powerful CD that captures the power of Turkmani‘s talent. The inelusion of Rehab Metawee as the vocalist is a great move. While Fayka, bis previous, purely instrumental CD, was just as powerful as the current release, Metawee‘s voice brings a whole new sound to Turkmani‘s music. In fact, the whole Egyptian ensemble that accompanies Turkmani on Zakira sounds perfect and it is hard to believe they arc not the musicians that regularly work with Turkmani. This is due at least in part to the fact that Turkmani wrote for the ensemble as a whole, not just as a group of musicians thcrc to accompany him. The only track on the CD that seems weak, at least compared to the others, is ‘Mouwashah Arji Ya Alfa Layla,“ a tribute to the Lebanese Rahbany Brothers. lt is tame in cotnparison with the other pieces, hut perhaps a good way of introduction to the power and originality of later tracks. This said, the beginning is very atmospheric. “Mouwashah Ayatatouhou Ma Sala“ stands out by contrast for its emotive and intriguing vocal line and disturbing strings. The richness of Turkmani‘s compositions makes this CD more enjoyable each time you listen to it. lt aho confirms the fact that the wide variety and number of oud players is something to celebrate in itself and that no one should buy into the idea that there should be only one “real“ oud player. Variety is what will make the instrument thrive.


New CD - Zâkira

Kjell Keller

Working on the musical memory

Born in Halba in 1964, Turkmani left the Lebanon during the civil war. From 1984 to 1989 he studied music (classical guitar, composition) in Moscow. Later he moved to Switzerland where he worked as a music teacher at first. After a long break he started to compose again in the mid-90s. Within a short period of time he created stylistically multi-layered chamber music. In this process his interest in the oud, the Arab lute, awoke again. As a composer and interpreter he has travelled to several European and Arab countries in the last few years. He has played with recorder player Conrad Steinmann and his ensemble diferencias, with the Berne Symphonic Orchestra, with violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaya and pianist Ivan Sokolov, the Erato string quartet, double bass player Barry Guy and percussionist Keyvan Chemirani. +++ Cairo in October 2003. In the hotel named after the legendary singer Um Kulthum, Mahmoud Turkmani is rehearsing his new works, musical settings of muwashahat, with a young female singer and eight Egyptian instrumentalists until late at night. The musicians feel a little insecure and perplex. Some of them are mainly familiar with European music, others with Arabic music. For all of them, however, Turkmani's music – though containing familiar elements – remains strange. A few days later first performances take place in Cairo and Alexandria. The singer and the instrumentalists are now showing commitment to Turkmani's pieces. It is obvious that they have recognized the quality of this music, although as a whole it still sounds unusual to them. The audience's reactions are mainly affirmative. Many of the listeners realize that the Lebanese-Swiss composer imaginatively examines the Arabic heritage, particularly the muwashah, exploring new ways in Arabic art music. The muwashah is a form of poetry in a musical setting which is popular in classical Arabic music. It is music made for poems which again and again, in uncountable variations, deal with love. It is music full of emotion. On his previous CD "Fayka" Turkmani has already presented a muwashah in a purely instrumental, highly individual version for guitar and percussion (featuring the phenomenal Keyvan Chemirani). With his new muwashahat Turkmani intensifies his work on the Arabic tradition. "My music is a provocative approach to the classical Arabic tradition of the muwashahat – and a compositional approach to the experience of alienation in a social and musical context. I deliberately refrained from composing this music for Western instruments. Traditionalistic Arab musicians should not believe this to be European Western music which is of no concern to them. I have set myself the task of creating a new world of sound issuing from the traditional Arab instruments." Innumerable muwashahat have been passed on from one generation to another. Their composers and poets are often anonymous. However, there are musical settings which are connected to famous names such as Sayyid Darwish or Muhammad Utman. Turkmani's material (melodies and texts) are partly "qadîm", ancient traditions, partly from authors known by name. By using one of their melodies, Turkmani pays tribute to the famous Lebanese Rahbany Brothers who are known, to a large extent, for their cooperation with Fayrûz. In the traditional muwashah the singing voice is accompanied by Arab instruments like the oud, the qanûn (a boxed zither), the stringed kamantche, the ney flute and diverse drums (riqq, mazhar, darabukka). Turkmani has slightly extended the instrumentation using a second oud, cello and double bass. In the rhythmic and melodic field Turkmani relies on the Arab tradition. Occasionally there are modi (maqâmât) containing three-quarter notes. "You hear something you have always heard, but now you hear it as if it was for the first time. It is like meeting the shades of sound and silence. I try to make good use of the infinite liberties of homophony and heterophony. While keeping the melody (the main line) in its original form, I add a second, third, fourth line and so on. These new lines are like the shades of the main line." Classical Arabic music is modal emphasizing song and poetry. As far as interpretation is concerned, heterophony is often characteristic. Heterophony means that there is only one melody, but there are multiple voices each of which plays the melody differently, either in a different rhythm or tempo, with different embellishments and figures, or idiomatically different. This trait, however, was thrust into the background in the 20th century when large ensembles became fashionable in Arabic music. Nevertheless, Turkmani turns to heterophony - and extends it. Heterophony now presents itself in a radicalized form, in which differences of the melody gain in importance (sometimes in a contrapunctual way). Often the musical ornaments lead to dense fields of sound that do not exclude hard frictions. But there are also passages as fast as lightning, which Turkmani wants to be heard in unisono. In one of his works Turkmani starts off with a samâ'i. This is an instrumental piece in 10/8 having its origins in the Turkish tradition. When a samâ'i is played strictly in unisono it soon becomes a little monotonous, especially for Western ears. Here, too, Turkmani explores the possibilities of radical heterophony. In classical Arabic music improvisation is of great importance. In Turkmani's music most parts are written down. Only in selected passages he allows improvisation, but he does not accept improvisational forms that either warm up old clichés or continue endlessly. “I am looking for my musical language within the different musical cultures living inside me. Ideas, thoughts and questions are roaming in my head concerning the developments and additions to the musical composition concept. I ask these questions to myself and to the listeners at the same time in order to find a musical philosophy and a musical language which I hope to be original, genuine and innovative.” The musical settings of the muwashahat show just one variant of Turkmani's current way of composing. His creativity, his openness, his virtuosity and his multi-cultural origin lead him simultaneously to other compositional concepts in which the Arab heritage is transformed into a new musical language. Notes by Kjell Keller / Mahmoud Turkmani


