Founded in 1983 by the French musician Julien Jâlal Eddine Weiss, musicologist and qanun virtuoso, the Al-Kindi Ensemble has never ceased to explore the richness and universality of Arab classical music and culture. Composed of virtuoso musicians, masters of their instruments, the ensemble has gained international recognition and is a model for many ensembles and young musicians….
They have collaborated with the best singers from Syria, Iraq and Turkey and have performed on the world’s greatest musical stages, including Carnegie Hall in New York. They have toured all over Europe, and have been programmed every year at the Théâtre de la Ville in Paris, the Institut du Monde Arabe, the Festival of Sacred Music in Fez, the Baalbeck Festival, etc.
The war in Syria with its forced exiles, its closed borders, and the premature death of Julien Weiss have had a strong impact on the ensemble’s activities, so it is all the more important to find them back together on stage with the bewitching whirling dervishes of Damascus… virtuosity and emotion have not dried up, quite the contrary.
Al Kindi Ensemble
A story in the making 1983 – 2023
This year, 2023, the Al Kindi Ensemble celebrates forty years of existence. Forty continuous years of a beautiful marriage with the great learned music of the Arab world.
It was in 1983 that Julien Weiss (who was not yet known as Jalal Eddine) founded a small traditional Arabic music trio that he named Al Kindi, in homage to the great philosopher, mathematician and music theorist Abu Yusuf Al-Kindi, who lived in the 9th century in the Abbasid Baghdad of the caliph Al Mamoun.
Born in 1953 in Paris to a Swiss-German mother and an Alsatian father, Julien Weiss began his musical studies by learning the classical guitar. In 1976 he discovered the music of the Iraqi oud master Mounir Bachir. Wonderstruck by this immense musician and the refined nature of Arab music styles, he abandoned the guitar and western classical music to become, for a time, Bachir’s disciple. But it is to the qanun, an instrument of the zither family, cousin of the psaltery and the cymbalum, that Julien Weiss would devote his life as a musician and composer.
On this instrument, with its impressive number of strings (from 63 to 85, according to the traditional models, and up to 102 on the experimental model that he designed), Julien Weiss set about an in- depth study of Arabic art music and its refined modes, the maqams.
To this end, he travelled throughout the Near East from Tunis to Damascus, from Baghdad to Aleppo, to meet the greatest masters of music and receive their teachings. He converted to Islam in 1986, an “artistic” Islam, tolerant, open, through an approach that owes much to Sufism, symbolized by his decision to rename himself Julien “Jalâl Eddine” Weiss, in homage to the great Persian mystic of the 13th century, Jalal ad-Dîn Rûmî, the founder of the Mawlawi brotherhood, famous for the dances of its whirling derwishes.
This passionate love of the cultural wealth of the Arab world encouraged Julien Weiss, like a musical Lawrence of Arabia, to spend a great deal of time there. In 1995, he bought an old fourteenth- century Mamluk palace in the historic part of Aleppo, of which he would later say: “My palace was the multidimensional projection of my soul.” He turned it into a refined meeting place and a music salon where he would organize evenings bringing together the best artists of the city and numerous friends and visitors passing through. In 2003, he acquired a residence in Istanbul, a city whose cosmopolitanism he appreciated and where he worked to deepen the links that unite Ottoman and Arab music.
the Al Kindi Ensemble
The Al Kindi group, as it was at its birth, and as it would remain throughout its existence, is founded around a takht, the traditional instrumental ensemble of Arab music, a small chamber orchestra comprising, in its basic formation, a qanun, a lute, a ney and percussions.
Around his qanun Julien Weiss gathered the Egyptian percussionist Adel Shams el Din, the Syrian oud player Mohamed Qadri Dallal and the ney player — also Syrian — Ziad Qadi Amin, who would be his faithful companions throughout the long life of the ensemble and see it perform in the most prestigious concert halls and festivals of the planet.
