Mohammed Fairouz, Composer HARDtalk

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Mohammed Fairouz, Composer

Stephen Sackur talks to US-Emirati composer Mohammed Fairouz, a youthful artist who has spent much of his creative life defying boundaries and stereotypes.

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Now on BBC News it's time for HARDtalk.


Mohammed Fairouz, a youthful artist who has spent much


of his creative life defying boundaries and stereotypes.


His work ranges from symphonies to opera, to unique fusions


He's an Arab educated and resident in the West,


an outspoken advocate for creative freedom who nonetheless rails


against western cultural imperialism.


His aim is to foster cultural crossover rather than confrontation,


but can this artist avoid taking sides?


Mohammed Fairouz, welcome to heart talk. It is great to be here. Arab


parents, but schooling and residential life a lot of it in the


US and some in the UK. In terms of the tradition which is the bedrock


of your music, would you say it is Western or Arab? The truthful answer


is that it is much more of a mess than that. Music has no respect for


borders, sound has no respect for walls. You go to Jerusalem and you


hear the bells from the Hollis -- wholly support intermingle with the


mask. Put it this way, people who speak many languages, they talk


about the language they are dreaming. Do you have a musical


language which is your instinctive first language? That is where music


is particularly special. It bypasses all of that because you cannot have


figurative... I cannot paint a fork in music, it gets passed that and


goes to the things that are truly universal about human beings, the


beating of the heart, the human voice, it is energy say you cannot


have a monopoly on energy or sound. They have mixed for thousands of


years so if I am to be honest and genuine in answering that question,


because of what I know, I know how much of a mess it is. It is a very


frank answer but you have been to some very formalised musical


schools, you have done the conservatory school in the US and


also worked with classical Arabic musicians. When you say to them I am


a fusion kid, do they say you cannot do that because you are not respect


think the integrity of our tradition? When I went to the


conservatory, what was really fascinating was walking into music


history calls and you sort of start with the Greeks and then you skip


over, there is a blind spot and then you are in the Middle Ages and you


do not touch on any nonwestern using. You literally have are book


called following Western music but when you go to Aleppo, what you


discover all of the stuff from Hildegard, Mozart, Bach, came from


another civilisation and vice-versa. You find people saying more often,


wow, we recognise that. That is one of our lullabies. That is one of the


things we much people off the wall, to serenade our loved ones. You have


written symphonies and operas, works we serve associate with traditional


music. I am alive. I am not a classical composer. Most at was a


classical composer, 18th century period. I am not that old. You said


I could get off the plane and here put Java in music and they get to a


club and listen to Beyonce and then a band in Beirut and if I still


sounded like Mozart after all of that, it would be kind of weird. How


far it you take this fusion approach? I think as far as it has


always been taken. I think people have been exchanging ideas


creatively for centuries, millennia and every Renaissance has been


refined by the breaking down of boundaries and walls, sharing ideas,


discovering what people have in common and amplifying each other's


strengths. To give an idea of how you do this, let's play a clip. This


is a fascinating performance by an Indian dancer using your music.


It is beautiful to look at. I wonder how much collaboration there is,


when you work with the beautiful dancer, you have worked with famous


poets, how deep is the collaboration. I have to admit, this


was found well before we imagined Donald Trump would ever be our


president but it was proposed to be in a reality TV fashion that made me


very suspicious. When the BBC said they wanted to do this, they said


you have five days. From scratch. I said, that is impossible. I have


never met the woman. She has never been to New York. And not only was


there this Bollywood dance tradition that have thousands of years of


baggage and history that I did not know much about, there was also


David cracker, the clarinettist, was bringing a Jewish tradition of...


