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Coloring with Sound: Walid Zairi Fuses Arabic, African and Jazz in New Compositions

posted on: Mar 1, 2019

SOURCE: THE BAY STATE BANNER

BY: CELINA COLBEY

On Friday, March 1, Tunisian musician Walid Zairi and his band Talween will take the stage at the Red Room at Café 939 for their first-ever Boston concert performing original music. The band performs a unique fusion of Arabic, African and jazz music featuring Zairi on the oud and Ken Hiatt on the accordion.

By day, Zairi works as a nurse anesthetist and by night he strums out dreamy musical landscapes with Talween. Growing up in Tunisia, Zairi was exposed to both Arabic music and African rhythms and when he immigrated to the United States in 2002, he discovered his passion for jazz. “My music is very much like chamber music, that kind of vibe. It’s a lot of details, a lot of dynamics,” says Zairi. “It’s a synthesis of everything I like.” Though he has performed many times in the city, this will be the first performance of Zairi’s original compositions.

Zairi began playing the oud by happenstance at age 9. The budget in his family home was too tight for a tabla sitar or a piano, and so he began his musical career on the oud, a pear-shaped instrument with 11 or 13 strings. “I have pictures, and when I was 9 the oud was so big you could barely see my face,” says Zairi, laughing. It turns out the instrument would launch his composition career. While visiting friends in Montreal, Zairi found he missed the sounds of the oud, which prompted him to compose a song for the instrument.

“Talween” is the Arabic word for “coloring” and Zairi hopes to create a kaleidoscope of musical colors when the group performs. Zairi and Hiatt met in 2003 while they were both taking adult music classes at the New England Conservatory. Although their two instruments came from opposite styles, Zairi felt pairing the oud with the accordion took it out of its more conservative musical tradition.

Walid Zairi and band mates. PHOTO: COURTESY WALID ZAIRI

Walid Zairi and band mates. PHOTO: COURTESY WALID ZAIRI

For Zairi, it was important to perfect not just the music, but the stage presence of the group as well, before performing. “I said, ‘I want to play from the basement where we practice to the festivals straight,’ so we did,” he says. When the band performs, everyone is off book — Zairi doesn’t allow sheet music on stage. He wants the musicians to be able to connect with the sound and the audience in the moment.

Zairi says he hopes the concert will introduce a new musical fusion to the audience. “It’s a very unique combination, the oud and the accordion,” he says. “It’s complicity.”