By Tamer Nasser
Introducing a band is not as easy as it may seem, and Al Raseef makes it even harder. Guido Festinese (an Italian music critic) once noted, “Al Raseef’s members feel like citizen-musicians of the world and ambassadors of the Mediterranean!” That could probably be the best way to describe us because, regardless of identity cards and passports, we have managed to break through all borders.
The idea of Al Raseef was born in the summer of 2011 when Ahmed Eid, a Palestinian bassist, picked up the trumpet and called us, his friends, to jam with him. He was fanatic about Balkan music at the time and was very excited about creating a brass band to play with him. The band took off and managed to be integrated into the cultural and musical scene in Palestine from the very beginning, due to the freshness of the sound and the joy that the music brought to everyone – from all ages, genders, cultures, and social backgrounds alike.
That support from the community gave the members a push forward to pursue even greater goals. In 2013 and 2014, most of the founding members, namely me, Tamer Nassar (saxophone), along with Ayham Jalal (clarinet), Midhat Husseini (tuba), and Yassar Sa’adat (trombone), relocated to Genoa, Italy, sadly leaving behind Muhammed Al Qutati (accordion) and Hussein Abul Rub (percussion). And there began the true journey of Al Raseef. Joined by the Syrian guitarist Alaa Alshaer from the Occupied Golan Heights and two Italian musicians, Lorenzo Bergamino (drums and percussion) and Mario Martini (trumpet), the band took a different turn, proposing traditional Arabic music infused with a Mediterranean, Balkan, Turkish, and Armenian repertoire from a different perspective.
I call it a journey, we all do, because we keep moving. We never stay still. It is an ongoing search for sound, whether as a group or as individuals. Each and every one of us has his own musical background and influences that, together, helped to create the musicians we are. This has paved the way to a unique sound that makes Al Raseef a very difficult band to introduce and define. The influences can vary from classical music to extreme and radical free jazz, from simple ska to an upbeat drum’n’bass, from traditional Middle Eastern music to the hypnotic ambient trance of the Southern African Sahara and Tuareg music with a hint of funk.
But does a single band have space for such individuality? The answer is defiantly yes.
That space for the individual created the unique sound of Al Raseef; something that we like to call “AraBrass” (“Arab Brass Band”), which is equivalent to the Balkan fanfare and the New Orleans’ Dixieland jazz in other cultures. That space for improvising, that space Al Raseef gives us to express ourselves is exactly what defines the original idea of the band and helps us to grow and to keep growing, staying on a never-ending journey in search of sound and uniqueness.
Al Raseef has one released album called Mina Zena, which is a word-play that goes perfectly with the band’s idea of breaking borders, or as the above-mentioned Guido Festinese defined us, “ambassadors of the Mediterranean.” Mina is “port,” and Zena is “beautiful,” in Arabic, which coincidentally is also the ancient name of the Italian city of Genoa where we reside. The album concludes a chapter of our story and puts us on the road to even greater adventures and harder journeys, such as the one we are now about to embark on – a new journey of collaboration with NAWA Institute for Cultural Development and Nader Jalal, Palestinian researcher and founder of NAWA, to record a new album arranged by myself and Alaa Alshaer, documenting Palestinian music from before Al-Nakba of 1948 in a way that would attract young audiences to our classical heritage.
Could that be all? Definitely not! But all in good time.
Tamer Nassar is a saxophone player and the media liaison for Al Raseef.