Faris: A musician transcending borders
Faris is a musician whose music goes beyond borders, both stylistically and geographically. ASBO magazine spoke to him from Berlin to find out more about his current pursuits.
Hey Faris, tell me about yourself.
Currently I am based between Berlin and Ramallah. I was born in AlBireh and lived between there and Ramallah till I was 17, and came to Berlin in 2015. I came to study my bachelors in Classical Music and Humanities. Right now I am finishing my final year of the degree, and I graduate next Summer. I’m very excited about that, because I’ve been a student for way too long. In terms of skill, I am a cellist and I play a tiny bit of piano, I enjoy both a lot. I usually perform with cello, and recently I decided to experiment with my voice, I sang on a stage of a ‘House of Living Colours’ event. Other than that, I do some composition, production, photography, videography, graphic design, and I got into managing and organising music events through BLTNM, the up-and-coming label I run with Mukta-feen, ShabJdeed, and Al Nather.
Growing up how did you get into music and what made you want to be a musician?
My parents, god bless them, encouraged my creativity since I was 6, so I started with Violin, levelled up to Cello when I was 11. Ever since, I’ve embarked on a journey that has brought an array of wonderful things. The opportunities music brought made me curious about the music/art world. I am quite curious person, and intuitive as well. So it was organic for me to take up musicianship. My friends, god bless them as well, encouraged me a lot to take music more seriously. Mukta-feen was one friend that inspired me a lot, he showed me a side of art that I didn’t pay attention to. We listened to so much music together, shared music, spoke about it, and that definitely pushed me more. I was really intrigued by music people, ones I knew and the ones I saw on screens. The first time I felt like a musician was when I first improvised with my Cello. I spoke with it, expressed and poured my soul into and through it. It was a moment of epiphany, and it’s why I study the instrument today.
Does your focus as a musician lie more with Classical or Popular music? Do you think there is an overlap for the two?
As a musician I draw focus to sound in general, because music to me is sound. I hear and feel it everywhere, so whether it is a performance of a Renaissance piece or a Moses Sumney concert, I am drawn to both. I think Classical music, as an art form, was used as a tool of imperialism to culturally subdue other non-western arts, and values. The African-Americans who sang spirituals sparked the start of Blues, and Jazz; historically, this music and what came from it – like Rock, Metal, Funk, Soul, Hip-Hop, Trap, and Techno – owe a good deal of their foundation to classical music. It is one line of evolution cut into divergent streams, so yes there is an overlap. I am interested in the virtuosity and complexity of classical music. I’m also intrigued by how it was reimagined by popular artists who today use technology to transcend music into the magic it is today.
Do you think your Classical musicianship influences your approach to and appreciation of Popular music?
Yes it did, and vice versa. Getting into classical music made me meticulous, more than I already was. I learnt to hear in a new way, to use different techniques of hearing and listening, and to construct criticism for improvement, that's what I do today, whether it is music or my life, I listen to develop. Regardless of the positive development, it can also do the opposite. It did sometimes limit me from listening freely, so I had to find another way to deconstruct the same hearing that I appreciated actually, so it is quite a paradoxical hassle, haha.
You study in Berlin but still have strong ties to Palestine. What does it mean to be a young person in Palestine today?
Being a young person in Palestine varies from a person to another, there are many young people in Palestine, more than you can imagine. Each have their own stories, and realities, depending on location and history. Everyone there has a complex life, there are problems striking in all conceivable ways. The Israeli Occupation is the first, largest, most urgent one to tackle. The everyday life of a Palestinian is mainly based on survival, resistance, and striving for freedom, dignity and life. To be honest, I would not do justice to the Palestinian cause by simply speaking about experience due to these the complex conflicts. On the bright side, at the moment there are huge things happening there in the flourishing creative cultural scene, follow BLTNM to be updated!
How does your identity as a Palestinian effect your musicianship and the art which you create?
Palestine is a main inspiration. The people and the land are main subjects in my life and art. Being a Palestinian is a struggle but a blessing at the same time. I wouldn’t have preferred to be born anywhere else. I owe so much of who I am to my experience with those people and that land, so naturally it is recurring in my art. What I learnt there, like resilience, resistance, and rebelliousness, is what drives me to make art, and I portray that and pay respect to and solidarity with my community. I guess you’d perceive it better if you’d see or hear my art.
Tell me about BLTNM and your involvement with them.
BLTNM is a new digital independent label based in Ramallah. We started constructing the idea 3 years ago, and officially set about it in early 2018. Released singles for ShabJdeed and Al Nather, and we’ve been thriving ever since. Today the team is made up of Mukta-feen, ShabJdeed, Al Nather and myself. We work in different domains, mine is mostly the creative and managerial side. Last August we threw numerous parties around Palestine and some in Jordan, but there was one particular event of raging success. An album release concert, with an amazing line-up, amazing venue, we worked on organising and marketing it expecting 200 guests and ended up with around 600. It was crazy, it looked more like a festival rather than a normal Thursday Ramallah night.
Is there an overriding message behind the output of BLTNM?
There are many messages within BLTNM. The overriding one would be authenticity, collectivity, and high-quality. Our interdisciplinary work allows us to work with a variety of artists, and today we aim to create a spider-web of connections, a platform for artists to represent themselves and the communities they come from. A label that collectively develops and inspires the Palestinian, MENA, and global art scenes.
What does the future hold for you, Faris?
Wow, big question. Haha. Your questions are difficult to answer in a few words, but I’ll try. By the end of 2019 I would have finished my bachelors in music, and from there I would like to go back to Palestine for a while to continue establishing myself. I still want to obtain different skills in many many things. Currently, I’m composing my debut EP, an ambient project made of what I call meditations. That will take around a year. Also collaborating with people I already have collaborated with: Khadija, Charlotte Dos Santos, Slimgirl Fat and others. And of course, I want to keep working in BLTNM, collaborate with my people, curate art, organise events there, and just keep on keepin’ on… thank you!
Interview by Von Bismarck
Photography by Bennie Julian Gay