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Ibrahim Maalouf

[English] [français]


Kalthoum is a celebration of women who overturned the course of history, women whose artistic influence has had an impact reaching all the way down to our lives today. So I chose an emblematic figure, a genuine monument in the history of Arab people, and incidentally someone whose voice is the one I’ve listened to the most, ever since I was a child : Oum Kalthoum. Pianist Frank Woeste and I took one of this Egyptian diva’s greatest songs, and we “translated” it into jazz that’s rather conventional, but hopefully it innovates in the way it mixes cultures : the song is “Alf Leila Wa Leila” (“The Thousand and One Nights”).

The song was composed in 1969 by Baligh Hamidi, taking the form of a suite lasting around an hour (as often in those days), with a three-minute chorus and verses of between five and twenty-five minutes. A large part of the piece is reserved for improvisation, both in the original version and in this one, but this suite is above all a series of tableaux, and the way it’s set up was very exciting to re-transcribe. We recorded and mixed it in New York with the same crew as for the album “Wind” in 2011, which was also a homage (to Miles Davis), so I naturally thought of “Kalthoum” as continuing that fine adventure on record, with Larry Grenadier (double bass), Clarence Penn (drums), Mark Turner (saxophone) and Frank Woeste on piano.


This project is an ode to the woman of today and her founding, essential role in the hope of a better world. The women in my family have had (and still have today) immense influence on all my work in music. Especially due to the considerable inspiration they give me through the way they cope with their daily lives and that of their entourage. Despite having lives like labyrinths, complex and often dramatic, these women have inside them a strength and stability similar to a kind of unshakeable trance. They give me the impression they never lose sight of what’s essential.

Centred on an aesthetic that’s more contemporary, more electro (or even pop), this album is made up of my own compositions, plus one song from today’s diva Beyonce. Although the writing in these pieces is particularly complex (with polyrhythms in 19, 17 or 27 for example), we arranged them (with the three musicians who play with us) in such a way that you never hear the weight of this writing. So that was how we avoided the traps of elitism and didactic writing, and made an album that’s transparent and limpid, a record for people to dance to, or even sing, but which still has many, many unsuspected themes, harmonies and rhythms superimposed over each other, and whose secrets could be revealed only through a mathematical reading of the album. Recorded in France in Ivry-sur-Seine with Eric Legnini (keyboards), François Delporte (guitar) and Stephane Galland (drums), this album is above all a desire to represent the importance and necessarily complex nature of things and persons that are essential.


Ibrahim Maalouf discovered trumpet with his father Nassim Maalouf - a former student of Maurice André and the first Arabic trumpeter to play Western classical music. He studied modern, classical, baroque and contemporary concertos, and at the same time was surrounded by Arabic classical, ethnic and traditional music. All those types of music were based on makams (Arabic modes) and Ibrahim could reproduce them thanks to his father’s invention in the sixties – the quarter-tone trumpet (with a fourth valve).

Ibrahim has been awarded by many international prizes, including classical prizes, and he has also reached the first place at the national conservatory of Paris’ awards (Conservatoire National Supérieur de Paris). He has always been multicultural in his collaborations, all his featuring shows that this artist does not stop to one musical genre. Ibrahim has already played with Sting, Amadou et Mariam, Matthieu Chédid (M), Marcel Khalifé, Salif Keita

His last project, "Illusions", is an album that was especially composed to play on stage. It features the members of his faithful band, Frank Woeste on the keyboard, François Delporte on the guitar, Xavier Rogé on the drums et Laurent David on the bass, but he also tries a new experience with 3 trumpeters (Youenn Le Cam, Yann Martin et Martin Saccardy). They have been initiated by Ibrahim to quarter tones to bring a new dynamism to the band.

«  My desire to explore the theme of illusion sprang from my earliest disillusionment.
As a child, I dreamed of a world where people could talk without shouting, debate without hurting each other, and build together without seeking to destroy what they considered to be inappropriate in the other. I soon realized that the world does not spin in the same direction for everyone.

Growing up, I realised that we were able to talk about the same topics, and to be in agreement with each other in many areas, without necessarily perceiving things in the same way. And sometimes, on the contrary, we could have profound disagreements even though we shared most of our ideas. Magicians, for example, are extremely good at getting us to accept the suspension of disbelief. We know they ‘cheat’ and yet we continue to believe and ignore their subterfuge because we enjoy the performance.
In my little inner world this magic takes the form of music. How can I share my vision of the world with the people around me ?

