12. 03. 2023 | Weiler Zeitung | verlagshaus-jaumann.de
Article by Tonio Paßlick
Right at the beginning of the concert, the singer shows his sensitive, kind, vulnerable side. "I don't know you at all" - a confession, as it were, of how he understands his music and his songs. As an overcoming of borders and distances, which in the mystical power of music gets by without analytical categories, which can build bridges, create peace. The four musicians play as if immersed in prayer, then again ecstatically like dancing dervishes. Subtle, sensitive and open to every new nuance. And at the same time receptive to resonance. They were so tired after a long drive, Laboud says with a quiet smile. But this warm welcome from this great team in the Burghof: unique.
Sounding out the words
In almost all the songs, the emotional and semantic content of words is explored. In "Mantra", the seasonal autumn is also the end of life when Rabih varies the statement "...embrace me death, friend...". Bait", the title of the new CD, which will be released at the end of April, not only means the Arabic translation "house" and "home", but everything that happens between the longing for security, orientation and resonance in the relationship with other people. In "Flowers", not only flowers by the wayside are sung about, but also the friendship that is affirmed with them. Words are meaning and sound at the same time, in their evocative repetition they awaken more and more connections and memories. Since the Arabic language has a great variety of consonants with which nuances can be vividly revealed, especially in the sounds of breath and friction, it is an excellent medium for lyrical sensations.
The character of the music is similar: the quartet combines the Orient, European classical music and the immediacy of the Christian Maronite liturgy with influences from classical music, traditional Arab maqams and jazz. World music? No pigeonhole would fit. Their music is a synthesis in perpetual communication, where inner resonance leads to spontaneous sound colouring. Not only vocally, but with all instruments. Virtuosically, the three instrumentalists from Dresden and Berlin conjure up sound spectra with completely unexpected colours from their instruments. Especially since guitarist Reentko Dirks joined them three years ago.
The joy of sounds
In Istanbul, he had a double-neck guitar built - one neck with six strings, the other with nine. This opens up unimagined technical possibilities. Matching the micro-intervals of the oriental sound arabesques, it can produce quarter tones or sound like an oud, but also like a bass.
Dirks reflects, said trumpeter Marcus Rust, "the spirit of the band to combine things, the Arabic scale system of maqam with flamenco power and very intimate, lyrical ideas".
MASAA, which means "evening" in Arabic, embodies the lyrical and musical fusion of two worlds - after Goethe's west-eastern divan, the tension between Orient and Occident - and at the same time sings universal, personal and yet also political messages. A sound tapestry of dialogue and openness, of tender vulnerability and intense passion. To call it a "crossover" would be too superficial an approach. Nothing is striking, everything is full of subtle resonance and depth.
The dialogue between them is touchingly intense. Again and again, "battles" arise between guitar and drummer Demian Kappenstein, who caresses the cymbal with his whisk and rocks into the moves of his counterpart without transition. Enchanting the dialogues between singer and trumpeter Marcus Rust. His flugelhorn lets fairies appear, breathed in-between sounds and dreamy soundscapes The trumpet sings, the voice whispers and breathes, magically squiggles itself into sonic calligraphy. Heterophonic Arabic intervals merge with occidental polyphony and often end in the middle of the musical pulse. As if with a question mark.
Excerpts from the new CD impressively underline this encounter: a dedication to the musician "Zeryab" from the Cordoba of the 8th and 9th centuries, for example, is in the Nahawand mode, a tonal scale related to the European minor. But there are many "minor" scales in Arabic music, which differ in their micro-intervals.
The singer Rabih Laboud, who grew up in Lebanon as the child of Catholic Maronites, has lived in Germany for more than ten years. His musical career began as a pianist. And with an interest in European classical music. In the meantime, he is regarded as an important coach and lecturer on questions of "flow", and not only in a musical sense. In the meantime, his German or French songs are becoming rarer, his curiosity about the power of Arabic words more intense again. In his moderation, Laboud often emphasises how important the reaction of the audience is to him, which also influences his spontaneous lectures. Again and again, spontaneous text variations emerge, lean and concise like haikus.
