live recording from Aen's performance @ La Bettolab, an experimental art stage/space in Neukölln, Berlin, in the framework of a neo-cabaret group event La Bettoshow #3, curated by Emanuele Femia, recorded and edited by Sergei Kleyn
It was one of those nights, a jazz jam in a venue I used to organized concerts at. I was just standing behind the bar in a lull, minding my own business. A Grammy-nominated jazz pianist from USA, living here in Berlin, came up with a fella, and said:
"You should meet this guy, bro! He is a great musician!"
And that said, he just waltzed off.
Now, if you knew the man, you'd immediately sense that something out of the ordinary had been going on: he is not really the praising type of brother. To earn a compliment from t h a t cat, you really had to be something special.
I eyed the fella up: short, big smile, and the eyes - a stand-out feature - looking out honestly into the world, and smiling, yeah, smiling eyes - glistening, shining, radiating.
photo from Ali Hasan's Facebook page
"I was told that if I wanted a gig here, I have to talk to you. How do we do it?", or some such, were the first words I heard out of him. And mine were along the lines of:
"You know what? If t h a t guy says you're good, as far as I'm concerned, you a r e. You got the gig. No demo, sight unseen - I trust my intuition, and I trust opinions of musicians that I respect".
And that's basically how Ali Hasan walked into my life. Or I into his... or we into one another's.. you get the drift. We talked more. Here is what I found out.
Ali Hasan is a young musician from Syria, currently residing in Berlin. He started playing music professionally in 2012, and had not really planned to leave his homeland. Ali learned percussion with the great Syrian master Mohammad Shehade, while volunteering his time and working as a therapist for Red Crescent, the Syrian analog of the Red Cross, rebranded to adapt a Muslim country's mentality. However, revolution and the ensuing war in Syria had changed it all.
photo from Ali Hasan's Facebook page
Ali had to go on the run. His first move was to Turkey. In music, he also had to cross a few borders. While previously he had played only Persian classical / Oriental music, in Istanbul he branched out into such territories as Sufi music, jazz and even techno. His usual gigs would be the city streets, underground tunnels, subway stations, trains and other street musician's hangs. Music was what would keep him afloat. This life started Ali Hasan out on a journey that eventually brought him to Greece, where he also got exposed to rembetiko music.
After a while, Ali realized that the best place for him as a musician was Berlin. It took him 16 days to reach the city on an amazing trail that included blackriding in the backs of trains, walking down highways, hiding in toilets of buses, and other adventures.
This spectacular story of a musician's plight is one of the subjects of the film Melodies Escape, directed by the French filmmaker Stephan Talneau, which was shown this February (2016) at Radial System (in parallel to the Berlinale). Ali's story features in the movie along with stories of other musicians from the Middle East who fled their homeland and became refugees.
photos from Ali Hasan's Facebook page
Here in Berlin, Ali Hasan has 2 main musical projects. One is a duet, called Matar, in which Ali plays percussion and composes music, and Nabil Arbin plays oud. In addition to original music, they also play their unique adaptations of classical pieces by Western composers, such as Bach, Mozart and Beethoven, giving them a Middle Eastern feel.