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Franco-Tunisian Jazz Oil pulls all the right strings

By Alison Hird

Nidhal Jaoua plays qanun with the five piece Franco-Tunisian band Jazz Oil. The traditional Middle Eastern stringed instrument, close to the zither, is a staple in classical Arabic music. But Jaoua is taking it out of its comfort zone, into the realm of jazz, funk and latin music. An improbable sound, but it works.

 Jaoua co-founded the band Jazz oil with bass player Slim Abida in 2009.

“When we commenced Jazz Oil, the idea was to make dialogue, conversation between bass and qanun,” Jaoua says. He saw it as a personal challenge to show that the oriental instrument could work alongside bass guitar and other western instruments,  and in a wide range of musical genres.

“No one was really doing that,” he explains. So there was no example to follow.

After seven years of struggling to get its unconventional music published, the band has brought out its debut album in France, the fittingly-named Lamma (encounter in Arabic).

“It’s a personal meeting with friends, and musical meeting of many cultures and many musics: oriental, Tunisian, funk, groove, latin, jazz. It’s a free music, no limits.”

The band has a following in Tunisia and last year played at the country’s biggest music festival Les Journées musicales de Carthage in front of an audience of 1,500. They hope to repeat the experience with several concerts this summer, but can't say when.

“It’s complicated in Tunisia” says Jaoua. "They don’t fix the dates til the last minute so you can’t do publicity.”

And while the situation for musicians in the alternative scene has improved over the last decade, it’s still hard to get programmed.

“Festival organisers tend to go for the same thing,” he says, and unsurprisingly it’s all about “who you know”.

But whether it's in Tunisia, France or anywhere else in the world, the message remains the same. "It's music that says welcome to all cultures, music to encourage humanity to come together."

Jazz Oil’s next concert in France is on 14 October at Cité Universitaire in Paris and at the Maison de la Tunisie.

Follow the band on facebook

 

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