Abou Fattoush's favourite dish, also available in Palestine in excellent quality
THE CLARINET, EPISODE 3T
I went to Israel and Palestine several more times, played a tour with guitarist Michel Sajrawi and went there just for fun to say hello to my friends.
Then one of these mails reaches me again, this time by a certain Mohamed Najem, three kilometers long, infinitely polite, almost a bit exaggerated, and I wonder after the first page what the good guy really wants from me. At some point he gets to the point, so I am asked - analogously - whether "His Serene Highness", the accordion player, could possibly imagine travelling to Ramallah to play on his latest (and first!) CD. The conditions would certainly be comfortable, they could arrange that...
A single sentence would have been enough. I'll ask friend Kinan. He tells me Mohamed is a good guy and a good musician. Nowadays it is very easy to look up and hear who you are dealing with on YouTube, and I feel a great seriousness in what Mohamed is doing. And as always, I will send my famous answer at an appropriate distance, this time with a selfmade flag.
This time it's with Dimitri Mikelis (oud, piano, bouzouki) and Tareq Rantissi (percussion, don't I know him already? Wasn't that the long-haired rebel of my second Palestine tour?), who comes
from the USA. I'm asked to suggest a bassist, and I know one: Antoine Pütz, the man for all occasions. A band that Antoine is in is definitely a better band. The "clients" are convinced, Antoine
as well. So let's get into the planning.
I can combine this trip with a performance at the Jazz Festival in Amman with Kinan Azmeh and Dima Orsho, and arrange a duo concert with Antoine at the French Cultural Institute in Ramallah. Everything fits! The only condition I have is not to be accommodated in one of these fancy hotels, as there are so many in Ramallah. I'd like to go to the Royal Court. Same as always.
And so Antoine and I travel via Tel Aviv to Ramallah in mid-June 2014.
A little digression: Since it is getting more and more difficult to take my instrument on the plane without buying an extra seat, I eventually come up with the following solution:
I separate the bass from the treble and pack the two parts into a trumpet gig bag. I have the sensitive bass part with me as hand luggage, the treble is additionally well padded together with the tools I need for dividing and reassembling in a hard shell case and goes into the checked baggage. In the actual accordion gigbag are my things. This creates two new problems:
Firstly, the suitcase could land in Abu Dhabi and I could land somewhere else. A concert with only the bass part is not very convincing.
Secondly, it is not easy to explain half of an accordion to a border guard who does not even know whole accordion.
Since I have read in the SITA report that statistically of 139 suitcases one never arrives or is late or demolished, I no longer take the risk. My "Käschtle" now stays together again, and it needs a second seat.
We reach the city in the early morning around 3 am. The taxi driver takes us to the hotel, and I know the man at reception. "We are very happy to see you again, but then we realize that our booking is valid from 18.6., but the room can only be occupied at 12 o'clock, so in nine hours!" There are other people sleeping in our rooms. Who booked this? But Ramallah would not be Ramallah and the Royal Court would not be the Royal Court if a solution could not be found. The receptionist makes a little phone call and we can move to another hotel for the first night.
Mohamed arrives at the hotel on time the next day. He's very, very friendly, but also very nervous. He set heaven and hell in motion to realize this CD project, he brought Tareq Rantissi from the US, Antoine and me from Germany, got a rehearsal room and booked accommodations and the recording studio. A lot of small stuff, I've been there. And not to forget: First you have to write the music you want to record. Together with his producer Samer Jaradat and the arranger Dimitri Mikelis, he planned all this for over a year. And when the time comes, you can be nervous. We're going to our rehearsal room at the conservatory.
From my age I could be Mohammed's father, and our relationship goes a bit in this direction at the beginning. Meanwhile I almost always have the most experience. It's the age... And if there's
one thing I've learned in all these years, it's to keep my nerves in the studio. We are good musicians, we have practiced for ourselves, we have done our homework, and we are rehearsing together
now. What's going to happen? So together we manage relatively quickly to give the main artist the security he needs in this situation.
Then, after three days we go from Ramallah to East Jerusalem. As already described before, travelling in the country is not entirely uncomplicated. For example, Tareq, who was born in Jerusalem, now needs a "permission" to go there. He follows all the rules and applies for the paper in good time. Rejected! Without giving reasons. Theoretically, he can't go into the studio. All the effort for nothing? Not exactly, because the people who grew up there know the tricks. And in practice he will be there a few hours later. Illegally in his own town. The rest of us gets through without problems and we meet in the "Sabreen"-Studio.
Issam Murad is a professional behind the desk, I know him from a festival a few years earlier. We set up, Issam puts the right microphones in the right places (which is not always a matter of course in this part of the world), and we get started.
Mohammed's music is sometimes not uncomplicated, but always exciting. In three days we will record the whole CD "Floor Nr.4". Antoine is stable as always, the guys are motivated and I also have a good moment or two. It's easy to do. You get to know and appreciate each other, and in between I offer to take over the mix and mastering. Mohamed later confesses to me that he did not dare to ask me for it. Well, here we go.
At the end I take a thick hard disk home and finish the CD.
With Mohamed Najem at the Sabreen Studio
A little digression: For me it is always fascinating what can happen when making music: are the right people together, suddenly they all get elephant ears, listen to each other, go back when they realize that the other one has a nice moment. They help each other out of trouble if something threatens to go wrong. They seduce each other to do unheard things. It's like good sex sometimes. Jus only with sounds... A rare quality.
I'm meeting another old friend: Mohammad Qutati, a very kind and good accordion player from Ramallah. He has problems with the instrument I got him a few years ago from Hohner.
My repair set is always included, and although I am far from being a master in this discipline, I can repair small things myself.
Finally, I have been looking over Gerhard Herbach's shoulder for twenty years, who has built my wonderful instrument with his hands. More about this in another chapter. Anyway, at some point we get Mohammad's "Käschtle" ready to play again and the accordion player is happy.
With Mohammad Qutai
Mohamed Najem ist für mich eine Art Naturmusiker. Sehr fein, sehr sensibel und elegant, und mit einer Eigenart ausgestattet, die man nicht lernen kann: Er hat sich - trotz seiner klassischen
Ausbildung - einen Ur-Ton bewahrt. Besonders im tiefen Register, und wenn er leise spielt. Ich kenne keinen, der wie er klingt.
Wa Habibi, an arabic song about the passion story of christ. Clash of cultures?
It took a while between us to make him understand that I don't belong on the throne he always puts me on. I don't take anything really seriously myself, and least of all myself. We are all normal
people, a product of our parents and the time we grew up. No use of weapons for seventy years and, at least in Europe, a prosperous economy until the 1990s. We could only do all this because the
conditions were right. And a good dose of luck must be added. In short, none of us have a reason to imagine anything. Okay, we brought in the hard work ourselves.
Mohamed has now often been with me in Aachen. He likes to come to my "Temple of the Muses", where the recording room also serves as a guest room. You look at trees and have the shortest way to work you can imagine. A meter from the bed to the microphone.
In the meantime, the situation has eased. We are two musicians at eye level who meet somewhere and try to give their best, like in 2016 at UNESCO in Paris.
Fotografiert mit dem iPad von der Terasse der UNESCO
And by the way, Mohamed is one of the funniest colleagues I know. If he were not a musician, he could easily make a living as a comedian or parodist. If you ever meet him, ask him to do Arafat. You laugh your ass off. I have, should I ever have to blackmail him, a video of it, but I can't share that here, he would have problems,