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Palestinian band tells stories of hope, pain through music
Mazaj Ensemble is scheduled on next April to take part at its world premiere in a massive festival in Finland.
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Occupied Jerusalem, ALRAY - A candle flame is extinguished, following the second anniversary of founding Mazaj Ensemble, a Jerusalemite musical band.


Mazaj Ensemble kicked off its third year with youth energy, enthusiasm and with a completely different musical vision that mixes between Oriental and Western classical music.


Mazaj Ensemble adapted melodies and distribution to merge both Oriental and Western classical music in one distinction scope that reflects a new artistic reality, which is a vibrant extension of successive civilizations that left a cultural and musical impact on the land of Palestine within centuries.


Grace Balata (Pianist), Osama Abu Arafa (Oud player), Mohammed Ghosheh (Violinist), Abdulsalam Sabbah (Percussionist), and Maral Khoury (Qanoun) are considered to be the founders of Ensemble.


“When the language of speech becomes deactivated, music becomes the food for the renewable soul, looking for truth, life and peace. And when night becomes calm, dreams and hopes hide behind the cloak of its calmness. This is exactly what we aspire to achieve.”


The Ensemble members adopted this motto following the launch of their band, pointing out that music has directly related to human moods and emotions.


Music and Palestine

“Our band derives its distinctive instrumentals from the heart of the Palestinian suffering. It humanizes the agony of the everyday Palestinian pain, which must light a beacon of hope through creative melodies derived from the great history of Jerusalem and its ancient walls,” percussionist Sabbah said.


In spite of the  young age of Ensemble, harmonization among its members has taken the band into a quantum leap upward and it was the key to Ensemble’s success.


“We are friends long time ago, and we daily meet together at Edward Said National Conservatory of Music in Jerusalem. All of us received our music education there, and we are music masters there as well,” Sabbah said.


Being at the conservatory, the percussionist added, helped us to continuously discuss the performance of the ensemble.


Ensemble introduced its first artistic piece of music “Rhapsody of Gaza”, which describes the story of wars on the blockaded Gaza strip and the tragic situation of the strip, at many local festivals.


Mazaj Ensemble is currently in the works of producing a new artistic piece of music called “A travel”, which imitates details of the Palestinians everyday life, and raises the dream of freedom for every Palestinian living under Israeli occupation.


Ages of the band members range from 21 to 35 years old. Maral is considered the youngest player of Mazaj Ensemble.


“The ensemble was founded during the time that I dropped out qanoun playing for a long time because of my study at high school,” she said.

Maral added, “I felt deep gratitude upon joining Mazaj Ensemble because I’m working with music masters who refreshed my own skills and at the same time helped in developing new ones.”


Five years ago, Maral joined Birzeit University to master pharmacy medicine. In addition, she is a teacher of qanoun instrument at Edward Said National Conservatory of Music in Jerusalem.


“I previously joined several music ensembles that were overly deterministic, but Mazaj differs in that we are not overly deterministic. Rather we are free,” Maral added.


An Early Start

Oud player Osama Abu Arafa began playing oud at a young age when he was 12 years old. He joined the teaching staff of Edward Said National Conservatory of Music after his graduation from the business administration of Bethlehem University.


Abu Arafa has inclinations for music, pointing out that he loves the Arabic Classical Music.


But when he lived in Switzerland for several consecutive months, he picked up different musical styles around the world that helped him mixing between different civilizations through playing musical instruments.


“We use pieces of Arabic Classical Music and add new distinctive and crazy ideas to produce completely different musical style,” Abu Arafa said.


Mazaj Ensemble is scheduled on next April to take part at its world premiere in a massive festival in Finland.

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