A vertiginous flutist and prolific composer, Naïssam Jalal comes from a fertile background in music fuelled by passion and curiosity. Born in a Parisian suburb of Syrian parents, she assimilated and transcended the essence of European and Arab classical music, the art of jazz improvisation, the urgency of hip-hop, the euphoria of funk and the vitality of traditions from Africa, with a keen sense of synthesis and a hyper-sensitive touch. This fine trajectory has been marked by a number of excellent CD releases and prestigious awards such as the Coup de cœur from the Académie Charles Cros (2017) and the Victoires du Jazz (2019). Looking ahead, 2021 will be marked by the tenth anniversary of her ensemble Rhythms of Resistance and the release of a much-awaited double album Un Autre Monde (An alternative world) some of which was recorded live with the Orchestre National de Bretagne, as well as the Rituels de Guérisons (Rituals of healing), a project with her new quartet.
The flutist Naïssam Jalal, composes a rich and inspired music that reflects her quest for identity, her search for sounds of meaning and for the meaning of sounds, and her belief in love. Her French and Arabic identity, her jazz sensibility, her classical education, her hip-hop and funk passions, her desire for ties and silences, nothing can really be considered the result of happenstance; it’s all part of an overall impulse, open to the visible world and to invisible universes. She navigates along a solid and sincere trajectory marked by anger, by dreams, and every emotion in between.
Naïssam Jalal was born in a Paris suburb, both of her parents painters. From forms and lines on a canvas to music is but a small step; and indeed, both parents are able to sing, and train their daughter to play in unison and canon. They enrolled her at a children’s music garden and then at the Conservatoire. And, right from hearing the first sound, from seeing the first luminous glow of the instrument with its immemorial posture, she went for the transverse flute, to which she has remained faithful to this day. As a child, she studied classical music, discovering other types of music during her teenage years, briefly trying her hand at the guitar, turned her voice to singing and generally soaking up knowledge.
At the time she liked neither jazz, nor Arabic music, and the songs of Umm Kulthum or Fairuz, which often resounded in the family car, distressed her. To her ears, honed by Western temperate system, the voices of these monuments of contemporary Arabic music sounded false. At the age of 17, freshly graduated from the Conservatoire, she was determined to expand her musical lexicon At the opening of a painting exhibition featuring her father’s works, a friend challenged her to improvise. She tried and the miracle took place. Old buried emotions came to the surface and an exhilarating sense of freedom emerged. She took a vow to become a professional musician.
Soon after she plunged into the funk adventure of the Tarace Boulba band. In the course of a tour, one evening on the roof of a factory in Bamako, she reconciled herself with jazz by listening to the Olé of Coltrane. Back in Paris she improvised and joined forces with musicians of all origins. Cultures from countries too often confronted with acts of everyday racism resonated deep within her.
At the age of 18 began Naïssam’s quest for identity, as she left for Syria, the land of her forebears, to study nay at the High Institute of Music in Damascus where she discovered another musical world, reveling in quarter tones. The more this new sound rubbed against her ears and undid her classical training, the more
she understood its magnificent soul. But Syria was a dictatorship, and after 3 months of perpetual surveillance and an oppressive military climate, Naïssam couldn’t take it anymore and left for Egypt. Soon she met Abdo Dagher, an immense violinist of Arab classical music and who had played for the singers Umm Kulthum and Abdel Wahab. He took her under his wing, taught her his art, she acquired its subtleties and discovered the importance of silence as a means to deepen meaning and sublimate notes, as is the case, for example, with singer-narrators of the Quran. But, even though Cairo gave her an opportunity to play alongside leading musicians such as Fathy Salama and to perform at the National Opera, Naïssam found life difficult in this megalopolis, thousands of kilometers away from all her familiar landmarks. Although very demanding, this time spent abroad was highly instructive.
