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 Arabesque restaurant in Damascus, Syria, is a renowned destination for fine dining and stimulating conversations in the city’s historic centre. During one such evening in the early summer of 2008, Hannibal Saad, leader of the Syrian Big Band, and Syrian composer Nouri Iskandar were enjoying a meal there with filmmaker Frank Scheffer from Amsterdam and Michael Dreyer, director of Morgenland Festival Osnabrück. Luck was on their side as Syrian clarinetist Kinan Azmeh, celebrating his first night back in Damascus, was at Arabesque with his friend, tuba player Charbel Asphahan. Saad invited the musicians to join the table with the European guests, and even though the conversation between Dreyer and Azmeh that evening was brief, it laid the foundation for a multifaceted musical collaboration that, at the time, no one could have anticipated.

Since then, Kinan Azmeh has become a central figure at the Morgenland Festival, his compositions, inspiration and particularly his captivating clarinet performances becoming a hallmark of the festival. Azmeh combines his musical talents with the ability to convincingly convey his ideas, making him a key member of the Morgenland All Star Band.

As is typical for an All Star Band, each of the musicians involved had already established a name for themselves before their first joint performance in Osnabrück in 2012. They were accomplished not only in the diverse world of Western music but also in the equally diverse realm of the MENA, Caucasus and Central Asian regions, with repertoires spanning jazz and classical music.

Take, for instance, Michel Godard, a virtuoso on the tuba and serpent, who excels in various musical styles. Frederik Köster, the trumpeter, is one of the most prominent and innovative figures in the European experimental jazz scene. Bodek Janke, the drummer, seamlessly and skillfully navigates between Western classical music, jazz and Indian classical music. Salman Gambarov, a pianist from Baku, Azerbaijan, draws inspiration from Bach's polyphony, transforming John Lennon's 'Imagine' into a captivating jazz reverie, all while infusing the scales, rhythms, and metres of his musical heritage. Moslem Rahal, with his roots in Syria, not only has deep ties to his native tradition but has also contributed his mastery of the ney (bamboo flute) to Jordi Savall’s Hespèrion XXI ensemble for many years. Rony Barrak, known for his darbuka skills, has performed with Chick Corea and Austrian percussionist Martin Grubinger. Singer Dima Orsho, like fellow Damascus native Azmeh, pursued her studies in classical singing in the US. Together, Orsho and Azmeh explore their Arabic heritage through performances with the Hewar ensemble and as members of Yo-Yo Ma's GRAMMY-winning Silk Road Ensemble, among other projects. Violinist Ziya Gückan underwent similar musical socialisation as a member of the Izmir Opera orchestra in Turkey. Lastly, singer Ibrahim Keivo brings a traditional element to the All Star Band, having collected the music of Kurds, Yazidis, Bedouins and Syriacs in the multi-ethnic region of Mesopotamia, until the civil war forced him to leave his home in the region of Al-Jazeera in Northwestern Syria.

The confluence of these diverse influences represents a fundamental idea behind the Morgenland All Star Band: exploring the energy 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 ensemble has achieved considerable success and global recognition, whether at the Bimhuis in Amsterdam, in the Pierre Boulez Saal in Berlin, the Philharmonic Hall in Almaty, the Saygun Culture Center in Izmir, on a four week-long tour through China, or guest appearances in Kazakhstan. All concerts 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.