Despite cultural differences, music unites duo Martinican pianist Maher Beauroy and Franco Algerian Oud player Redha Benabdallah. The pair met at the Sorbonne in Paris. NOW! Jakarta recently sat down to talk about how they first met and created a brand new groove called Insula.

Martinican pianist Maher Beauroy and Franco Algerian Oud player Redha Benabdallah. Photo by Rintang Azhar/NOW!JAKARTA

The emerging musicians and songwriters have something magical to blend the authentic substantial music and have presented special performances across the archipelago held at Gunung Bromo Jazz Festival in Malang, Medan, and Ubud Village Jazz Festival in Bali.

Tell us more about Insula and your journey.
Maher: In 2015, we debuted as a one-off at Martinique’s Biguine Jazz Festival, without any label. The demand was quite surprising, and we decided to go on, but we needed a name and thus Insula was born with a third member to drive the groove. We had a special performance at the prestigious Blue Note Rio, the Brazilian outpost of the classical Manhattan jazz club. And, last year we officially welcomed Brazilian percussionist Adriano Tenorio, specialising in congas, a drum kit and makeshift instruments from bottles, keys, and children’s toys. From that moment we have committed to creating progressive improvisation with respect to jazz fusion and taking our unique masterpiece around the world. As of now it’s our first album we’re most excited about this month.

How do these two distinct pieces of music work in harmony?
Redha: So clearly, we think of music as a source of entertainment and happiness. We work passionately on the process of making it by daring to create a cool groove, improvising and enriching our creativity altogether in the jam. Thus, we think the goal is to create a soul that enhances the song, and can stand on its own. Also, to feel good on the show and bring good vibes for the audiences.

Maher: It’s actually not that hard. Our knowledge of music has dramatically expanded thanks to our similarities in our music roots. It is surprising to know that Martinique and the Maghreb are quite similar in rhythm and dynamics thanks to the African continent – we’re actually so connected. The rhythm between Caribbean & Algerian is similar but not the same, but the Clavier – the basic rhythm, the keyboard of the stringed instrument – is very close. So we can easily work and collaborate together. I can possibly know and figure out what Redha is trying to play here.

Insula's performance at Harris Vertu Hotel Harmoni, Central Jakarta before heading to Bali for Ubud Village Jazz Festival 2018

In your childhood, you were engaged with classical music before eventually making a big leap to modern jazz. How have you adapted to the transition so far?
Maher: I studied classical music at the beginning of my career from 5 years old until I was 15. Mozart was an index of introducing the classical techniques. The importance of learning classical music is to exert optimal control of instrument and vocal cords and utilise musical knowledge using compositional techniques to distinguish compositions and create musical improvisation. Why jazz in the end? Simply because classical music was not made for me. Jazz has always been in my family culture. My parents, they love any kinds of Jazz genre, for example, jazz with Caribbean music, jazz with African music, jazz with pop music, jazz with Brazilian music. And at the age of 15 I finally reached the point where
I needed to make a leap of faith to learn all the swings.

Redha: As for me, I learned how to play western classical guitar and earned a Ph.D in musicology from the Sorbonne. I was pretty much influenced by Maghreb culture and Algerian classical music, which sounds very different based on styles from Andalusia that were given a more African feel. The music presents such traditionally classical, strict rhythms in the plays of the instruments yet presenting the rich culture of the fascinating country. In jazz, I have a lot more fun in its musical compositions, and have since learned it to improvise to a broader range of my music knowledge.

Your style of music is unique. How did you come up with the daring mix of Caribbean and Maghreb culture in contemporary jazz?
Maher: When we first met, the thing was just to make music that we used to play when we were young. Time after time, we try to compose some music and find honest way to express it. And, thanks to our cultural backgrounds that have been an inspiration to create the conditions for the project’s blends.

I was born and raised in Martinique, a French territory in the Caribbean, and playing a piano is my essential skill. My mate Redha comes from Algiers, and has been living in a small French city from the age of three. We bonded over shared historical backgrounds and socio-political thoughts by postcolonial impacts.

Redha:Thanks to rich cultures and traditions in our upbringing, we do share common things, including distinct musical diversity. As for me, I grew up with Maghreb culture, the smaller territory between Mediterranean Sea and the Atlas Mountains. The Maghreb diaspora were influenced by crossover jazz in the North Africa featuring modest and rhythms that bring out innovations in their compositions and improvisations. I would say the music style is quite bold, especially with the Oud, which I am mastering now. So, what we play here is somewhat spontaneous, yet is truly honest. It feels great to play and mix music from different cultures in an authentic way and speak the powerful truth of our souls.



 This article is originally from paper. Read NOW!Jakarta Magazine September 2018 issue “Music and Nightlife”. Available at selected bookstore or SUBSCRIBE here.

Asyariefah R.A.

Asyariefah R.A.

Born into a nature-loving family, Asyariefah enjoys the outdoors. Now! Jakarta provides her favourite collection of narratives with a sense of helping establish her identity. Some of her key areas of expertise include human interest, arts & culture, travel and features.