The Festival

All Star Band

Morgenland All Star Band 2013 © Andy Spyra
Morgenland All Star Band 2013 © Andy Spyra

With its global mesh of traditional, jazz and rock music the Morgenland All Star Band has been fascinating audiences since 2012. The Band unites some of the most brilliant musicians from the Middle East with Europeans jazz greats. The Band is exhilarating, whether at the Bimhuis in Amsterdam, in the Pierre Boulez Saal in Berlin, the Philharmonic Hall in Almaty, the Saygun Culture Center in Izmir or on tour through China.


Ibrahim Keivo - Vocals
Dima Orsho - Vocals
Kinan Azmeh - Clarinet
Ziya Gückan - Violin
Moslem Rahal - Ney
Frederik Köster - Trumpet
Michel Godard - Tuba, Serpent
Salman Gambarov - Piano
Chris Jennings – Double Bass
Rony Barrak - Darbouka
Bodek Janke - Drums & Percussion

Dima Orsho (Syria/ USA) is one of the few singers who have had global success in the world of Arabian music as well as in classical music. She is a Grammy Prize winner and also a member of Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Project.

Ibrahim Keivo (Syria/ Germany) like no other, this Syrian-Armenian singer and multi-instrumentalist represents the multi-faceted musical culture of Mesopotamia. He has performed solo recitals and concerts in the Elbphilharmonie, Alte Oper Frankfurt, Kölner Philharmonie, as well as concerts and recordings with the NDR Bigband and many other international ensembles.

Kinan Azmeh (Syria/ USA) is an internationally renowned clarinettist, Grammy Prize winner and member of Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Project. He was also Opus Klassik Prize winner 2019.

Ziya Gückan (Turkey) is a violin and viola player from Izmir. He is a marvellous jazz improviser and also a member of the Izmir State Opera Orchestra.

Moslem Rahal (Syria/ Spain) is a Syrian Ney player. Rahal is counted among the best Ney players to have ever lived. He is advisor on Arabian music to Jordi Savall.

Frederik Köster (Germany) is an internationally renowned trumpeter who has won many notable jazz awards.

Michel Godard (France) is a virtuoso tuba and serpent player who, for many years now, has played with such legends of oriental music as Alim Qasimov or Rahib Abou-Khalil.

Salman Gambarov (Azerbaijan) is a pianist and one of the leading figures in Baku’s jazz scene.

Rony Barrak (Lebanon) is one of the leading Darbouka players in the world. He has played as soloist with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, Bremen Philharmonic Orchestra, Stockhom Philharmonic Orchestra, etc.

Bodek Janke Poland/ Germany) is one of the most versatile drummers and percussionists of our time.


The restaurant Arabesque was once a fashionable address for good food and good conversation in the historic center of Damascus. One evening in the early summer of 2008, the leader of the Syrian Big Band, Hannibal Saad, and the Syrian composer Nouri Iskandar were having dinner there with the filmmaker Frank Scheffer from Amsterdam and the director of Osnabrück’s Morgenland Festival, Michael Dreyer. As luck would have it, Kinan Azmeh was also visiting his hometown and celebrating his first night in Damascus at the Arabesque with his friend, the tuba player Charbel Asphahan. Hannibal Saad asked the two to join his table with the guests from Europe—and even if the conversation between Dreyer and Azmeh that evening was brief, it laid the foundation for a multi-faceted musical collaboration whose dimension and potential nobody could have guessed at the time. Ever since, the Syrian clarinetist has become a central figure at the Morgenland Festival; his compositions, his inspiration, and especially his entrancingly beautiful, stirringly unrestrained clarinet playing have become a hallmark of the festival. Because Azmeh combines his musical qualities with the gift of conveying his ideas convincingly, he has become a pillar of the Morgenland All Star Band. If you like, the group you are hearing tonight was born at the Arabesque in Damascus. Four more years would pass, however, until it saw the (foot)lights of the music world.

