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MazaJ Festival

Volatile Frequencies Conference

 

 

MazaJ is the musical manifestation of Zenith Foundation which has produced occasional performance events since 2005. MazaJ (meaning mood in Arabic) is a place of free expression that includes the sonic, music, poetry and other interventions ranging from the traditional to the experimental.
 
Recently, we curated and co-produced the MazaJ Festival of Experimental Middle Eastern Music in London. The festival consisted of a series of concerts, Volatile Frequencies Conference and a MazaJ Salon at Cafe Oto, London. These events were co-produced by Zenith and Sound and Music, and were supported by City University London, LCACE (London Centre for Arts and Exchange) and media partner The Wire magazine.
 
In a separate project, Seth Ayyaz (Zenith music director) collaborated with DASH ARTS as creative consultant on the hip-hop project Lyrical Alliance. This was a re-working of the pre-Islamic Mu’allaqat poems. An artist residency in the summer of 2010 led to the first performance at the Roundhouse in Camden, London on 16 October 2010. The five MC’s taking part in the project were:
Rabah Donquishoot of Le Microbrise Le Silence (Algeria) / Shadia Mansour (Palestine) / Rayess Bek of Aks’ser (Lebanon) / Samm (Jordan) / Tamer Nafar of DAM (Palestine) / VJ Jana Saleh (Lebanon)
 
For more info on our past music activities please visit the archive
or contact Seth Ayyaz at seth [at] zenithfoundation.com.
 
 
why MazaJ?
 
There is currently a poverty of discourse around contemporary Middle Eastern sonic cultures. MazaJ is interested in the tension between musical heritage and possible futures, particularly re/working techniques of improvisation and making music. We were moved to explore links between heritage and new forms by providing a space to listen and to perform new experiments.
 
MazaJ is a strike against the tyranny of stereotypes and commercial pop. Pop addresses the desire for easy distraction, entertainment, denial of the difficult, easy solace for those with no particular interest in sound and musical art (feel free to take issue!). Other places cover it and this is not really our focus.
 
The emerging Arab experimentalists are asking something else of us – the sounds of new processes, of possibilities, techniques and improvisations. The sound worlds in which we live are opened up, the digital grain exposed. Links with national identities, museum cultures, orientalist packaging and repackaging are all now problematised. If we can’t interrogate those who control us, who constrain our lives, we can reclaim and develop our subjective space, our internal spaces, our perceptions can be forged anew. A new generation is refusing to play the world-muzak game.
 
Arabic music and musicianship has always been an evolving hybrid – interacting with elements of traditions from here and there, from jahiliyyah sources such as Indian and Greek to contemporary fusions with reggae and dubstep.
 
Voice, rhythm, microtones, noise, sorrow and ecstasy have always been deep in the sound. There’s too much to say here, but check the links for more background.
 
There are words we might remember before they disappear into a mish-mash of slick overproduction and gross simplification. MazaJ has been about some of these central ideas – tarab, bahha, taswir al-ma’ná, samma’iyyun. The ideas around tarab are very important – it means to be moved, to touch and be touched. It is enchantment if we know how to listen. There is much to listen too, for instance bahha, a hoarseness, a break in the voice at the right time, an imperfection that reveals truth. There is taswir al-ma’ná, the timbral shifts and drifting colours that articulate and express meaning.
 
We most of all might learn to listen with new ears – not simply to hear, to be new samma’iyyun – knowledgeable listeners. This requires an open ear, an open heart, and an open mind. Sound envelops us (ever been to Cairo?) as a physical and psychological reality that shapes our consciousness. It is about time and it’s unfolding and suspension. It penetrates into the secret spaces of the heart.
 
 

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