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Palestinian oud trio combines poetry with music

Le Trio Joubran puts Palestine's oldest instrument, the oud, and the words of Mahmoud Darwish at the heart of its works.

RAMALLAH, West Bank —  Le Trio Joubran, cited among the world’s best-known Palestinian musicians, maintain that the two essential components of Palestinian culture — the oud and the verses of great Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish — are central to their works.

“The oud, the music and the poems of Mahmoud Darwish have become an integral part of the Palestinian culture. We feel that we are sending a message of hope, joy and love to the world through our music,” Samir Joubran, the oldest of the three Palestinian brothers who make up the trio, told Al-Monitor.

The Joubran trio — brothers Samir, Wissam and Adnan — come from a family of musicians and oud-makers from the city of Nazareth in the Galilee. Their great-grandfather, Dib Joubran (1876-1951), was a sculptor and calligrapher as well as an oud-maker. Their mother was a singer and their father fabricated string instruments for Palestine and the Arab world. Today, Wissam, the middle brother, makes the ouds and the other string instruments used by the group. Wissam learned the skill from his father and also studied at the Antonio Stradivari Institute in Italy.

“We are the fourth generation of a family of oud-makers and musicians. The oud is the only thing we have to express our love for life and to resist the occupation and hatred,” Samir said before a concert in Ramallah on Dec. 19, where they would present their last album, "The Long March."

A huge crowd cheered and called for the trio at the Ramallah Cultural Palace to play the new songs that they launched in France in October. The album includes nine tracks, including now-viral “Supremacy,” where Pink Floyd’s lead singer, bassist and composer Roger Waters half reads, half sings parts of Darwish’s poem “Speech of the Red Indian.”

The song is emblematic of the album, which is Le Trio Joubran’s most political work so far. “Supremacy” draws a parallel between the displaced Indians of the United States and the Palestinians forced to leave their homes in the Middle East.

“Soon you will erect your world on our remains/ You will pave over the sacred places/ Fossils to fuel your thirst for fine wine/ There are the dead and the settlements/ The dead and the bulldozers/ The dead and the hospitals,” the lyrics say.

"[The song] is a response to US President Donald Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel,” Samir noted.

The song “Carry the Earth” is dedicated to four young boys who were killed by an Israeli bombing while playing soccer on the beach in the Gaza Strip in 2014. The lyrics were also co-written by Waters. The first song of the album, “Time Must Go By,” uses the voice of Darwish, this time reciting parts of the poem "Speech of the Red Indian" himself against a backdrop of the oud and electrical instruments. 

“Our music carries messages and values embodied in music and the voice of Mahmoud Darwish,” Samir said. “The music we offer is a common language with the West. The album was greatly welcomed in France [where the brothers continue their music career] and has received positive views worldwide.”

It took four years for the trio to complete the album, often traveling back and forth between Paris, where they live, and London, where Waters and other artists involved reside.

“What makes Le Trio Joubran special is their ability to carry the Palestinian message to the world,” producer and music researcher Samer Jaradat told Al-Monitor. “They are a unique phenomenon. … Their success lies in how much they understand the oud and its classic composition. With years of experience in the music sector, they were able to create a good mix of oriental and Persian music with the international music culture. They reach people’s hearts.”

The trio came together for the first time in 2005, with a joint album called “Randada,” where "their melodies tell of sadness and hope and, above all, of the desire to give voice to Palestine,” as described on their website.

Samir produced his first solo album “Taqaaseem” in 1996. In 2002, Samir and Wissam released the album “Tamaas,” before their younger brother Adnan joined them in 2004.

The trio has performed more than 1,100 times since 2014, often at the world’s largest festivals. They also produced the award-winning soundtrack for Karim Dridi's 2009 film “The Last Flight,” where Marion Cotillard plays the part of a woman who lost her lover after his plane crashed in the Sahara.

Next month, the trio will start a European tour to promote their album, “The Long March," that includes the United Kingdom, Portugal, France and Turkey.

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