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Jussi Reijonen: Playground of Sound and Texture

By Published: June 18, 2013
With Simon we've worked on maqamat [the system of melodic modes used in traditional Arabic music, which is mainly melodic], taqasim [a melodic improvisation, traditionally follows a certain melodic progression], phrasing, techniques, classical repertoire from the tradition; like I said, we really started from the beginning and went from there. That was my main focus during my time at NEC. As for contemporary oud players, I think my research has gone back towards the roots of the instrument and the music more than listening to modern players much; this, in an effort to understand where the modern players came from. That being said, I love the music of so many of them—Anouar Brahem
Anouar Brahem
Anouar Brahem
's sound has been an inspiration, and he is an amazing musician. Ahmad al-Khatib is an incredible oud player, and obviously many of those who have already passed—Riad el-Sunbaty, Farid el-Atrache, Munir Bashir...there are so many.

AAJ: Do you see the connection between the guitar, oud and West African string instruments, Malian blues guitar, and even the kora?

JR: I think they are all branches of the same tree. And maybe what you refer to is exactly the parameter of my "playground," if you will. I've always been very curious about the richness of the different traditions of phrasing on different instruments—not only strings—and trying to bring that into the guitar—or later, the oud. I know that the oud has influenced a lot of how I play the guitar, and vice versa; then again, there's a piece on Un , "Toumani (Blues for Mick)," that is a direct attempt to assimilate the sound of the kora onto the electric guitar. Also, I find that what ties these traditions together in a certain light is that all of them seem to aspire towards expressing and embodying a certain type of emotion: some call it the blues; some call it soul; some call it tarab or saltanah [the enjoyment transmitted by the performer to their listeners through the technical and artistic mastery of the instrument or voice]; some call it duende [having soul, a heightened state of emotion, expression and authenticity, often connected with flamenco]; what have you. Blues comes in many shades. Maybe that is the tree itself.

AAJ: Are you making a conscious attempt to create a new vocabulary for the guitar and oud that will embrace the genres of jazz, Arabic/Turkish classical music, African—and, obviously, Finnish folk music?

JR: It's so difficult to define the difference between the conscious and the subconscious sometimes, isn't it? I don't know that I'm trying to create a new vocabulary for the instruments themselves—that sounds quite ambitious. Someone like Paco De Lucia
Paco De Lucia
Paco De Lucia
1947 - 2014
has created an entirely new vocabulary for the flamenco guitar, but that's Paco. What I'm trying to do is much more modest—I'm only trying to find my own vocabulary and own dialect that I can speak and sing through the instruments that is in balance within itself. I'm just trying to make sense of my own cultural identity as someone who was born above the Arctic Circle but grew up in Finland, the Middle East and East Africa. Someone just pointed out to me that babies who grow up in a bilingual home—where the father speaks one language to the child and the mother another—learn to speak much later than children who are raised in a monolingual home. It occurred to me that maybe there's a parallel there to what I've been trying to figure out for so long and why it's taking so much longer for me to learn to "speak," musically.

AAJ: Your music is often characterized as having a kind of Nordic sound, calm, confident and sometimes silent. Can you elaborate on the influence of Nordic jazz, especially the ECM school?

JR: I'm happy that people also notice the Nordic influence and, I suppose, not only the more immediate Middle Eastern undercurrents in there. I think that, more directly than Nordic jazz or the ECM sound, though, what has influenced my music is the landscape and nature of northern Finland: the open spaces; the purity of the nature; and the silence. A bit of a cliché, maybe, but that's how I experience it. I've been told that I'm on the calm side, personality-wise, as well—I don't say too much unless I have something to say. Maybe that's the part of my character and the music that I've been given by the North.

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