Maktoub is a unique and unusual musical project. It was initiated by Dr. Dana Corina Schmidt, as an expression of her love for life and art.
Corina was born in Romania’s historical province of Transylvania, studied in its capital Cluj-Napoca, and became a successful expert in dentistry after her emigration to Germany. But she has always kept alive her interest in the world’s diverse cultural expressions. Consequently, guided by her positive existential attitude, she founded the DCS Art World association, meant to sustain managing and production projects in various fields of artistic creativity, such as music, dance, visual arts, literature, etc. In point of fact – true art cannot exist in isolation, without its very oxygen consisting in live experience and communication. This attitude translated into a constant commitment to promoting valuable artists from lesser-known or underprivileged cultural spaces, which deserve wider recognition.
Accordingly, Dana Corina Schmidt came up with a daring project: to bring together some contemporary musicians, from no less than nine different countries, and ask them to collaborate/elaborate in the spirit of jazz freedom, on a loose theme. The latter was concentrated in the Arabic term Maktoub, that comes up again and again in The Alchemist, a world-famous novel conceived by Brazilian writer Paolo Coelho (needless to add that this author decisively influenced the path followed by Corina in life). The concept originates from the Arabic popular saying meaning “It is written”, coming from the Islamic notion that God writes one’s destiny and whatever we experience occurs because it is meant to be. Yet within the novel, the idea of “Maktoub” is never presented as contradictory to the free will of the individual in choosing to seek his or her Personal Legend. As such, the concept includes both change and permanence. Therefore, the entire demarche of this album may be seen as both a predestined encounter, and a creative session guided by jazz’s inherent spontaneity.
The tunes composed and performed by the musicians summoned by Corina evince a conspicuously meditative character, corresponding to the magical-philosophical atmosphere of Coelho’s allegorical text. The collective sound expression occurs on the coordinates of modal music, in a permanent interplay of ancestral techniques derived from Andalusian-North African roots – coinciding with the area travelled by The Alchemist’s main character, Santiago, in search of the presumed treasure hidden in the pyramids (in fact, the treasure was located in the very place of his birth). Musically this approach is complemented by consistent references to contemporary jazz modalism. A finespun mix of timbres highlights the totemic expressivity of ancestral instruments, such as cimbalom, oud, kora, kaval, ney, gembré.
The result of this “alchemical” synthesis, merging the talents of the remarkable musicians gathered by their Muse, brings about some sort of metaphorical life as a journey soundtrack. Moreover, the dreamlike quality of the acoustic landscapes thus created might as well evoke another defining phrase, used by Spanish playwright Calderón de la Barca to title his 1635 theatrical masterpiece: La vida es sueño = Life Is a Dream!
During recent decades the all-encompassing term world music has become a symbol of planetary concord through the art of sounds. It has also contributed to a better knowledge and appreciation of remote cultures and their musical patrimony.
Each of the musicians on this album adds nuances from their own experience to this collective meditation on life’s ever-changing diversity. Flamenco guitarist and multi-instrumentalist Amir John-Haddad (of Colombian-Palestinian ancestry) brings along the expertise gained as a close associate of the well-known Spanish group Radio Tarifa, in reinventing ancient Iberian-Andalusian styles from a contemporary perspective. In his turn, effulgent poly-instrumentalist Marius Preda excels in controlling phrasing and musical shapes, as eloquent as the seductive brilliance of his native spontaneity. Preda manages to morph the cimbalom – one of the world’s oldest musical implements – into a jazz instrument, as flexible and seductive as the vibraphone (which, by the way, he studied at the Hague Royal Conservatoire). Another versatile musician stemming from Romania (actually from Corina’s native district of Arad), actively involved in this production, is Lucian Nagy. A born jazzman, he has often proven his ability to camouflage harmonic patterns of blues, jazz, or Afro-Caribbean descent under the guise of invigorating themes. In addition, his interventions – not only on tenor saxophone and flute, but also on kaval, or other exotic instruments – also generate positive energy. All three above mentioned musicians show real compositional talents as authors of most of the songs on the album. Percussionist Rhani Krija is perhaps one of Morocco’s most important contributions to the world music universe, sporting impressive collaborations with the likes of Joe Zawinul, Sting, Manu Katche, Vinnie Colaiuta, Omar Sosa, Salif Keita, WDR Big Band, Annie Lennox, Branford Marsalis & al. It is a delight to listen to his lush percussive upholstery on this record, subtly underscored by Cuban bassist Arián Suárez, whose collaborations include such flamenco-jazz luminaries as Tomasito, Joaquín Cortés, Sonia Olla, José María Cano. The flamenco-connection is completed by Granada-born virtuoso Rafael Cortés, a commendable follower of Paco de Lucía’s prowess. What better recommendation could there be for Raphael than his association with the genius of flamenco-jazz electric bass, Carles Benavent?
It took Dana Corina Schmidt several good years to see her project accomplished. But in the end Maktoub was transfigured into music. It is indeed an exemplary achievement to make possible aforesaid beautiful intercultural collaboration, whilest the world is haunted by the spectre of alienation. Kudos to everyone involved!
Now let us enjoy this musical journey, while dreaming of better times. Our confreres from everywhere are in dire need of such daydreaming moments.
Writer, jazzologist, diplomat; currently, director of the CASA DO BRASIL Cultural Centre in Cluj-Napoca/Romania.