Lullaby against the war
And completely unpathetic, quiet, almost introverted, Laboud sings the lullaby "Lullaby for Jasu", an intimate serenade for a child and against war: "There is peace in my voice, not war" says Laboud. Anyone who has grown up in a cosmopolitan country full of conflicts like Lebanon does not shy away from personal confrontation.
In the Burghof, Laboud tells of the lasting experience of singing together on stage with forty Greek schoolchildren and Arab refugees on the Greek island of "Chios". "Secret of the wings" resounds with the power and harmony of Theodorakis. And it also becomes a moving beacon in the Burghof.
09.03.2023 aus Qantara.de
When you listen to "Beit", Masaa’s new album, you get the impression that the musicians are addressing the listener very directly. The sound is intimate and warm. And of course, beit means "house" or "home". Does this mean that after years of wandering, Masaa is finally home?
Rabih Lahoud: I would say yes to that – at least, that’s the feeling I have. After 20 years, I’m a bit more at home in Germany. I’ve been here half my life now, contributing, not as a guest. I no longer say, "Here, I’m elsewhere". I say: "Now I’m here". And this music, these ideas of mine are helping to influence the soundscape here.
What does beit mean as the album's theme at a time when increasing numbers of people are being forced to abandon their homes? Many buildings were destroyed by the huge explosion in the port of Lebanon, and still more are being destroyed by the war in Ukraine. Have these events influenced the record?
Lahoud: Yes, absolutely. These events have forced us to examine the concept even more closely. The idea of "house and home" has a certain duality.
On one side you’ve got the historical process of human settlement. On the other, there’s the internal aspect: what does it really mean to feel at home?
What is normal for a lot of people is something that many, many people can no longer take for granted – home has become a privilege.
At the end of the title track, I sing over and over: "Don’t destroy houses, build houses!" You can see that as a metaphor as well.
"Hatdem" means destroy, and "dammara" means build. The Arabic language is very rhythmic at this point – it almost sounds like rap.
Of course, you can also feel at home in a language. On previous albums, you’ve sung in German as well. That isn’t the case on this one; most of the lyrics are in Arabic, and they’re longer than your earlier work. Do you still feel more at home in Arabic, despite your long absence from Lebanon?
Lahoud: I think so. But my own relationship with Arabic has changed. I feel more comfortable speaking it, so maybe I use more words. In my day-to-day life as a young man, it was the sound of the language that I found beautiful, not the meaning of words. Yet now the words are starting to acquire new meaning, new intensity for me, and I get the sense that I can allow that. It now sounds more like Rabih than simply like Arabic.
The duality of 'house' and 'home': "On one side you’ve got the historical process of human settlement. On the other, there’s the internal aspect," says vocalist Rabih Lahoud. "What does it really mean to feel at home? What is normal for a lot of people is something that many, many people can no longer take for granted – home has become a privilege"
Where does the Arabic language stand today as an artistic medium?
Lahoud: My feeling is that Arabic has forfeited something through Ottoman and European influences. This influence was especially pronounced in Lebanon – the country is a true blend of languages today. On the one hand, that's wonderful, because humans adapt and are able to transform things for the sake of communication.
That's also a uniquely Lebanese characteristic: you abandon identities in order to remain in communication; it's about understanding one another. On the other, this means that the wonderful language of Arabic has lost a little of its heart, at times it maybe feels slightly inferior or old-fashioned. There are a lot of words in the modern world for which Arabic has no equivalent. In my opinion, Arabic needs artistic support. It mustn’t lose its ability to express beauty and tenderness and strength.
Has Arabic also been changed by the turmoil since the Arab Spring?
Lahoud: Absolutely. I feel a radical change, a turning point, an alteration in the consciousness of young people, especially the generation that is coming up now, post-Arab Spring. Language is being treated as something that needs to be reborn. I get the impression on social media that young people from across the Arab world are now using dialect expressions from various regions – it's creating a new standard language, a new power of expression. This will start to become visible in the structures of Arab society in the next ten to fifteen years.