After three years Naïssam returned to France, an artist transformed. She took part in jam sessions, seizing every opportunity she could find to go on stage. Her flute-playing skills caught the attention of major artists such as Hillaire Penda, Cheick Tidiane Seck, Mamani Keïta and Moh Kouyaté. She teamed up with the Lebanese rapper Rayess Bek, traveled around Lebanon where she met Osloob, a Palestinian singer, rapper and beatboxer with whom she formed a long-term duo. As witnessed in 2009 by the album Noun Ya and a series of concerts given around the world, Naïssam entered into a deep musical dialog with the guitarist and oud player Yann Pittard.
In 2011, she decided to set up her own band with her former accomplices Mehdi Chaïb and Karsten Hochapfel, two closed friends and bright talents who constantly encourage her and help her overcome any doubts. Little by little, her quintet Rhythms of Resistance took shape and matured to its current form with Arnaud Dolmen, coming from Gwoka and Jazz, on drums and Damien Varaillon on bass.
In 2015, Osloob Hayati (My way of life), her first work with Rhythms of Resistance was released, followed in 2016 by Almot Wala Almazala (death rather than humiliation) her vibrant homage to the Syrian revolution, a work singled out for special recognition (Coup de coeur) by the Académie Charles Cros.
2017 saw Naïssam work with the string quartet Tercea. With her own quintet Rhythms of Resistance, she wrote and performed the music for La Déclaration, a dance piece choreographed by Sylvain Groud, she participated in the creation of Le Bulldozer et l’Olivier, a play for young audiences by Yvan Corbineau, and premiered The Sun Spirit with Loy Ehrlich, Karim Ziad, Noura Mint Seymali and Leonardo Montana for the Africolor Festival. That same year saw her return to Egypt, the source of her erstwhile metamorphosis,
where she recorded Om Al Aagayeb in the company of her mentor Abdo Dagher and a dozen prodigious instrumentalists, the result of which was released in 2019.
In 2018, her decade-long dialog with Egyptian oudist Hazem Shaheen (Liqaa) and her project with Osloob (Al Akhareen) both led to CD releases. The following year, Quest of the Invisible, with pianist Leonardo Montana, bassist Claude Tchamitchian, and drummer Hamid Drake as guest, won her an award at the Victoires du Jazz, and led to her official selection for the prestigious German jazz festival Jazzahead!.
In parallel to her personal projects, Naïssam Jalal, widely appreciated for her improvisation skills, has over the years found time to record with guitarist Abdoulaye Traore, Aziz Sahmaoui, American slammers Mike Ladd and Napoleon Maddox, Andy Emler, Sébastien Giniaux, among others. She has shared stages with Michael Blake, Anne Paceo, Médéric Collignon, Sylvain Rifflet, Nelson Veras, Sandra Nkaké, Amazigh Kateb, Syrian singer Lena Shamamyan, amongst many others. Between 2012 and 2020, she composed the soundtracks of 5 films including Camera Woman by Karima Zoubir, Syria, le cri étouffé (Syria, a smothered cry) by Manon Loizeau and Un assiégé comme moi (Besieged like me) by Hala Alabdalla.
Although it may seem that her schedule is overloaded, the reality is that her projects take time to mature and then tend to come to fruition in close succession. For Naïssam Jalal, the learning process is ongoing. She takes time to learn the palmas in Andalusia with Bobote, the mythical gypsy of flamenco rhythms and the Carnatic music of South India, before confronting Dhrupad, a genre of Hindustani classical music that attracted her like a magnet.
To mark 10 years of Rhythms of Resistance, a double album entitled Un Autre Monde (Another world) some of which was recorded live with the Orchestre National de Bretagne, will be released on February 5th 2021. The album denounces the social and ecological catastrophes of today’s world but also points towards an alternative world, more empathetic and loving. A record that militates for the right to dream and celebrates the refusal of negativity.
Inspired by her time spent in a hospital setting, Rituels de guérisons (Rituals of healing), a repertoire that Naïssam Jalal is currently composing will come out in 2021, with her new quartet.