Ibrahim Maalouf

Coming from a family of artists, Ibrahim Maalouf has created his own style, combining sounds and techniques from different cultures. Recently seen in Finland as a part of his current tour for his latest release, Wind, the Paris-based trumpeter sat down with us to talk about music, multiculturalism and his admiration for Finland and the Scandinavian repertoire.

You are a critically-acclaimed trumpeter, composer and arranger. How did you fall in love with music?

I grew up with music as my mother tongue; it was very present in my family. I had been playing my mom’s piano since I was a child and, growing up, I also started singing with my dad, which helped me with memorising melodies and lyrics. When I was seven, I began to play the trumpet.

At the age of 15, you performed Bach’s Brandeburg Concerto No. 2, considered one of the most difficult compositions in the classical trumpet repertoire. What do you remember about that moment?

Actually, I had already been playing for a while before that, I had been performing with my father since I was nine. Usually, the first part of our concerts was dedicated to the baroque repertoire, while the second to traditional Arab music. As for Bach, it was an incredible experience, it encouraged me to study the trumpet.

You were born in Lebanon and have been in Paris for many years. How do you combine these two cultures, and repertoires, into your music?

I think that nowadays, multicultural background is a common thing: people coming from different places, mix of ethnicities, cultures and different ways to see the world. In music I do the same thing I do in my everyday life: I try to look at the good aspects of different cultures and mix those into a unique identity.

You are back for a concert in Finland, what are your thoughts on what you have seen here?

I’ve been really touched by the kindness and politeness of people in here. The first time I arrived in Finland, I immediately had the feeling that people are relaxed and serene.

There’s a sort of ‘spirituality’ that reminds me of the spirituality that one finds back East, though I don’t necessarily mean something mystical or connected to a religion. Because Finnish society seems calm – maybe because of its relationship with and proximity to nature – it looks as if people aren’t too worried about differences.

As for music, I really enjoy the Scandinavian repertoire and the way Scandinavian artists perform, it’s touching. The role of silence is also pretty interesting, it’s important here and it’s fundamental in Arab and Oriental music when we improvise, when we do a mawal. The two genres, despite being divided by thousands of kilometers, are very close to one another.

Do you think that music can bring cultures together?

I’m not sure if my music does [laughs], but music definitely helps. With language one can easily manipulate words or misunderstand others, but in music there isn’t a real risk of miscommunication, but harmony, rhythm and beautiful melodies instead. One can communicate a lot of different concepts and feelings through music, regardless of language or cultural differences.

What are your feelings on Lebanon, your motherland?

Many of my relatives and friends still live in Lebanon, I go there to visit and work quite often. I have the feeling that there’s plenty of good, possible things while, at the same time, there’s plenty of risks: explosions, bombings or attacks. Even so, hope for the future is the first thing that comes to my mind, whenever I think about Lebanon.

Are all these thoughts part of your music as well?

When I compose, when I work, Lebanon is always there, same as my family, friends, musicians I play with and the audience. It’s part of me and inspires me, but I don’t include Lebanon and the concept of exile in my music on purpose, I want to work free-minded. In all honesty, I’m not looking for those painful thoughts all the time, especially when it comes to music. To compose, I walk a lot. My inspiration is in what I see: people, landscapes, the city…

What are your plans for the future?

Lots of things coming up: soundtracks for movies, album collaborations and the big tour, Wind, that keeps me really busy. Wind is the title of my latest record, inspired by the 1950s – at tribute to Miles Davis’ Kind Of Blue and the movie Ascenseur Pour L’Échafaud (Elevator to the Gallows) – and that I composed for a mute black and white film. I’m also working on my next album, which should be released by Christmas.

Wind is out now.

Yannick Ilunga