Kamal Musallam interview

Arabic fusion guitarist talks to Time Out


Full-time musician and producer Kamal Musallam, 41, was left filled with regret when his three-year relationship came to an end. But it wasn’t all heartache and loss. The Jordanian jazz-fusion artist used the break-up as inspiration for his fourth album, Songs for Seung-eun, dedicated to his Korean ex. After the album found its way onto Time Out’s desk, we arranged to meet the lovelorn artist.

Tell us about the girl…
There are some things that I’d like to tell you, but it’s also quite private. What I can say is that we were together for three years, from 2008 to 2010, and we continued to know each other until the CD was released.

So what happened?
During our relationship, I had choices to make… and it’s almost like I’m married to my work, you know. And that’s the reason why I didn’t focus on my personal life for many, many years. So when suddenly things change, and you have to sacrifice one for the other, it’s a battle between ego and heart issues. We lived great times, we lived hard times, we lived distant times – it was a very dynamic relationship, to be honest.

Were you trying to win her back with this album?
Well, no. When I did this CD, I knew it wasn’t a tool to win someone back with. But it’s definitely something that she will always remember me for.

What does she think of it?
She said it was really nice, and that she’s also honoured to have something like that. But since we are not on good terms…

A bit acrimonious between you?
There’s a bit of tension. I started recording the CD just a few months after we broke up. Then I left it for a while because I got busy with other projects… and just two months ago I decided to reopen the files and actually release it, after I saw a year of changes in my life. From one side, it’s a personal thing that’s dedicated to her saying thank you, but on the other side I wanted to produce something special that has an impact.

Tell us a bit about the musical influences that played a part in the creation of Songs for Seung-eun.
The first track, ‘Libertango’, is a tango from Argentina, and many of the tunes are existing songs of famous Latin composers from Argentina, Brazil and Mexico. ‘Libertango’ is intense; rhythm-wise, it shows the heartbeat, the passion, the suspense in the beginning… it’s bringing you into the story.

It seems like there’s something of a transformation towards the end of the album.
From the intense beginning, you move into the melody and it starts to become smooth and soft and sweet later on, and ends very softly.

You played at Vienna Jazz Festival last year. Will you be going back?
Yes, last year they loved it, so I’m doing it again. I play in Vienna on July 10, then we fly to Italy – the same group – to play at the Umbria Jazz Festival in Peruggia on July 13.

What else have you got in the pipeline for the next few months?
I have another project called EastMania, which is much bigger. It involves international musicians such as American jazz drummer Billy Cobham and several others. It’s another jazz-rock fusion concept that has already started travelling –we did the Asian Games last November in China with EastMania. Two months ago, I did the Java Jazz Festival in Jakarta with the same group, and at the end of July we’re playing again in Indonesia, in Bali and on an island called Batam.
Songs for Seung-eun is available now in Virgin Megastores.

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