Jazz Wise

Jona Comwell, 2002-06-11

Lebanon-born Mahmoud Turkmani is a classically trained guitar and oud player with a jazz sensibility and a mission to marry the music of east and west. On an album of sparking. self composed tracks dedicated to, variously, his wife, mother and the flamenco maestro Paco de Lucia. he sets about exploring the similarities and differences between taqsim, the Arabic style of improvisation , and its western free jazz counterpart. Aided by the innovative bass of Barry Guy. Founder of the London Jazz Composers Orchestra, and Persian percussion player Keyvan Chemirani on daf (frame drum) and the tub-liks tombak, Fayka showcases eight of his works. There’s not a duff note to be found on any of them. Lieting solo piesesfor guitar (Fayka) and oud (Soudfa) recall flamenco and Persian traditions and are interpreted with flair, sensitivity and a delicacy evoking butterflies at a windowpane, while the more prismatic collaborative work sees all instruments working in harmonious and occasionally violeny dialogue. A glittering testament to creative thinking.


Daily Star

Amal Bouhabib, Beirut, 2001.01.01

Acclaimed composer returns with invites for Beirut's best

With a family background resembling a modern-day Arab Von Trapp family, it’s no wonder that Mahmoud Turkmani is making a name for himself in the music world. The seventh of 11 brothers and sisters, all of whom play some kind of instrument ­ the guitar, the oud, the contrabass, the synthesizer ­ Turkmani, who grew up in Halba, Akkar, chose the guitar at the age of five, and has stuck with it ever since. Now, a CD and two musical degrees later, the 36-year-old guitarist-composer resides in Switzerland with his wife and two boys. Bearded and slightly balding, Turkmani is back in Beirut for a few days organizing a festival in Bale, Switzerland that will take place this summer. A 10-day event, the Bale festival, in its 12th year, traditionally features artists from three or four cities from around the world. This year festival organizers asked Turkmani to help sift through the Beirut scene to find the best Lebanese artists. Turkmani, who cheerfully called himself “a Swiss composer of Lebanese origin,” is a fitting representative for the event. His CD, Nuqta, (Point) has been well-received in Europe. His classical training and his oriental roots make his music a colorful synchronization of Eastern and Western influences. “My music is not … traditional,” he paused, choosing his words carefully. “It’s not pop, or jazz, or folk, it’s not commercial. It might be hard for the Lebanese, especially because it has no rhythm. A lot of it is atonal and dissonant. You can’t tap along or dance to it.” Judging from the CD, which was released last year, Turkmani’s music is certainly avant-garde, a mix of styles and complex techniques reminiscent of the musical radicalism championed by revolutionaries like Arnold Schoenberg, the 20th-century Austrian composer whose pieces ­ based on a 12-note technique, often atonal and arhythmic and sometimes featuring vocalists who spoke rather than sang the notes ­ jarred listeners into thinking of music on a whole new level. The classicism of Turkmani’s music can be traced to his years spent studying at the Moscow Academy for Music, where he graduated with honors in 1989. In choosing to go to Russia, Turkmani, who said the decision was made in defiance of his father’s insistence that he study in the US, was following on the heels of one of that country’s most prolific musical periods. The 20th century in Russia saw the rise of Stravinsky, Tchaikovsky, and Prokofiev who, despite persecution and censorship, paved the way for contemporary composition. And in spite of the economic crisis and the crumbling political state of the country in the midst of the Cold War, Turkmani said “the cultural scene was very rich, especially the music. And maybe there was nothing to eat, but there were amazing opportunities for artists.” Yet Turkmani takes contemporary music one step further by blending his traditional roots with classical techniques. In many of the songs, teases of traditional Lebanese folk songs can be heard woven through the text. Turkmani also uses the oud, which he learned to play studying with Marcel Khalife when he was growing up in Akkar. “In my music, there’s some Renaissance, some Baroque, some Classical, atonal, but there is still a strong Lebanese influence,” Turkmani said. “I refuse to be restricted to one form. It puts you in a corner to say ‘this is the style I play.’ I need to be free, and the music will come like the wind, where I can choose from every style.” But composition wasn’t easy for Turkmani, who went through an eight-year drought of “not writing a single note” following his graduation form Moscow. “I thought of myself as an interpreter of music, not as a creator. I figured there were so many great composers already and what did I have to offer? I thought that was it, point blank.” Turkmani’s ultimate push to compose sprung from tragedy, when his older brother, a musician living in France, died in an accident in 1994. “I wanted to say something and I stood at his grave struggling to think of words to say what I was feeling. He was my mentor, he was my idol, and I couldn’t think of one word to say. And I realized it was through music that I could speak to him.” Turkmani’s first song, Hanin, is the second on Nuqta and is dedicated to his brother Nasser. The other songs on Nuqta were all written within five months after Turkmani signed with the Enja label. He explained jokingly: “I was a volcano. I exploded with songs.” Now, Turkmani is working on his next CD, due in February, a compilation of quartets and trios. Still, he hasn’t forgotten his roots, and Turkmani sees his work with the Bale festival as yet another way to link his two worlds. So far, he’s received only positive responses from the handful of artists he’s chosen: Fairouz, Caracalla ­ the dance troupe, Khalife, Fadi al-Haj, Nidal Ashqar, and Mansour Rahbany who, in the inlet of Nuqta, praised “the sound of (Turkmani’s) lute as it floats to the edge of oriental nights and intermingles with the guitars to make the most beautiful sound under the European sky.” In choosing the artists, Turkmani aimed for a wide range to show the diversity of Lebanese talent. “We’re not just Fairouz. There are also many new movements and dimensions to contemporary Lebanese music.” And ultimately Turkmani hopes the concert, which is sponsored in large by the Swiss government, will revive Lebanon’s status abroad and break down old stereotypes: “We need to show that we still have creators, that Lebanon is not just war and terrorism and Christians and Muslims. It’s not just turbans and hijab and narguile and belly dancers. We’re not just a vague Oriental country. We have creativity and talent in all the arts. “And I hope it encourages Lebanese to continue being creative. We need to break down barriers through music. That’s the point. You can do anything with notes, be free.”