Is it just the Arabic language you have gained a new attitude towards, or is it also the music of your first homeland?
Lahoud: I didn't use to work with Arabic scales; I kept them somewhat at arm's length. Now I've come to be fascinated by classical Arabic music and I'm researching it. I see now how valuable it is when we incorporate this treasure trove into the Masaa sound. So for example, one piece on Beit – dedicated to "Zeryab", who was a musician from 8th/9th century Cordoba – is written in the Nahawand mode. That's a scale related to the European minor key. But there are a lot of minor keys in Arab music: different micro-intervals mean that a minor sounds quite different in Aleppo to the way it does in Cairo. These subtle differences open up very different worlds.
There is a piece called "Nabad", that contains the lovely line, "Take away the weight of the ancestors". Is that a plea for us to relate to one another simply as humans, unburdened by the political legacies of the past?
Lahoud: Yes. We need to take a lighter approach towards those we choose to connect with, to realise a future that looks different to the present. But that also goes for outmoded thinking in musical styles. We have to liberate ourselves from the categorisation that has been going on for decades, which always says, "What’s jazz, and what’s world music?"
I personally find that a burden. When people label our band as "world music", it isn’t always done with bad intentions, but the term spawns an inherent question: "Where are you from?" In its original spirit, jazz asks, "Where are you going?" Let’s look at music that way: is it looking in a certain direction? Into the future? Does it bring hope? Does it move you to the core? And let's look for that and strengthen and promote it.
© Qantara.de 2023
Translated from the German by Ruth Martin
"Beit", distributed by Traumton/Indigo, is due for release on 28 April 2023.
22.02.2023 from a8inea.com
Photos by Antonis Logothetis
I descend to the dressing rooms of the Homerion Spiritual Centre in the central square of Chios. The member of the group Masaa are waiting for me for a snap interview.
An innovative multicultural quartet, with Rabih Lahoud from Lebanon as lead singer, who writes lyrics in Arabic, and three Germans who, while they say they play jazz, do something magical beyond jazz, ethnic or any genre. Reentko Dirks with a homemade two-neck guitar made in Turkey, Demian Kappenstein working his magic on his drums and Marcus Rust with his “tweaked” trumpets with four – instead of three – pistons.
The band has successfully toured Europe, Asia and Africa and has received numerous awards, including the German Jazz Award (2021) for the best vocal album of the year and the Förder-RUTH of the Rudolstadt Festival (2015).
In the morning of the same day, the band met the students of Musical School of Chios and practiced together. A surprise for the concert on the making!
The interview can wait a bit! Let’s go “fast forward”. I can’t describe the concert enough! They won the audience over with every note! To have the audience clapping more and more during each song has never happened to me before! Their climaxes, the pauses, the “battles” between the guitar and the drums, the blending of the trumpet with the voice were something magical. The kindness of Rabih, obviously moved, explained the lyrics, while it was obvious that they “couldn’t believe” what was happening in the square.
The “double neck” guitar with its wide range of sound, sounding both like a bass and like a sharp violin or even as a percussion instrument, the trumpet producing its own sounds and the drums, as multiple instruments, imitating the birds, the noises, the sonic indeterminacy. With them, like a wind, Rahib’s voice bobbed up and down sensually in the score. Everything is so “western”, so “oriental”, so “borderless”. And that’s what makes them special!
And for the finale, the most moving moment. Dozens of children from the Music School of Chios, came on stage and accompanied the band in a song. Α wonderful scenery, only music can provide! It was no coincidence that the audience called the band two times back on stage for two encores.
And now. ..”flash back”. An hour earlier we had this snap interview. Enjoy!
It is a Turkish guitar. It is called “double neck guitar”. One neck has 6 strings, the other one has 9 strings. It has a different sound.
Reentko plays the guitar and it sounds so “eastern”.
