Interview: Hasan Hujairi on Ethnomusicology and Queen

Bahrain-based Academy alum, Hasan Hujairi is no less than a gentleman and a scholar. Now, we know that phrase gets tossed around a lot these days, but if there was ever an appropriate time to use it, the time is now. Actually, the more apt description would be slightly longer - a gentleman, artist, musical visionary, and a scholar. We caught up the other week with Hasan regarding his ethnomusicology studies, sound installation projects, and his oud.

First of all, for those who might not know about you, who are you? And also, for curiosity's sake, where are you, and what are you doing?

I'm a sound artist and researcher from Bahrain. I occasionally make music, too. I'm sitting on a couch at home in Bahrain right now. The television's on some comedy channel but I'm not really paying attention to it. The television's only on because I need some sound. Today I filled out more application forms, visited an art gallery, and gave a short talk on ethnomusicology and experimental music to a small number of people.

If I'm not mistaken, you’ve also lived in Iowa, Tokyo, and Exeter. To start with some light-hearted fair, of all the places, who has the best cuisine?

Most of the time I spent living outside of Bahrain was related to pursuing higher education, and the lifestyle around that is typically 'economical' in nature. So, the best food I had that was also reasonably priced was in Tokyo out of all places. I especially enjoyed small curry shops. There was one shop in particular which was in Kunitachi, Tokyo that was run by a man who was studying to be a priest. They made the best curry and rice. Oh, and to be fair, you know what they say about home cooking. To me, Bahrain's food is great, too!

The idea of defining 'music' to me has, especially over the past two years, been both problematic and exciting to explore.

Now, you play the oud, but you also do much more musically. Maybe you can explain that a bit? How do you see your music?

The idea of defining 'music' to me has, especially over the past two years, been both problematic and exciting to explore. Recently, I've been involved in creating sound installations that were on display in some art galleries. I was actually selected to create the sound for Bahrain's pavilion in this year's Venice Art Biennale, but the application was unfortunately withdrawn due to the current situation in the country. I'm also very interested in different forms of what may generally be called "experimental" music, especially in different approaches to improvisation. On another note, I've been involved in an ongoing sound project since late 2009 called 'Sonicles', which I post regularly on my website.

As for the oud, it's basically a fretless stringed instrument from the lute family said to be over at least 5,000 years old. The instrument is played in the Middle East, North Africa, parts of Central Asia and Eastern Europe. The oud I play in particular was made famous by Iraqi oud master Munir Bashir, which has a floating-bridge and is tuned up to an F rather than a C. My current research project in Ethnomusicology actually explores the oud in Arabic Medieval texts in order to re-create the older version of the instrument. I'm also in the planning stages of building my own electric oud that has a few special features. If you know anyone who'd be willing to fund or support such a project, please send them my way!

I’ve noticed over the course of your discography that your song titles are pretty humorous, but the music often sounds a little more serious. Why is that?

I think it's probably all in the process I usually go through in making music or sonic art. I would like to think that the cues I get for the titles are all from within the music I make. Although the music I typically make may sound serious, I think that there is some humour in it. A different kind of humour perhaps.

You release music for the Creative Commons. Can you explain a bit about why you do that?

While working on my 'Manama and Other Spices' album back in 2009, I put a lot of thought into how I'd like to release my music. At the time, I felt that licensing my work under Creative Commons made it easier, at least legally, for my work to be accessible to and shared by others. The idea of being able to control the conditions under which I release my work was very appealing, and I've been releasing my work that way ever since. However, I am still very open to considering new avenues in how my future works are released. The bottom line is I just want to make music.

What do you remember about the Academy experience you were a part of?

I was a participant only a year ago, so I think I might be able to remember something, haha. Last year, the Academy took place in London, which in itself is an inspiring city for music among other things. The environment we found at the Academy was positive and encouraging to us as participants. Between the meaningful lectures, fantastic studios, and amazing events we were part of, we had a lot to work with and enjoy.

However, what really had the biggest impact on me was the people involved in the process. Participants had the opportunity to interact with each other, the resident advisers, the lecturers, and the very friendly studio team. The discussions, studio sessions, jam sessions, and joint live performances going on certainly allowed me to learn from others and for me to share my knowledge and approach with everyone else. In retrospect, the people I met and their diverse attitudes towards making music really changed the way I approach my own work.

I'm still in touch with some of the other participants and I do hear from the others every once in a while. Over the course of our two weeks together last year, we all became really good friends and we try our best to support each other in any way we can.

And just last month, I was invited to participate in the Red Bull Music Academy Bass Camp, which took place in Beirut, Lebanon. Bass Camp was a shortened version of the big annual event that happened over the course of a weekend and it brought back many good memories of the Academy in London while I was making new friends and meeting new artists from the Middle East who are all very promising.

What are your plans for the summer? The beach?

I'm currently in talks with some art galleries in which I'll be performing some music and running some workshops related to music and sound installation over the course of the summer. I'm also in the process of planning some collaborations with different musicians. Who knows, a new album perhaps?

Lastly, can you give three songs you wish you made?

John Cage's “4’33”.” Dmitri Shostakovich’s Suite for Variety Orchestra. And why not... Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

By Red Bull Music Academy on June 22, 2011

On a different note