Initially focused on instrumental music, Julien Weiss expanded the ensemble to include vocals, the principal art of Arab music. He would thus welcome some of the greatest voices of the Arab world, and often help them gain wider recognition: the Tunisian Lotfi Bouchnak, the Iraqi Husayn Al Adhami, the Syrians Adib Daiykh, Omar Sarmini and Sabri Moudalal, Sheikh Habboush and especially Sheikh Hamza Chakour, the muezzin of the Great Mosque of the Omeyyades of Damascus.
A first album, published in 1989 on the Ethnic/Auvidis label (Al Kindi – Arab Classical Music), was followed by a prolific discographic production, with evocative titles, among which: Songs of Ecstasy in Syria – Sacred Suite (Nawba) of the Great Mosque of the Umayyads in Damascus, The Sublime Art of Ghazal – Poems of Love in the Bîmâristân of Aleppo, Iraq: The passion of the Thousand and One Nights, The Music Salon of Aleppo, Songs of Ecstasy in Iraq, The Whirling Dervishes of Damascus, Arab Poets and Music from the Time of the Crusaders, Ottoman Perfumes…
Not forgetting that Istanbul is heir to the Greek Orthodox Byzantium and Constantinople, Julien Weiss pushed the boundaries of ecumenism to create, on my invitation in 2008 at the Festival of Sacred Music in Fes, a magnificent Stabat Mater Dolorosa, a Christian and Muslim tribute to Mary, with the Tropos Byzantine Choir of Athens, the singers of the Great Mosque of Damascus, the Whirling Dervishes of Aleppo and of course, his own Al Kindi ensemble.
Throughout all these years, the modest gem of the beginnings became, under the patient work of the musician-jeweller and his high-flying accomplices, a dazzling diamond with a thousand facets. This magnificent creative trajectory would be cut brutally short in 2015, with Julien Jalal Eddine Weiss’s death from cancer.
Would the Al Kindi Ensemble and its rich heritage disappear with its creator? Adel Shams el Din, Mohamed Qadri Dallal and Ziad Qadi Amin, the three musicians who had been the faithful pillars of the orchestra since its foundation in the 1980s, resolved not to let this happen. Carried by the unfailing energy of Sabine Châtel, producer of the ensemble since the beginning, the Al Kindi Ensemble, like the phoenix rising from its ashes, sets out today for a new life.
Under the musical direction of Adel Shams el Din and around the original core, a new ensemble has been formed with, as soloist, Sheikh Hamed Daoud, hymnode of the Great Mosque of the Umayyads of Damascus and the Tunisian Khadija el Afritt on the qanun. Two choristers, Diaa Daoud and Mohamed Husam Takrori, and two whirling dervishes, Hatem Al-Jamal and Yazan Al Jamal, have also joined.
Sufi trance of theWhirling dervishes of Damascus
This album “Transe soufie des derviches tourneurs de Damas” (“Sufi Trance of the Whirling Dervishes of Damascus”), to be released in 2023, is the first recorded and produced since the death of Julien Jalal Eddine Weiss. It is also the first album by Sheikh Hamed Daoud. It was recorded in public at La Courroie, a concert hall located near Avignon, in the south of France, which favours classical music concerts, in natural acoustics, without technical effects. The intimate setting of this very convivial place, close to a music salon, evokes the atmosphere of the zawouia of the Arab-Muslim world, these places — houses, sanctuaries — where the members of the Sufi brotherhoods meet for their regular practices of mystical invocations and spiritual chants. No doubt the special atmosphere of this room will have made a beneficial contribution to the air of spirituality emanating from each of the pieces of this last opus of the Al Kindi Ensemble.
It is on the model of the wasla that the various pieces of the repertoire of this album are presented. This learned musical suite, composed in the same mode (maqam), is formed on the alternation of sama’i (measured instrumental prelude), of taqsim (instrumental improvisation), of layali (vocal improvisation), of mawwal (vocal improvisation on a dialectal poem), of muwashshah (metred song on a classical poem) and of qasida (vocal improvisation on a classical poem). Sequencing the parts like so many paintings, the refined art of the wasla is a true poetico-musical journey. Between prayer, invocation, song of praise, the opus proposed by the ensemble is deeply marked by the seal of a deep mystical- religious emotion, which is further enhanced on stage by the ecstatic dance of the whirling dervishes.