As it should be with an All Star Band, each of the musicians involved had made a name for him- or herself before their first joint performance in Osnabrück in 2012 —both in the diverse world of Western music and in the equally diverse one of the Middle East and Northern Africa, in jazz as well as in the classical repertoire. A good example of this is the tuba and serpent virtuoso Michel Godard, who is at home in many different styles. The trumpeter Frederik Köster is among the most high-profile and creative protagonists of the experimentally inclined jazz scene in Cologne; drummer Bodek Janke moves virtuosically and authentically between the fields of Western classical music and jazz, but also of classical Indian music. Or consider Salman Gambarov from Baku in Azerbaijan: the pianist takes inspiration from Bach’s polyphony, turns John Lennon’s Imagine into an enchanting jazz reverie and combines it all with the scales, rhythms, and meters of his musical roots. Moslem Rahal has a similar background: firmly rooted in the tradition of his native Syria, he has also brought his mastery of the woodwind instrument ney to Jordi Savall’s ensemble Hespèrion XXI for many years (Savall himself, of course, has been steadily exploring the music of the entire Mediterranean region). Rony Barrak has played the goblet drum darbuka not only with Chick Corea, but also with the Austrian percussionist Martin Grubinger. Singer Dima Orsho and Kinan Azmeh were both born and raised in Damascus and went on to study classical singing and clarinet, respectively, in the US. They explore their Arabic roots by performing together with the ensemble Hewar, among others. Violinist Ziya Gückan experienced a similar form of musical socialization; the Turkish musician is a member of the orchestra of the Izmir Opera. Last but not least, singer Ibrahim Keiva brings a true element of traditional music to the All Star Band: just as Béla Bart.k and Zolt.n recorded the folk music of their Hungarian-Romanian homelands in the early 20 th century, Keivo collected the music of the Kurds, Yazidis, and Syrians—until the civil war drove him from his home in the region of Al-Jazeera in Northwestern Syria.

The meeting of all these different influences symbolizes a fundamental idea behind the Morgenland All Star Band: to explore the energy that is released when different musical worlds come together and treat each other with respect. By no means, after all, should it be taken for granted that this kind of exchange will actually bear fruit. Much as the universal power of music is evoked, time and again, as a language that does not need words, it is not automatically a lingua franca serving the dialogue of cultures. Certainly both Western and Middle Eastern music have their roots in the region between the Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf. The precursors of violins, guitars, and many European percussion instruments hail from this area, as do the roots of Georgian Chant, one of the sources of Western art music. But the idioms developed in highly divergent manners—and so the tone painting in Beethoven’s “Pastoral” Symphony may seem just as hard to understand to a listener steeped in the Arabic tradition as the multi-layered meaning of an Arabic maqam will appear to a European listener. Yet this tonal system constitutes the music of the Arabic and Persian world—both in purely musical and in spiritual terms. But because it employs intervals and tone sequences that are different from Western music, tension and friction ensue. It was jazz, among other styles, that rediscovered the church scales with their characteristic sequences of tones, and from there went on to explore the musical realms of non-European cultures. Perhaps this is one of the secrets of the Morgenland All Star Band: its music is rooted in the accomplishments of jazz, adds a healthy dose of fusion, and gives equal space to the microtones of the maqamat.

The group has been pursuing this dialogue with considerable success and worldwide effect. As different as they may seem—concerts at Amsterdam’s Bimhuis, a four-week tour of Chinese cities, and, most recently, guest appearances in Kazakhstan have one thing in common: audience reactions are overwhelmingly positive, despite the fact that the experimental character of the music is not without challenges for the listeners. That may be the reason why percussionist Rony Barrak was more nervous about performing in his hometown of Beirut than he had been prior to most other concerts: for the first time, the Morgenland All Star Band was to play for his friends and relatives. His worries proved unfounded: the audience at a sold-out theater in the Hamra neighborhood was full of enthusiasm—not least because of the wonderful solo “duels” Barrak engaged in with Bodek Janke. The primeval power of Ibrahim Keivo’s singing leaves nobody who has heard it untouched; the virtuosity of the dialogue between Dima Orsho’s vocals and Kinan Azmeh’s clarinet is impressive; and Frederik Köster’s trumpet solos are simply bursting with energy. But what is truly fascinating about the Morgenland All Star Band is the sensitivity and the joy of these artists reacting to one another and making music together. This is how dialogue between cultures actually works.

Text by Ralf Döring
Translation: Alexa Nieschlag

This text was created on behalf of the Pierre Boulez Saal Berlin.