Cross-Cultural Mapping with Violinist/Composer Layale Chaker

We are so proud of Violinist & Composer Layale Chaker, an alum from the Shastra “Composing with Indian Rhythm” Summer Workshops. This January, she released her début album, “Inner Rhyme” (In a Circle Records, 2019), featuring the Sarafand ensemble playing a suite of her works. Layale Chaker, born in Beirut, draws on her experiences as a violinist in Daniel Barenboim’s West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, but also fluidly composes and improvises in Arabic maqam as well. The music in Inner Rhyme maps “the rhythmical cycles of the twelve classical Arabic poetic meters, the fluidity of oral and free forms, the abstraction of language into the physical contour of verses and the percussive potential of words.” You can read about this stunning new album in the New York Times, in “A Violinist Questions the Musical Divide Between West and East.” Below, Layale Chaker discusses her encounters with the music of South Asia (including the Shastra workshop) and how it impacted her.

“My introduction to Hindustani music came through my encounter with two unique masters of this art : Pandit Yogesh Samsi and the late Pandit Drubha Ghosh. I precisely remember the very first time I have listened to them perform the classical repertoire, and the unexplainable feeling that overwhelmed me, made of both surprise and nostalgia, as if I were recognizing melodies that I once knew in the distant past, and that I had forgotten about up until that moment.

“I was blessed to have the chance to perform with Yogesh and Drubha, to learn from them, and to meet later on other immensely inspiring Hindustani and Carnatic musicians through different occasions and settings, with whom I have performed and shared music around the world. However, due to concert schedule constraints and other logistics, I would always find that these collaborations happened in circumstances where results primed over the journey ; and that our encounters only tackled the visible, accessible part of our respective languages, limiting the musical collaboration to physically and technically comfortable spaces of in-between. I would often hear these limits loud and clear in the concert, but also acknowledged the possibility of attaining much broader fields.

“I started experimenting with the cross-mapping of different musical concepts of my own Arabic Maqam heritage, Persian radif structures, Western music limited transposition modes, spectralism, and Hindustani and Carnatic techniques.

“The different points of divergence and convergence met in great part through rhythm. In particular, the oral transmission and representation of rhythm offered a never-ending source of possibilities. One of my first experiences came through a suite of pieces I had composed for my ensemble, Sarafand, based on a sort of rhythmic vocalization that stems from rhythmic structures of classical Arabic poetry (‘Arud), and that I had treated as Solkattu, turning them into structures and rhythmical cycles in the suite.

“After that experience, the perspective of composing a piece for Tabla and Percussion Quartet seemed like the natural continuation in that direction. Even through most of my musical practice is deeply rooted in performance, the opportunity to put the violin down and to think of rhythm, time and temporality as a completely abstract material provided the perfect scope I was looking for.

“While in general the experience of rhythm remains to be an essentially physical and visceral one, it became to me over the course of a few weeks a purely cerebral one, as I challenged all of my pre-conceived thinking about time as essentially linear and chronological, integrated a renewed sense of pulse, and tried to adopt the complexity of the cycles and forms as accurately as possible while trying to maintain their fluidity.

“I particularly loved transposing that cyclical dimension of time into Maqam meter structures, finding correspondences between them and different Thekas, and layering references to common patterns in both traditions as an illusion of interacting polyrhythms, polypulses and irregular groupings.

“Beyond the implementation of these techniques, it also revealed to me the percussive potential of timbre itself through the incredible diversity of tone and color provided by the quintet.

“While the intricacy of Hindustani music remains a yet (and possibly forever!) unconquered territory, I valued the process of composing that piece for Shastra like a true apprenticeship, an experience of invaluable learning and exchange that I shared with like-minded musicians, which continues to unfold more territories to explore. The best is yet to come.” – Layale Chaker, 2017

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Spam protection *