I sense that music can answer this question. And I wanted this album to be festive and full of positive energy so that between the subject matter - which in this case is quite serious - and the music we are listening to, there is a palpable difference, which can help us to understand this paradox of perception and thus reduce the distortion between the different ways we have of looking at the world.

In my case, for example, when I am experiencing a moment of happiness, it is often just at that instant that my thoughts are at their most nostalgic ; and conversely, when I experience complex and sad events, my soul, to protect itself and survive, instinctively drives me to dance and party, so as not to flounder.
This album starts with the most tragic view of the world : cynicism. It then gradually evolves towards light and hope.  »

"Illusions" is available on YouTube :

For the release of this new album, Ibrahim was on tour in Asia from October 6th to 15th, with the support of the "Institut Français" and the French embassy in China.


Venue : Olympia, march 24, 2014, at 8 pm

In 2010, the Cinémathèque française (national film library), with the financial support of the Fonds d’Action SACEM, asked me to choose and then write the music for a film from among the silent movies in the Albatros catalogue selected for republication. At the time I was far from realizing that this experience would fulfil the two dreams I had entertained for so many years.

The first was to compose the score of a full-length feature film. And what could be better than a silent movie, for my first foray into film music ! Long minutes of silence to fill any way I wanted. No restrictions, no rules to follow. Just to observe a certain artistic consistency. The second was to compose a piece that could be very much inspired by Miles Davis’ music in Louis Malle’s « Elevator to the Gallows », but with the quarter-tone trumpet. The music of « Elevator to the Gallows » has long haunted my days and my nights. It is one of the few pieces that kindled my love for the instrument I play.
I wanted to reproduce that mysteriously melancholic atmosphere, dripping with suspense, contributing a discreet yet powerful arabic hue, blended into the typical jazz quintet played for many years by Miles’ mythical quintet.

Breath, first and foremost. The wind. The voyage. The melancholy of distance. The heartbreak of the protagonist, torn between his native country and an imaginary land ironically called « Libany ». The hero of the film, a pilot, lands there after a dangerous flight lasting several hours, his aircraft violently buffeted by high winds. And also the schizophrenia of a woman whom he falls in love with, the mysterious, disconcerting atmosphere of some of the scenes, the humour of others. These different elements helped me identify all the emotions I wanted to explore with this quintet. 
Doubts, Suspicions, Waiting, Questions & Answers, Waiting again, Excitement, Certainty, Sensuality, Issues, Surprises, Doubts once again and finally Mystery, are the titles of the musical pieces of this album, but also of the emotions I experienced in that order when I watched the movie for the first time. These are the same emotions I feel, in the same order, when I am composing music.

It has given me immense pleasure to describe these feelings musically, feelings which represent the heartbeat of my daily work. Out of reach of all the difficulties of everyday existence, they come to remind me every day that the breath that sustains me is that of creation. And when the creative process is interrupted, the breath ceases, the heart stops beating. And that it’s necessary, indispensable even, that these feelings, in the realm of music and in everything else, continue to nourish me, so as never to cease creating and evolving.
I dedicate this album to Miles Davis, because his genius was the inspiration behind all my compositions. It’s also the first time I have recorded an album in « live studio », with all the musicians on site at the same time. It’s thus a first in more ways than one. The album was recorded in New York City in half a day. Each piece was recorded in a single sitting. There are no post production trickstt. The mixing was carried out the following day in the same studio. I also chose to work with jazz musicians able to flirt with my arabic sounds, without being destabilized. The New York team is a trio composed of Larry Grenadier (bass), Clarence Penn (drums) and Mark Turner (saxophone). These musicians are greatly respected both in traditional and avant-garde jazz circles for their openness of mind, their creativity and their musicality. I also wanted to involve the pianist Frank Woeste, for the arrangements, so as to be as « accurate » as possible in my musical approach. Frank is also an excellent arranger and jazz composer. He gave me considerable help in improving the jazz flavor of my compositions, while contributing a slightly more conventional dynamic. 
With the launch of this album, it’s a dream that is coming to an end and doubt is raising its head once again, as it invariably does.
I’d like to extend my heartfelt thanks once again to Alejandra Norambuena Skira and to the Fonds d’Action SACEM, as well as to Serge Toubiana and the Cinémathèque Française, who commissioned this work, who offered me their trust, and thanks to whom I have been able to compose my first score for a full-length feature film.