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A Week in the Life of Ibrahim Maalouf

A Week in the Life of Ibrahim Maalouf

Issue 79 April 2011

Ibrahim Maalouf talks about everything from classical music and his upbringing, to his travels, and inspiration.

As a trumpet player, pianist, composer, record label owner and teacher, my week seems to be non-stop work. I can play anything up to 10 concerts every month, and usually compose four or five pieces each year for classical orchestras.

 I was born into a family of musicians, and was raised in the language of music. In everything that I do, music has some input. I sing constantly, and music even makes an appearance in my dreams!

 My father wanted me to play the cello, but since he played the trumpet, I wanted to follow in his footsteps. He’s always had a big influence on my musical choices. He taught me how to play—it was a very strict schedule, but it was all based on the love of music.

 My job is all about self-expression, so I would never play or compose a piece that didn’t mean anything to me. I try and practice every day, but that can prove fairly tricky.

 I grew up in Lebanon, but we left during the civil war and moved to Paris. I was too young to understand the meaning of exile, and it was really difficult to grow up so far away from my cousins. My father kept telling us that France was not our country, and that we would move back soon. After the war, we ended up staying in Paris.

 During that time, my father and I would go to many places and perform as a duo. It was a unique experience for a teenager, but it was great to spend time with him on tour. Whilst we were performing, I was still at school. I had plans to become an architect, but people recognised my musical talent and encouraged me to play professionally.

 I have travelled around the world; I have performed in the Middle East, North Africa, the Far East, USA and Europe. I would love to play in South America. I’ve met so many great musicians and people from there that I feel the need to go and explore the region.

 I’m quite a shy person naturally, so being on stage has helped build my self-confidence. It’s very important for artists to perform regularly, as people will have a stronger belief in your talent. At every performance, I give to the best of my ability. Sometimes you get the feeling that you’ve connected with the audience in a way that hasn’t happened before. I’ve been getting that feeling a lot more during the last few performances.

 Having said that, it’s quite easy to pinpoint my worst performance. Back in 2003, at the International Classical Trumpet Competition, I got to the final and was up against four other musicians. The first piece I played went really well, but I couldn’t find anything to eat before the second. I had a low sugar crisis, and had to go back on stage still feeling the effects. I couldn’t even finish the piece. Somewhat surprisingly, I managed to get second place in the competition.

 Many musicians can only be motivated by certain things, but I feel that I’m unique in that I can draw inspiration from everything; from beautiful faces, eccentric people and rainy days, I can compose something from every experience. It’s as natural as breathing to me. With a busy lifestyle, it’s also important to find ways to relax. My first love is music, so that always helps me unwind. I also enjoy going to the cinema; it helps to transport me to a place far away, and sometimes I need to get away.

 Whenever I visit my village in Lebanon, I feel the power of the land, the history of my ancestors, and I can see my childhood memories all around the landscape; this gives me my greatest inspiration.

 I really believe that music can change a person’s state of mind. It has such a positive effect on our lives, and many of my situations in life have become better thanks to the music in my head. I would definitely like to study more about music therapy in the future.

 In every show, I always play a song that I composed called ‘Beirut’. When I was 12, I was walking through the streets of Beirut. I saw a horrific vision of damaged buildings all around me. I stuck on my walkman, which was playing Led Zeppelin, and ran away full of violent feelings. I’ll never forget those emotions and every time I play it, I re-visit that scene.

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