Adri Nieuwhof: Can you please introduce yourself?
Samir Joubran: I am the older brother of Wissam and Adnan. We are musicians from Palestine, born in Nazareth. My father was a third-generation oud-maker and player. Wissam studied at the Antonia Stradivari Conservatory in Italy. He learned how to build string instruments, violins in particular. Wissam built our instruments. I have a classical background and started to perform at the age of 12. In 2003, Wissam and I released a CD, it is a duet, a meeting of our ouds. Last year we released our third CD, a tribute to Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish. We compose all of our music ourselves. Maybe it is the first time in history that three ouds play together, and that three brothers are the players.
AN: Why did you choose to play the oud? What does the instrument mean to you?
SJ: I grew up in a house filled with ouds. My father finished a new instrument every month. You can say, I lived in a house that was occupied by the oud. The instrument is the father of all stringed instruments. It is over 4,000 years old. It is more than a piece of wood; when you play, you hug it, you feel it resonate in your stomach. This instrument is part of your body, it is part of our culture, our identity. Two weeks ago we were in Nazareth. We gave a concert in Haifa and one in Ramallah, on the date of Mahmoud Darwish’s birth, 13 March. The Palestinian Authority has declared this day as the National Day of the Culture of Palestine. At the concert we used Mahmoud Darwish’s voice and vocals [by playing a recording of the poet reciting his work].
AN: I saw you perform at a concert in support of Gaza. What made you decide to do this?
SJ: We have 70 to 80 concerts each year, mostly in Europe. We get invitations from professional places; they invite us for our music. We have performed about four times in Geneva, we like it, and the public likes us. The association which invited us is helping Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. We did not think twice. We want to support our human cause for liberty and freedom. We are not aiming to be heroes or victims. We want to live as human beings.
AN: Your brothers Wissam and Adnan are the other members of the trio. Your music sounds as if you speak with one voice. How did this come about?
SJ: Our story is not only about music, it is also about our family. Problems in our family will harm our music. I brought my brother Wissam (who is ten years younger) on board, because he was a very good oud player. Adnan had to practice a lot to make him ready to perform. We understand each other, we have the emotions, we share the same background, we come from the same school of music. It is one unity. But we keep our personal style, it is still there in our music. We are working in one group. We are working for Palestine, for our culture.
AN: Can you discuss your relationship with Mahmoud Darwish? Why is he important for you?
SJ: I started to perform with Mahmoud Darwish in 1996. With him in person, with what he means to me, with his poems — he is the most important poet of the last century. We had a concert in Arles [France] with him two weeks before he died. He told me, you have your future in front of you. My future is in the past. Mahmoud Darwish is everywhere in our music, also in the name of the tunes. He once mentioned the word “majaz” to me, it is “metaphor” in English. I did not know the word and asked him the meaning. He said a metaphor is “in the shadow of words.” We entitled our latest CD this in tribute of Mahmoud Darwish; Mahmoud Darwish was the voice of Palestine and the other name for Palestine.
AN: You mentioned you gave a concert in Ramallah on 13 March. Was it easy for you to travel?
SJ: When we traveled from Nazareth to Ramallah we had to stop at the Qalandiya checkpoint for two hours. You maybe have heard of the unrest in Jerusalem? At Qalandiya there was a lot of shooting, tear gas was fired, soldiers were running around. We stayed because we wanted to enter Ramallah. We want a normal life in an abnormal situation. We wanted to put the problems of the people in Ramallah in a nice atmosphere, with love and an artistic environment. People of all generations came to our concert. Our work is to give a little example of hope in the difficult situation we live in.
AN: Do you think Palestinian culture is under threat?
SJ: Yes, yes, but I think all the cultures are under threat, because of the Internet. We Palestinians don’t need to look at other cultures. Tradition is not what you read in the past. It is what you write today. We are defending our culture. Israel tries to steal our land, our trees, our souls. But they cannot steal our culture. If we want to make sure this is our culture, and we dig deeper in our culture, then we make our history. I hope that one day Palestine will be free, so that we as a trio will also be free. We want to go on stage just like other musicians. Musicians from Sweden don’t need to think of freedom of their country when they perform. No, once Palestine is free, we are free.
Adri Nieuwhof is a consultant and human rights advocate based in Switzerland.