The shadow of language. That’s how the members of Le Trio Joubran—the Palestinian trio of oud-playing brothers—describe their new album Majâz. The album title means “metaphor,’ a fitting title for an ensemble that plays instrumental music inspired by poetry, especially the poetry of Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish. The album is accompanied by a North American tour that includes the West Coast, the Midwest, and the Southeast.
“Once a poet was asked, ‘what is the meaning of majâz?’ And the poet said, ‘It is the meaning of the meaning,” says Samir Joubran, the eldest brother in the group. “Poetry is a transparent result of all of our feelings as human beings, our happiness and sadness, as lovers, Palestinians, young people, and so on. This is how our music is metaphoric. It tells about our honest feelings, openly, without precision, like poetry. Our music is without words. We hope that each listener connects each track to a feeling that he or she feels or to a situation in their life.”
Samir and his brothers Wissam and Adnan are the sons of a master luthier, who is the son of a master luthier; a family steeped in the 4,000-year saga of the oud, ancestor of the guitar. Le Trio Joubran was born when elder brother Samir listened to the jazz/rock/Flamenco Guitar Trio of Al Di Meola, Paco de Lucia, and John McLaughlin. The brothers were born in the Galilean city of Nazareth in a family with a strong musical tradition. Their mother sang in a Muashahat (a classical Arabic poetry/music form) ensemble and their father is an oud crafter known throughout the Arab world. The three sons perform on ouds built by Wissam, who was the first Arabic luthier to graduate from the Stradivarius Institute in Cremona, Italy, where he mastered the construction of violins and ouds.
The trio’s first CD together, Randana, was the first meeting of an oud trio. “We wanted to experiment composing for three ouds,” says Samir. “It was a challenge and the music was experimental. Through our touring we gained confidence which makes the music on Majaz different. It’s more accessible to a wider public; it’s more clear, transparent, and joyful but with sadness in the background, and yet proud. We introduce percussion in a very subtle way, sensitive and present. Three ouds are there with three different personalities, but together.” Both albums are on the Joubran’s own label, Randana, Palestine’s first recording label.
The title track, “Majâz,” was improvised around a theme in the studio. Samir repeats the starting motif while his brothers improvise their own theme. Along with a dynamic range of percussion, the song builds to a majestic intensity. “Masar,” which translates as “Process,” was composed during a rehearsal break. The three brothers were taking a break in separate rooms. Wissam picked up his oud in his room, while Samir simultaneously did the same in the living room. They played the same melody, the same rhythms, spontaneously composing, when Adnan joined in as well. The impromptu collaboration reached a state of ecstasy, which is when they knew the piece was finished.
Spread throughout the album is the three-suite “Tanasim.” The word—which sounds like “takasim,” the word for improvisation in Arabic music—refers to a sweet smelling breeze. On each of the three tracks, a brother expresses his own sound. Adnan’s track is untraditional and melancholic; Samir’s is prayer-like, getting closer to tradition; and Wissam’s is the most traditional.
Percussionist Youssef Hbeish joins the Joubran brothers on the new album. His approach, along with his reverence for silence and sensitivity to rhythm, make him a perfect match for the trio.
The trio takes on one song with vocals called “Min Zaman.” This very old folkloric song from the brothers’ birth city of Nazareth talks about wandering in the hills, sadness, and distance from one’s place of origin. “We sang it ourselves, a first for Wissam and Adnan,” explains Samir. “We put one song on each album. This song touches the hearts of the old Arabic public, especially the people from Nazareth. When we played it for our father, he had tears in his eyes. His mother sang it to him when he was a child.”
“Human beings in their nature are sad,” says Samir. “It starts with their first tear at birth, and continues throughout life. The nice moments in life are short, but we are obliged to make them longer. The world is full of sad situations waiting to be changed into happy ones. It’s our duty in life. We personally would like for Palestine to become free, so we as musicians become free from this situation and can be normal musicians. We want to change from being ‘Trio Joubran, the Palestinian musicians’ to being ‘Trio Joubran, the musicians from Palestine.’ For now, we stay in the margin. We use this margin as a window to see the reality, and to see the world.”