You can hear it... Where you go to those Eastern European villages were


those people are no longer there, the Holocaust, they left the


country, whatever, they left the country, they are dead, or they were


killed by the ideas were not dead. You still here the sound. It is


impossible to kill that energy, impossible to kill an idea even


though you can kill people. There was the classical stodgy thing of


the quartet as well coming together and what is magical is that it


worked. It worked. It is like we could have not spoken the same


language and yet the fluidity of the human body, the universality of what


she was doing, she understood the reason. There were things that were


just be on the need to try to translate and it worked and we did


it in five days and I think that is sort of like a controlled


experiment. It is really interesting. Let's switch focus, you


talk with such passion about finding common ground with an artist like


her, here you have never met before, purely in artistic terms but a lot


of your work, the recent work, has had a real world political edge to


it. To what extent these days are you as an Arab American feel that


you need to use your art to explore politics? Well, I think an interest


in statecraft and politics has been something that has defined by work.


For many years. I think that when a politician comes on the show, they


are basically coming to sell something and they are asking people


to give them something - power. And an artist is doing something that is


very different from that. They are offering ideas and insight into the


internal human condition and societies are human beings


multiplied... Offering ideas all delivering polemics and various


specific critiques. Just looking at recent things, the dictator 's wife,


which you put on a Washington, DC just before the Trump in duration


seem to be a direct message about authoritarian corruption that might


be taken as a your feeling, Warwick, about Donald Trump coming to the


White House. Of course but I think that the thing about this, Kennedy


had a great way of putting this, if Donald Trump was in the White House


during the Cuban missile crisis I probably will never have been born.


The temperance, the idea of understanding that power has its


limitations, that wilting power has its limitations and indeed it


Kennedy did say where power corrupts poetry cleanses. There is a special


accountability that artists can hold people in power too. Your


consciousness is very much affected by being an Arab American in an era,


as we know, Donald Trump in particular with his travel ban on


certain Muslim countries, appears to associate Muslims... These are my


words not his... Muslims from particular countries with terrorism.


As an American citizen, how does that make you feel? I would like to


emphasise that I do not really think... I think Donald Trump


represents something that is an outgrowth of at least 60 years of


decline in one of our political parties in our country that has


refused to participate in our democratic process, the Republican


Party and as far as his views on the Muslims are concerned, I think this


cut to the heart of what we would call a clash of civilisations. This


is the reason why a clash of civilisations is not happening.


Sadiq Khan was marching in pride, the Mayor of London, and he probably


shares a lot of use with Angela Merkel, treating people with


dignity, being inclusive is, it these are global cities. Insisting


that someone is your enemy... I am going to stop you. I think it is


useful to have a representation in Sound and vision. In the Netherlands


you put on a show, the new prince, which played with images of US


politics including a character appearing to be based on Donald


Trump. Let's have a quick look at that now. (MUSIC PLAYING). .


You have tried preventing us from living. You have tried preventing us


from living. Chains and irons. Chains and irons.


Pounding of locks. Keys and bars. Keys and bars. So many arresting


images that I don't know where to begin almost. One thing strikes me.


