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A’ Ras Al-Jabal: Palestine’s avant-garde composers invite Ramallah to an atypical, musical exploration of their city

Jerusalem24 – The Gradus-Al-A’taba concert season is coming to a close, as fans of innovative and inventive (dare we say avant-garde?) Palestinian music discovered this year’s offerings with surprise and delight.

This season saw four solo or duet concerts, and a finale with all six performers combined.

Composer Robin Burlton, the only foreigner among the group, and who also forms a duo with composer Dina Shilleh, tells Jerusalem24 that the theme for the closing concert, A’ Ras Al-Jabal (‘From the top of the mountain’), which took place in Ramallah on 27 May, was the city of Ramallah itself.

Ras Al-Jabal was referencing the name Ramallah,” says Burlton, “and kind of the chosen experiences that we had for the pieces themselves.”

While Burlton and Shilleh are used to working together, an entirely different dynamic develops when six musicians (each with their own style) are composing together.

“Not everyone works the same way,” Burlton points out. “I work with notated music, other people work with non-notated music and with more improvisations… Initially what we did was we sat together and said, ‘Look: this is what we can offer when we are working collectively, this is what we do normally, and this is what we can bring to a collective performance.’”

From right to left: Composers Tareq Abboushi, Robin Burlton, Sarouna (Mshasha), Makimakuk (Majdal Nijem), Maya Khaldi, and Dina Shilleh.

Figuring out how to fit each other’s processes and musical outputs within their own way of working “was an interesting process”, says Burlton – even (or especially) as it entailed leaving everyone’s own individual comfort zones.

“We might have asked people to do something different, but that’s also part of the experience, of the learning process,” he says.

And how did this learning process sit with the audience?

“I think the overall perception was that it was something interesting, it was something different. […] I think people enjoyed it – at least I hope people enjoyed it,” Burlton laughs.

Each musician has built up an audience over the years, he says, and combining all of these dedicated audiences into one gave them “an idea of what is possible with combination, with trying to make something different, to cross over the boundaries.”

Catch an excerpt of the concert here and listen to the full interview on Vibes.

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