With Issa Georges Louiseh

Published: Friday, December 02, 2016    

Yara Boraie meets percussionist Issa Georges Louiseh, whose passion for music brought him all the way from Syria to Al Ain’s burgeoning music scene

What are your passions in life?

Studying and dispersing knowledge of the Earth, which I accomplished as I'm currently working as a petroleum engineering instructor down at UAEU where I joined in 2009. It was a golden opportunity for me as it allowed me more time to focus on my other passion, music.

What prompted your interest in music?

I grew up listening to my father’s eclectic vinyl record collection back home in Syria including the Middle East’s legendary voices of Fairuz, Um Kalthoum, and Abdel Halim Hafez, to name a few.

It was during my university studies though when I seriously pursued this passion. I cofounded a chamber orchestra with my friends that went on to win the university’s talent show. I played on percussion – my specialty, as my fngers are meant for beat-making – and it has been a part of me ever since we won.

My father has been my biggest supporter and has spurred me on, despite the fact I never attended an offcial music institute. He saw how attached I was to drumming, seeing me constantly tapping away, turning any surface into a musical instrument.

Following the talent show win, and with my father gifting me my frst tablah (a goblet-shaped drum most frequently used in the Middle East), I started mingling with experienced musicians from the local music and theatre club, showing them recorded videos of my playing.

They were so impressed by my talent that they offered me a percussionist position in their orchestra, which I gratefully accepted - my time with these seasoned musicians taught me a lot. That break, along with my dedication, drove me to practice every day and explore different kinds of drums – my personal favourite of all the varieties being the riq (Arabic for tambourine).

Since your move to the UAE, which musical avenues have you pursued?

Well, I fnally found some time on my hands for my music, so I took advantage of the opportunity and joined the Al Ain-based chamber orchestra Sharqi Ensemble.

In 2013, the House of Arts’ Al Ain Music Chamber orchestra (specialising in western chamber music) fancied experimentally playing Arabic music in preparation for the Al Ain Music Festival, and they approached Sharqi Ensemble for a collaborative show one evening.

Al Ain Music Chamber’s Romanian conductor, Dan Turcanu, had not prepared a score for me to follow for that performance – which would be the usual case – but instead, he told me to follow my feelings. He gives his orchestra the freedom to explore what they feel at the moment, as opposed to strictly following rules, and that is something I will continually appreciate and admire.

Between events, gigs and festivals, I've been playing for both bands since – adding what I call an “oriental sound” to western music; a fusion between both these scales in music.

Also, I was all set to perform at this year’s Al Ain Music Festival but unfortunately a conference took me away at the last minute.

Who are your musical inspirations?

One of my many musical inspirations, especially in the composing subfeld in music, is the widely celebrated Egyptian composer Baligh Hamdi, who I think is genius.

However, it was the prominent Lebanese composer Ziad Rahbani that has shaped my playing. Ziad is my icon! His music has a clear beat with a focus on the beat above the tempo – something most Middle Eastern musicians emphasise on – he is legendary. And he was also the frst emerging artist to have an Eastern-Western crossover in his music, blending oriental flute with western jazz.

What kind of challenges do you face?

I admit that I still get a bout of the jitters, even after 20 years of performing live on stage – especially with the opening songs, because that is the equivalent of the frst impression. After that’s done though, and if we receive a big round of applause, things start to ease up as that would indicate the crowd is loving it.

On the other hand, if you were met with silence and you weren’t able to captivate the audience from the start – that’s when the pressure increases. Thankfully, the latter never happened to me.

What is your musical philosophy?

Music isn't just a tool for fun and romp; it cleans our hearts and purifes our souls. And my love for music extends to instructing students on musical instruments and music history – mostly free of charge, to keep it as accessible as possible for those interested.

Got a tip or two for any budding musicians out there?

It should go without saying but always keep in mind that no one is perfect, and the more you practice the better you get.

What does the future hold for you?

As a musician, my friends and I have submitted a few pieces to be played with a Philharmonic Orchestra, and we hope to perform them next spring in Bucharest, Romania. As a petroleum engineer though, I hope to obtain my PhD in enhanced oil recovery methods within the coming three years
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