Yes, that’s accurate. It is custom-made in Istanbul.
Yes, but in different cities. Two of us live in Dresden, Marcus in Berlin and Rabih Monheim near Cologne.
We play a lot of concerts. During the concerts, we work a lot together. If you ask how we met, the three of us (the instruments’ players) studied at the same music school and Marcus introduced Rabih to us.
I think a bit more, twelve perhaps.
Oh, I know what you mean. We call it Makam. We don’t use it exclusively but yes, in some songs we do! I discussed it a lot with Reentko and we use some of these scales. Sometimes, It comes as a color in my voice.
Actually five albums. One of them is with an orchestra and we are happy that we won the German Jazz Award for the best vocal album of the year in 2021.
Some of us are doing things involving music, like teaching, but we have the privilege to live from this job. It is important because you can focus on music. In Germany it is easier to do it. We know that it is a struggle.
(Demian) Oh yes! Reentko and me. Sometimes it is different, sometimes not. Improvisation parts are very short. You have to see what fits the theatrical piece, sound-wise, groove-wise. Of course, there are a lot of similarities in writing songs for a band or for an act.
(Reentko) The process is the other way around. There are things that come to me from improvisation and I try to fix them in a piece, precisely and timely exactly. In the band, we open it, we have the main idea and we use it to “create” the song.
(Reentko) Yes, but it is inspirational. Music has to function, it has to interact with something else. I compose in a different way but it is good for me to do it because I don’t put all my effort into one thing. I remain creative and active.
06. 11. 2021 courtesy of Kehler Zeitung www.bo.de
By Simona Ciubotaru
Kehl. They entered the stage in modest attire - T-shirts, shirts, jeans, sneakers, as if they had just come from a hike, and you saw only four young men - without any airs and graces: Lebanese singer and poet Rabih Lahoud, Reentko Dirks (guitar), Marcus Rust (trumpet) and Demian Kappenstein (drums).
But the audience, some of whom had even traveled from Freiburg, was already raving, because in the spotlight of the Kehl Kulturhaus now stood, in front of a numerous auditorium, the famous musical unique Masaa.
German Jazz Prize
Masaa was founded in 2012, but in this constellation with Dirks on guitar, it exists since 2019. The band, which has already won several awards, recently won the German Jazz Prize 2021 with its CD "Irade" in the category of "Album Vocal of the Year", Also this year was added for singer Lahoud the WDRJazzpreis in the category "Music Cultures". One categorize their music as jazz, world jazz, world music. De facto, however, their complex compositions of incomprehensible beauty and depth do not fit into any box. "You don't have to define music all the time," Reentko Dirks commented in an interview with the Kehler Zeitung after the concert.
Masaa, which means "evening" in Arabic, embodies the lyrical and musical fusion of two worlds - an East-West osmosis - and conveys universal messages through the lyrics written by Rabih Lahoud. The band is able to weave Arabic traditional music and world jazz, if one can even define it that way stylistically, into a brilliant tapestry of sound full of nuances, honed to the smallest detail and strong expression.
The four play as if absorbed in a prayer. The musical act thus often becomes a mystical continuum: an Arabic poet who sings as if invoking the universe to heal, even save us all - a mystic with an angelic voice.
Virtuoso musicians who turn music into pure poetry: subtle, limitless and definitely unique. "There is a lot of room for improvisation in our interplay. Thus, every concert becomes unique. I also spontaneously change my lyrics, again and again new verses arise new verses on stage" said Lahoud.
Tumult full of dynamics
It is very difficult to put into words what the audience experienced in this concert: The instruments told stories, spoke to each other and to the singer. Their voices were often very soft, but always differentiated. They could, however, swell to a tumult full of dynamics and sheer power that swept the audience along, shook them and left them speechless. Quite a few people were moved by it and and by the singing of the sensitive Lahoud in such a way that they even cried and one could hear sighs in the hall after some melancholic songs. Often people lingered in silence for minutes until stormy applause and cheers broke out. According to the opinionof some listeners, this report should have looked like this: First word: "Ingenious", then 130 lines of silence. Last word: "Genius!"