You have put on different forms of music, particular lay operas, which


clearly carry a critique of power, especially Western exercise of that


power. But one thing you have in your career is anything that really,


clearly takes on, confronts, and criticises, the Arab world, you


don't talk about that. Why is that? I criticise political power around


the world. I wrote several articles criticising several Arab


governments. I have been vocal in my critique. What I do think is that


the West and the Arab world can help each other if they approach each


other in a more genuine way. I think there is this sense that we are


going to criticise imperialism coming from the West and the West is


going to take 40-year-old critiques of the Arab world rather than other


things we can solve together. There are universal values we have


together. You are a publicly out gay man and an artist and frankly, you


would find life in many parts of the Arabian Gulf, Saudi Arabia, the


Emirates, where your parents are from, you would find life there in


possible, not least because being gay, being actively gay, is a


criminal offence that is severely punishable in Saudi Arabia,


potentially by death itself. But you don't speak out about that at all. I


have spoken out about sexual repression in Middle Eastern


countries and Western countries. If I may enter up, you have criticised


Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, for you the hour mark


what you regard as culturally inappropriate analysis. -- for what


you. You say they are using a completely Western and non-nuanced


understanding of homosexuality in the Arab world, but I don't


understand that. They are approaching it with a noninclusive


point of view that does not take into consideration... I mean, you


define me as a gay man which I don't identify with in that way... What do


you mean by that? There are really no Arabic words for "Gay" or


"Straight." And I Axley find the idea of being "straight" kind of


strange. There is a tradition and it is quite different. We are coming to


a point, I think, in the Western world, where we are talking about


non- binary definitions of sexuality. OK? We are talking about


fluidity in sexuality. The Arab world, go back, thousands of years


of tradition in this form. There are a lot of people in the Arab world


who would like to identify with the tradition that they belong to and


enjoy equal rights with their fellow citizens. I believe that all Arab


nations must guarantee equal protection is for all citizens of.


Would your work, could it be put on in your country of heritage, the


United Arab Emirates, or Saudi, Kuwait, Bahrain, is there any


ability for you to do this in the Arab world itself? My song cycle,


called Songs From Ibin Havesh, based on his same-sex love poetry. They


have been done in the United Arab Emirates. I have another song with


baritones and male singers in the West who have identified and seen


this. And it has been done over there. And they are not only done,


they are taught and memorised by people over there. I will ask you


before we end about something very current and relevant for you being


in the UK. You put on a performance at a big Manchester Arts Festival, a


musical performance. You are doing it only weeks after a man of Libyan


origin, a young man, a militant, appearing to be loyal in his own way


to so-called Islamic State, he put a bomb inside an Ariana Grande


concert, killing women and children. Do you believe your music and your


message about the bridge building and the cultural cross-fertilisation


that can happen through music, do you think about, right now, can make


a difference to the thinking of people in a city like Manchester?


Not why itself. I mean, it has been said you must love one another or


die. He meant it. We have two options. We have a serious issue


with violence erupting throughout the world. Some of it is linked to


extremist thought and to radicalisation. I would urge an


uncoupling of what is, as a matter of fact, a small number of people


from the second-largest civilisation in human history. That gives them


legitimacy that they crave. It gives them association they do not need to


have... But they are Muslims and they are coming out of a very small


number of mosques inspired by a very small number of militant imams and


other leaders, and... Absolutely. Absolutely. You cannot deny the


Muslim origin of this problem. Absolutely not. But what you can say


and understand are once again fact. You know, we have had zero suicide


attacks in most countries. The Netherlands, UAE, we have just had


under 3000 people die of suicide attacks between 1982 and 2015 in the


United States. We have had, in the United States, at least 30,000


people die as a result of gun violence every year since 1982 at


least. I see the crosses, the KKK, I see they have them and burn them. I


do not associate them with such a mainstream movement as Christianity,


because the majority of people, Christians, have nothing to do with


that. What you need is people who believe in civilisation, believing


perversity, who believe in inclusion, people from all


backgrounds, Sadiq Khan, Angela Merkel, from the UAE, to come


together and oppose people who incite hate. They need to do that in


the US, especially against people like Donald Trump. Your music is a


part of that? It is forced to be a part of it because I am living in


this age. Mohammed Fairouz, we have the end it there. But thank you so


much for being on HARDtalk thank you. Thank you.


Plenty going on with our weather in the next few days.


Ups and downs to come during the week ahead.


If you like sunshine, the weekend ended on a high note


Stephen Sackur talks to US-Emirati composer Mohammed Fairouz, a youthful artist who has spent much of his creative life defying boundaries and stereotypes. His work ranges from symphonies to opera, to unique fusions of music and poetry. He's an Arab educated and resident in the West, an outspoken advocate for creative freedom who nonetheless rails against western cultural imperialism. His aim is to foster cultural crossover rather than confrontation, but can this artist avoid taking sides?