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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - RIYADH: Crowds attending a recent concert in Riyadh’s JAX District were taken on journey of sound from Africa to Arabia by Bahrain-based fusion band Majaz.
The Warehouse venue boomed to the chanting of the vocalists and the audience as the first show of Majaz’s regional tour got underway alongside the Saudi band Garwasha.
With popular tracks including “Shuruppak,” “Rihla,” and “Mashujaa wa Jangwa,” Majaz recently released its latest single, “Heila Hei,” which, according to the group’s publicity, addressed “modern society’s obsession with achieving happiness and fulfilment, amidst the bombarding and overwhelming pressure of the age of information, with playful banter.”
It noted that the words of the song title were “nonsensical” and “used colloquially by older Bahraini generations as a way to boost morale or motivation.”
Hameed Al-Saeed, the band’s guitarist, told Arab News: “The whole idea of infusing Khaleeji music with different types of music, or modernizing it in different ways, is still relatively new, especially in the region. There’s a lot of room for experimentation.”
Saudi musician Abdulla Faisal, the band’s percussionist, said: “Us as Khaleejis, we’re not enjoying our music to the maximum that we should.”
When I grew up and tried to learn more about world, jazz, and fusion music, I realized that Khaleeji music is rich, if not richer, than all the genres.
Abdulla Faisal, Saudi percussionist, Majaz
The four-piece band is made up of Al-Saeed, Faisal, Salah Alawi on bass, Jehad Al-Halal on cello, with collaboration on vocals. Over 10 years of playing together, the band has aimed to inject energy and participation into its live performances.
As well as Jeddah, the current tour will visit other cities in countries including the UAE, Egypt, and Morocco.
The band integrates progressive rock, metal, jazz fusion, and Khaleeji folk music.
“The older we get as a band, the more connected we get to our roots and the music from this region, the Khaleej, as much as we can. To me, that’s the most important thing,” Faisal added.
Al-Saeed said: “Gradually, we became more focused and narrowed down our creative input into something more valuable culturally, and to us as musicians and individuals and a band, in relation to who we are and where we come from.”
This amounted to their own take on Afro-Khaleeji, incorporating sounds from African cultures and their own heritage, including traditional Bahraini fjiri, jirba, and laiwa vocal repertoires.
“We are very grateful for our experience in Morocco a few years back because we got exposed to how gnawa music, Moroccan traditional music, got contemporized or modernized.
“For us, that was fascinating. This is exactly what we need to do with our music,” Faisal said.
The group’s music is a celebration of the connections between Africa and Arabia, whether it be through the melodies of Khaleeji tribal sounds, or the rhythmic beats of Afro music. The two cultures interweave historically, inspiring the band members to create a fusion of both worlds encapsulated in the genre.
The band said it had been inspired by northern Mali group Tinariwen, who it played alongside at a festival.
“We’re trying not to limit ourselves creatively by taking sounds from a very specific country or culture, whether it’s in Africa or Khaleej. There are a lot of beats, rhythms, or even melodies that are shared across the entire continent of Africa, and similarly in Khaleej,” Al-Saeed added.
Majaz shows around the world have included Dubai’s Wasla Arab Alternative Music Festival, the Dhaka International FolkFest in Bangladesh, and more recently Les Journees Musicales de Carthage in Tunisia, and MDLBeast’s SoundStorm Festival.
With a population of more than 7 million, Riyadh was the prime location to both play and kick start the band’s tour.
Faisal said: “Worldwide, Riyadh is a very important place musically, let alone in the MENA region. We can’t have a conversation about music without talking about what’s happening in Riyadh.”
Majaz hopes to reach Saudi Arabia’s younger generations with its traditional regional music.
“I think a lot of millennials developed this distant relationship with Khaleeji music. When I grew up and tried to learn more about world, jazz, and fusion music, I realized that Khaleeji music is rich, if not richer, than all the genres,” Faisal added.
The band is currently working on new sounds, material, releases, and shows.
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