But perhaps Lahoud's verses from the song "Hakim" would have sufficed: "A fence protects people. People protect the fence. A Fence protects a fence. He comes to touch people, to transform people. Transform people, he said. Your fence is clear water. Your fence is light and shadow. And all of that is joy."
15. 01. 2021 | Leika Communication
Release Album "East West Symphony Hiwar - Dialogue
With Jazz Ensemble MASAA, the Jena Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Bernd Ruf
At a time when political polarization, technological upheaval and health-related isolation are rapidly cooling down, even partially freezing, the dialogue between people, parties and institutions, the ethno-jazz ensemble MASAA and conductor Bernd Ruf send their call for dialogue into the world: Wake up! Stand up! Talk to each other! Christians, Jews and Muslims, jazzmen and classics, old and young.
In twelve tracks - ten Arabic and one French song as well as one instrumental title - Arabic ornamentation and Western symphonic music intertwine, band and orchestra groove under Brucknerian wind movements and always put the human being in the foreground: the individual human being in dialogue with the community.
The dialogue is musically perceptible through the music-making at eye level of orchestra and band. They alternately take the lead in the conversation, agree, disagree, find common statements. Vocals, trumpet, percussion and piano combine sensitively with the orchestral sound.
Jazz Ensemble MASAA
Rabih Lahoud, vocals
Marcus Rust, trumpet and flugelhorn
Demian Kappenstein, drums & percussion
Clemens Poetzsch, piano
Jena Philharmonic Orchestra
Bernd Ruf, conductor
While the album was still made with Clemens Poetzsch on piano, the band has been playing with Reentko Dirks on guitar since 2018. For the concerts with orchestra, both musicians will be on stage in the future.
Bernd Ruf & Jena Philharmonic Orchestra
Bernd Ruf is one of the most experienced and creative musical personalities in the field of Classical-Crossover. Nominated for a Grammy with Paquito D'Rivera and awarded the Golden Melody Award for an album with the Taiwanese No.1 band Sodagreen, he has been conducting a wide variety of world, jazz and rock orchestra projects for three decades now. He created the Crossover Symphonies, in which he promotes encounters between different cultures, such as in the African Symphony with the Cameroonian musician Patrick Bebey, the Mongolian Symphony with the overtone ensemble Boerte or the Celtic Symphony with the Anne Wylie Band, which he also recorded with the Jena Philharmonic Orchestra for the label gpARTS.
The music of the German-Lebanese band MASAA moves between contemporary jazz, world music, oriental sounds and Arabic poetry. The band's extraordinary singer, Rabih Lahoud, tells stories from a distant world with his emotional vocals. Rabih Lahoud receives the WDR Jazz Award 2021 in the category "Music Cultures".
With their independent music, MASAA won the Bremen Jazz Prize in 2012. In the following years, two other important world music prizes of Germany went to them: The Audience Award of the Creole Competition (2013) and the Förder-RUTH of the TFF in Rudolstadt (2015). In 2017 they received the German Record Critics Award for the album "Outspoken". Finally, for their album Irade, they received the Kulturpreis Nord-West of the Kulturbörse Nord-West this year (2020).
From the beginning, the band has been keen to take their work to the outside world: MASAA has completed successful tours to Africa, Lahoud's native Lebanon, various countries in East Africa, Tunisia and Azerbaijan.
In 2017, Bernd Ruf and MASAA began their cooperation. Both Bernd Ruf and MASAA have been awarded many prizes for their commitment in musical border areas. They see themselves as cultural bridge builders, incessantly seeking dialogues.
27. 04. 2020 | Jazzthetik
Masaa Concentrate of Tenderness
With Irade, Masaa shifts the focus a little further towards the Orient. But on its fourth album, the German-Lebanese quartet still plays lyrical world music beyond all crossover attitudes.
