Artist Feature: Kinan Azmeh

Kinan Azmeh is a clarinetist and composer we recently connected with through musician Timo Vollbrecht. Kinan grew up and studied music in Damascus, Syria, and has continued with his craft in New York City over the past 13 years. Throughout his interview, he discusses various strands of Reflection and Response, whereby artists sometimes reflect on their surroundings and on other occasions work to idealistically recreate realities. However, in Kinan’s opinion, art allows him to access another world of emotion not readily available in everyday life. Along with his words, this multifaceted artist showcases some incredible compositions that display his range and creative vision. He’s released three albums with his ensemble HEWAR, a duo album with pianist Dinuk Wijeratne, and an album with his New York-based Arabic/Jazz quartet, and the future is filled with some ill upcoming projects including a commissioned flute concerto, film scores, and tours in Europe, USA, and the Middle East. Peep the dialogue below along with some dope sonic landscapes from this dedicated craftsperson!

Kinan Azmeh | Photo by Jill Steinberg

Kinan Azmeh | Photo by Jill Steinberg

Making music is an act of freedom by default.

– Kinan Azmeh

Leading off with some basics, where are you from? And where are you at?

KA: I was born in Damascus, Syria, and have been living in New York for the last 13 years.

What does Reflection and Response mean to you?

KA: If we think about it on the most general level then we do realize that this is how nature works, cause and effect, action and reaction. In the arts, reflection and response are a little bit more complex. There are several schools of thought when it comes to the arts, one that says that the artist’s role is to reflect on the world around him/her, others say that the artist’s role is to recreate the world in the most idealistic way. I don’t subscribe to either camp; my personal philosophy is that we make art to experience emotions that we don’t have the luxury of experiencing in real life, some kind of fantasy world that is more complex than what is experienced in our daily lives.

What have you been working on recently? What are you looking to work on next?

KA: I grew up playing western-classical music in Damascus, a city that is very rich and diverse in its musical traditions, then moved to New York. That opened my eyes (and ears) to a variety of music that I enjoy performing today. I have been wearing different hats at different times, sometimes playing as a soloist with orchestras performing western classical repertoire, at other [times] you would find me playing with my Arab-Jazz quartet in New York, and other times playing with electronics and visual arts. I am now at the stage where I am trying to bring all these heads under one hat. I am working now on a concerto for improviser for soloist and orchestra. I do feel that music is a continuum and I would like to [replicate] that in my musical life as much as possible. I have a number of projects that are coming up including a commission to write a flute concerto, a couple film scores, and also a number of tours are coming up in the US, Europe and the Middle-East.

Who or what inspires you?

KA: I am inspired by what’s around me, my life, the lives of others and nature. However, the main idea that is occupying my brain for the last three years is home, Syria. Since the revolution began three years ago, I started to wonder about the role of art: can a piece of music feed a child, can it stop a bullet? Certainly not. But it inspires me to know that I have the power to inspire someone else, to reflect and to think. I am also inspired by the belief that making music is an act of freedom by default, which continues to provide me with the tools to keep creating. The piece “a sad morning, every morning” was written to commemorate one year of the Syrian revolution in March 2012. The title says it all, you get up in New York, first thing you do is you turn on your computer and you “put your hand on your heart” as the saying goes, waiting for the sad news to come from home (since Damascus is 7 hours ahead). The piece was written in very little time and it gave me the peace of mind i needed at that particular moment. It was also the first piece I wrote after almost a year of a silence.

Is there anything else you would like the Collective to know?

KA: I am glad that I had the chance to write down my thoughts, writing down one’s thoughts is a reflection that is very important in the life of an artist, and I am thankful to be able to do that.

Shout out to…?

KA: All my friends back home who are still able to cheer me up and keep my optimism alive, to all my friends on this side of the Atlantic who continue to inspire me and to make me feel at home.

Stay up on Kinan’s work at the following links:

Reflection and Response.


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