Classical Guitar Magazine

Tim Panting, April 2003

Mahmoud Turkmani- Fayka

Mahmoud Turkmani pursues a purer aesthetic and is joined by bassist Barry Guy and Persian percussionist Keyvan Chemirani, who plays the zarb and daf drums. Turkmani, it says in the liner notes studied guitar and composition in Moscow (1984-1989) and following further studies in flamenco guitar and the forming of a guitar quartet found the need to express himself using the modes and foundations of Arabic music. The intellectual debate as to whether the West’s notational system could provide a credible partnership with the complex aspects of Taqsim ( the Arabic improvisatory system) perhaps spurred him further to compose with a conviction that indeed it could and from this recording one can not hear how successful this is. Sometimes the roles of the oud and guitar are playfully switched, in technical terms at least. The solo classical guitar of Mazééj and Wahdi Trikni is handled in a beautiful way. An excellent guitarist, Turkmani caresses his instrument then flays it brutally. His oud playing is equally elastic on Hkéyét Jidde and Zikra. Also Soudfa is a virtuoso outing with lovely excursions into the bass register of the instrument. But the guitar and bass combination (Barry Guy is on the most original European double bassists) of Yara is full of menace and glowering beauty and unlike any such combination I have heard before. I hope Turkmani comes to this country soon, as I believe a live performance would be truly electrifying. These recordings represent a faction of the wealth of oud recordings and the myriad of cross/cultural projects flowering worldwide. But they are of such high quality that I had to recommend them to readers of CG and those wishing to further enrich their music collections.


Mahmoud Turkmani- Fayka

. Turkmani's new CD "Fayka" is a fascinating document of his present way of writing – a unique mixture of phenomenal instrumental technique and advanced compositional structures. It comprises eight works from the years 1999 to 2001: two solo pieces (for guitar respectively oud) as well as six duets. Although of very diverse origins, his duet partners share highest artistic quality and a wide musical openness. Turkmani wrote three of the duets for himself and Persian percussion player Keyvan Chemirani. A son of master drummer Djamchid Chemirani, Keyvan plays the tub-formed tombak (in Arab: zarb) and the big frame drum dâf. In the other duet tracks Turkmani combines his instruments with the double bass. For these tunes, he says, he was looking for a musician who is not only a virtuoso master of his instrument but also adds his own personality and creativity to the music. He found his ideal partner in Barry Guy, doubtlessly one of the most innovative European bassists and composers who is an active force in new chamber and orchestra music as well as improvised music and jazz and the founder of the phenomenal London Jazz Composers Orchestra. Radiating dazzling beauty and intensity, Turkmani's music sometimes rises to heavy rhythmic drive and violent outbursts in which the guitar or oud serves as a percussion instrument.