By Harry Schmidt (Photo Andy Spyra)
Masaa means evening. And yet the Arabic word means far more than its German equivalent. Masaa refers not only to the period of time between day and night, but also to the encounters between people that take place in it and the conversations that take place in it. It is no coincidence that trumpeter Marcus Rust and Lebanese vocalist Rabih Lahoud named their band after this time of storytelling, exchange and open communication after their paths crossed rather by chance at a big band workshop in 2012. The chemistry was right off the bat, and the desire to work together was quickly expressed, but it was only in retrospect that Rust realized he had stumbled upon his current favorite singer there - Lahoud was studying with Markus Stockhausen in Cologne at the time and had recorded an album with his band Eternal Voyage two years earlier. Support came from Till Brönner, who had been teaching at the Dresden Musikhochschule since 2009 and was immediately enthusiastic about the plan to add Lahoud to Rust's then trio with pianist Clemens Pötzsch (p) and Demian Kappenstein (dr). As a result of the recording sessions supported by Brönner, the debut album of the quartet Masaa, Freedom Dance, was released in 2013. A year earlier, they had already been awarded the Bremen Jazz Prize in the category "Jazz with Ethnic Influences."
With their current album, the fourth for Traumton, Masaa also live up to this attribute: world music in the best sense can be heard again on Irade ("Willenskraft"). However, the weights have shifted a little further in the direction of the Orient. After the departure of Pötzsch, Rust, Lahoud and Kappenstein decided in 2018 to replace the pianist with a guitarist. Reentko Dirks was also well known to Rust and Kappenstein from their joint study days in Dresden. Dirks plays a model with two necks, which expands the spectrum of his instrument with sound characteristics of both the double bass and the oud. In this way, he not only compensates for the absence of a bass player, but in many cases also underlines and complements the melismas and arabesques in Lahoud's vocal performance. In addition, there are borrowings from the Andalusian flamenco tradition.
The extent of the bond with the new band member is underscored by the fact that half of the songs on Irade were penned by the guitarist. For example, the cantabile ballad "Lullaby for Jasu", which defines the middle of the album not only in the playlist - an irresistible serenade as a concentrate of tenderness, which is the essence of this lyrical long player, characterized by chamber music intensity and intimacy, even where the line is crossed now and then in the direction of a dance-like dynamic.
Exchange and communication characterize the process in which Masaa's songs are created. "The basic idea is that everyone brings what they hear inside, to which the others in turn respond," Rust explains of the band's approach. "It's mainly about capturing a specific mood, about getting as close as possible to an emotional idea." Accordingly, the improvisations also follow less the principle of the soloist emerging from the group, but are interwoven. Lahoud's poetic texts are always based on the already existing music and often comprise only a few lines, like Japanese haikus. On the one hand, the singer takes advantage of the fact that the yards of meaning of words are larger in the Arabic language than in others. Furthermore, he allows the sounds to open up a field beyond semantics, an improvisational "language of sounds" (Rust) beyond the meanings of words. With a very individual voice that is a pleasure to listen to, Lahoud gives his poetry sonorous space - in the act of singing his lyrics become true lyricism.
Accordingly, in terms of playing techniques and instruments, Rust and Kappenstein are also concerned with expanding the palette of their expressive possibilities. Thus, the trumpeter often reaches for the flugelhorn. Perhaps the music of Masaa is so remarkable precisely because the approach of Rust and Lahoud took place, as it were, in reversed roles: The singer, who grew up in Lebanon as the child of Catholic Maronites, began his musical career as a pianist and has been intensively involved with Beethoven since childhood, whereas Rust, the son of classical musicians, discovered his passion for the music of foreign cultures during his community service in India and has been influenced primarily by Arab musicians such as Dhafer Youssef, Anouar Brahem and Rabih Abou-Khalil. Masaa cultivate a highly specific synthesis that produces a sensitive, lively diversity - an organic interweaving of Orient and Occident, but one that does not aim for crossover.
Current album: Masaa: Irade (Traumton / Indigo)