Pianist Faraj Suleiman develops his new Palestinian sound in France

Audio 15:45
Pianist Faraj Suleiman is developping his career in France
Pianist Faraj Suleiman is developping his career in France ©Mehdi Benkler

Palestinian pianist and composer Faraj Suleiman was just three when he showed a love of piano, growing up in the village of Ramy, Upper Galilee. Despite a shortage of role models, he has gone on to become one of the Arab world's leading composers. And is now developing his "Eastern" sound here in France.


"I’m trying to find the meaning or the sound of the Eastern piano," says Suleiman in reference to the Arabic scales and modalities he introduces so seamlessly into his more Western-inspired jazz chords.

His influences are multiple: "You can hear Bach, Stravinsky but also rock music, Egyptian music".

He appreciates Argentine bandoneon player and composer Astor Piazzola and has arranged Libertango on his latest, fifth, album Toy Box.

But growing up, Palestinian references were in short supply.

"For the young age, we don't have any Palestinian references. Because of the Occupation and so many wars, no one had the time to write music or think about music."

Creating from scratch

But the scene is changing and Suleiman is part of a new generation of Palestinian artists and musicians.

"We are creating everything from scratch, there’s also a music scene growing up in Haifa, in Ramallah, and for me it’s very important to be part of this.

"Some theatres are being created, some music scenes, some bars, so everything is growing up and the good thing is that it's growing up independently, without any help from any country. The audience is building everything from scratch and it’s beautiful."

Building a career in France

Suleiman is currently on his second artists' residency at the Cité Internationale des Arts in Paris. And has chosen to settle in France to be close to the French musicians he performs with, and to the team that's working on building his career in France and Europe.

"Of course it’s important for me to see myself as a Palestinian because I need a background, a reference to rely on when I work, when I create, and also when I talk and play my music. I need something bigger than me to stay in my mind.

"It’s very important for me to remember all the time that I’m a Palestinian and I’m trying to write 'modern' Palestinian music, maybe."

The voice of his village

Suleiman has recorded instrumental music up until now, including for film and theatre as well as his own albums. But after singing in concert once, he's been encouraged to record an album of songs.

"It started as a joke. I put the song on Facebook and went to sleep and the next day I received so many messages from people asking me to sing again."

He's started a crowdfunding campaign to record and publish an album of 10 songs.

The songs are "mostly about love, but the unique thing is that I'm singing in the Palestinian accent [of my village] and it's not common".

Faraj Suleiman performs at the Arabofolies festival at the Insitut du Monde Arabe on 10 March 2019. Your ears, and heart, will thank you.

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Official site here

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