Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen, North Korea, Venezuela, Iraq, Sudan—what these countries have in common is that they were, or are, on President Trump’s travel ban.
By way of musical reaction to the travel bans, The Kronos Quartet turned inward and outward and commissioned composers from those banned countries.
“Ban a country, and the Kronos’ first response has always been to book a plane ticket and find a composer to entice to write the group a piece.”
Or, they find an arranger to take on the challenge of transforming so-called banned persons’ music. Consider Jacob Garchik’s electric arrangement of Islam Chipsy’s “Zaghlala.”
Egyptian composer and keyboardist, Islam Chipsy, is a classically trained “street artist,” and is one of a three-member group, EEK. Billed primarily as linked to the electro chaabi and Mahraganat scenes in Cairo, Chipsy’s music marries EDM (Egyptian Dance Music) with an eclecticism that is as unique as it is fearless.
Chipsy’s “Zaghlala” is one of many pieces that is part of the Kronos Quartet’s project, Fifty for the Future—a project designed to reconfigure the landscape and cultural, social, gendered representation of composers and musics known as “string quartets” (a domain traditionally considered Western European):
Drawing on more than forty years of collaboration with prominent and emerging composers from around the world, Kronos is commissioning a library of fifty works designed to guide young amateur and early-career professional string quartets in developing and honing the skills required for the performance of 21st-century repertoire.
Kronos’ Fifty for the Future … commissioned [an] eclectic group of composers – 25 women and 25 men – representing the truly globe-spanning genres of string quartet literature in the early 21st century. The project compositions are intended to be approachable by musicians of a wide range of accomplishment, from youth ensembles to beginning professionals. Kronos/KPAA has commissioned more than 850 works since it was formed in 1973, but Fifty for the Future represents the largest single artistic and educational project that it has undertaken.
According to the program notes for “Zaghlala”:
If Kronos Quartet had a motto it might be something like: Taking string players to places they’ve never been before … Jacob Garchik’s surging arrangement of Zaghlala (Blurred vision caused by strong light hitting the eyes) … not only transports intrepid string quartets to the ecstatic milieu of a Cairo nightclub, but the chart also literally turns one ensemble member into a drummer, adding percussive drive to the tune’s lapidary churn. As part of Fifty for the Future, Kronos’ ongoing project to make new music works readily available to aspiring string ensembles, Garchik’s score is accessible free on the Kronos website, “where you can see how the piece can be played in such a way that each one of us can be the drummer,” says David Harrington. “Wouldn’t it be cool if every string quartet player in the world could be this Arabic drummer?…
Part of Egypt’s thriving underground music scene, Chipsy’s EEK trio has carved out a singular sonic niche distinct from the electro-chaabi artists who are almost required at wedding celebrations. Raw and lo-fi, his music is both virtuosic and unabashedly hand-crafted: “There’s a certain way that he plays where he takes his fist and slams it into the keyboard that feels so visceral and exciting,” Harrington says. “There’s also this sense of fun and abandonment. I can imagine thousands of people dancing.”
All of the composers’ music that is part of Fifty for the Future showcases fearless energy, determination, passion, and a will to be. Witness this music for change for yourself, as the Kronos Quartet heads to Europe and returns to the United States to perform music from banned countries.