I do things with words, mainly English and Arabic
It’s a small comment on the general wrongness of things when Trio Joubran’s long-awaited appearance in Manchester is a night at Band On The Wall, rather than, say, a packed house at the Bridgewater Hall.
That’s not to knock BOTW. It’s a great venue, the new sound system the management have invested in along with a refit and extension is, to my untrained ear, excellent (and friend Ruth, who knows so much about these things that sometimes it makes my head hurt, said so too, so it must be true), and I’m really glad it’s still around, after a long gap. But let’s face it, it’s not the world’s largest venue. Dammit, why isn’t the world turning out to see these guys? Of course, as with any undiscovered gem, that makes it all the better for those of us lucky enough to have done some ‘discovering,’ and I wouldn’t have been in the third row from the front if the Joubran brothers had been playing the Bridgewater.
The word ‘stunning’ is often used to describe things that are very good. This show really was stunning – in the full sense of walking out of BOTW kind of stunned, a bit woozy, not fully functioning. Grinning like an eejit. Like having been hit over the head, but in a good way. I’m fairly sure I saw Samir and Wissam Joubran play some years ago, before youngest brother Adnan was permitted to perform with them as well, and I thought they were very good – certainly good enough for me to have forked out for Samir’s album Sou’fahm and Samir and Wissam’s joint effort Tamaas. But this evening’s show – perhaps partly because of the intimate scale of the venue – was just something else. Between the technical virtuosity of the brothers and their percussionist Yousef Hbeisch, and the passion, humour and emotion with which they play, the Trio Joubran’s Manchester concert was something very, very special.
Samir says that he hopes for the day when he and his brothers can be simply ‘musicians from Palestine’ rather than ‘Palestinian musicians’ – performers who feel that it is also their duty to put a political case before their audiences. The situation which forces them to do this doesn’t look like going away any time soon, so from that perspective they will remain ‘Palestinian musicians.’ But in terms of the technical brilliance and skill they show, they transcend any political tokenism; spending an all-too-short hour and a half watching the Trio perform is a true joy, well beyond any act of solidarity. They’re very far from being a musical version of 1980s Nicaraguan coffee, vile but worthy.
But as well as their formal musical excellence, a Trio Joubran concert is simply a wonderfully entertaining experience. If I’m honest, I know naff all about music. I was forced, painfully, through 2 grades of theory at school, and made a dismal (largely coerced) attempt to learn a couple of instruments over the years. I can tell if someone’s making a nice noise, and I can see if they’re doing something well that looks difficult, but I certainly won’t enjoy something that’s ‘music for musicians.’ But the Joubrans aren’t. They have a lovely warm, witty stage presence, the three brothers teasing and playing with one another, joking about Adnan’s juniority, pulling faces at one another and competing in the speed and complexity of their solos. They are genuinely fun to watch and listen to, their music performed with skill and talent, but also deeply accessible. It ranges from the delicately beautiful to viscerally, excitingly fast, sometimes ethereal and sometimes really grabbing you in the guts – especially when backed up by Hbeisch’s superb percussion. The Trio also have a great stage presence, identically dressed in sharp black but very individual beyond that – fine-featured Samir very definitely the older brother, Adnan the youngest, with a face that could have fallen off the frescoes of a Byzantine church, and mischievous-looking Wissam with his long curls, bridging the gap across the stage and between the personas.
So, the Trio have a punishing schedule for the remainder of their UK tour, and I have two new albums to enjoy. I’ll be looking forward to the new album (Samir tells us they’re heading straight into the studio after this tour), and even more to their next tour…