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Meet the Revolutionary Lebanese Jazz Musician Tarek Yamani

posted on: Jul 5, 2017

Meet the Lebanese Jazz Musician Tarek Yamani

By Ani Karapetyan/Contributing Writer

“A magician with his chromatics and disquieting passing tones.” This is how New York Music Daily referred to Lebanese jazz musician, Tarek Yamani. Indeed, the award winning composer has created a real magic in jazz by combining the elements of Western jazz music with Eastern traditions.

In 2012, Tarek’s debut album was released, called “Ashur”. In his second album, “Lisan Al Tarab: Jazz Conceptions in Classical Arabic”, he bridges the elements of African-American Jazz and Arabic rhythms, called maqams.

Tarek’s new album, entitled “Peninsular”, was released in March 2017 and had its world premier at the Abu Dhabi Festival 2017. Tarek’s actual inspirations for his new album is the traditional music of Khaleej (the Arab Gulf), the music of bedouins and villages. For instance, he used the sound of the camels, which is a bedouin tradition. It is a vocal technique created for making them sound like a large group of people to make the enemy’s army fear their numbers. Peninsular is the combination of  traditions of the authentic desert culture with Western elements.

Meet the Lebanese Jazz Musician Tarek Yamani

Tarek is the recipient of many awards such as the Givanas Foundation grant, the Huygens scholarship, the Andrea Elkenbracht award, the Prins Bernhard Culture fund, the Thelonious Monk Composers Competition prize, the Betty Carter Jazz Ahead residency, the New Dutch composition contest, and the Composer’s Platform Commission by the Abu Dhabi Festival.

Apart from music, Tarek has co-written with Darine Hotait a feature film entitled, “Decoding Bach”, which was selected by the New York Foundation for the Arts for their fiscal sponsorship program. He recently scored the music of “I SAY DUST”, a film by Darine Hotait, produced by Cinephilia Production.

Recently, Tarek has self-published an eBook about practicing rhythm, “Duple vs Triple: A Melodic Approach to Mastering Polyrhythms in Jazz and other Groove-Based Music in 56 Steps.”

Read below Arab America’s interview with Tarek Yamani:

Do you feel welcomed by American audiences? Or do you feel challenged because of your Arab background?

My experience playing for an American audience has been extremely positive and the feedback has always been great. It’s also encouraging that Non-Arab audiences seem to really appreciate hearing the not-so-familiar Arabic melodies and rhythms with the familiar harmonies and textures of jazz.

What is the craziest thing that has happened on tour?

I can’t think of a crazy thing happening on a tour, but I can tell you about how a gig went totally absurd.  In 2006, I was supposed to play a gig at a club on a 30th floor of a hotel in Beirut. Israel has just invaded Lebanon the day before. We were told to come just in case people show up (for real). Obviously, that was an idiotic move; however, we went there and once we were done setting up, we looked out the large surrounding windows, which had a pretty good view of the city into the sea, we saw the Israeli ships arriving to the coast and getting set in their positions ready to fire. That was a pretty good sign that the gig was cancelled.  

What are your future plans?

Now, I am focusing about preparing a tour for my latest release “Peninsular” to make it heard in as many places as possible. I am also going to be scoring a new film by my wife Darine Hotait. In the works there is also a new project which I’ll record later in 2018. It will focus greatly on the concept of quarter tones (found in Arabic maqam) within jazz harmony, something that I started experimenting with in “Peninsular” on compositions such as:  Qumairah, Rastprints, and Al Qorbi Nasnas.

I know that your real influence and inspiration comes from classical Arabic music, the culture of the desert, and bedouin tribes. Who are your Western musical influences?

Too many to cite, but if I’ll name the big four in order of appearance into my life, it would be: Pink Floyd, Bach, John Coltrane, and Herbie Hancock.

How do you describe your music to people?

My music is made up of a great number of air vibrations, which means absolutely nothing until they hit the eardrum. Once they do, they become organized complex sounds that make you feel very moved and want more.

There is not much information about your personal life. Are you married? Dating?

My second and most precious half is Darine Hotait. She’s a fascinating writer, director, and the founder of an innovative incubator project called: Cinephilia Productions which is dedicated to the development of filmmakers from the Middle East and Africa.