Avant-garde Arabic ensemble plays old and new music at CapU

Guitarist Marc Ribot joining Gord Grdina's Haram for West Coast shows

Gord Grdina’s Haram with guest Marc Ribot, The BlueShore at Capilano University - Birch Building, Friday, Feb. 28, 8 p.m. Tickets: $42/$39.

Gord Grdina took a conceptual leap of faith in bringing together avant-garde Western improvisation with Arabic music but the development of his band Haram has paid off time and time again.

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Their debut album, Her Eyes Illuminate, released in 2012 on Tony Reif’s Vancouver label Songlines, featured the 10-piece ensemble performing an array of material from the Arab music world (Egyptian pop, Iraqi traditional tunes) in new and unexpected ways.

Next weekend Haram will perform the world premiere of some new material, as well as some familiar favourites from their debut, at Capilano University. They plan to record the next day and then travel to Seattle for a second show with New York City guitarist Marc Ribot joining them for the West Coast sessions.

Grdina talked to the North Shore News about what’s coming up for the band.


North Shore News: How did Haram get started?

Gord Grdina: There were two reasons for it: I was studying and I wanted an ensemble to play the more traditional Arabic repertoire that I was learning. ... I was also touring a lot with my trio but I wasn’t getting a chance to play with my friends from Vancouver ... I wanted to have some sort of larger ensemble where we could all make music together and also all hang out and kind of have a social aspect to it, too – a place where I could play with all my favourite musicians in Vancouver. Some of them knew a lot about the music, some didn’t know anything at all but I figured that it would bring different aspects of their own playing and then just built from there.

I just kind of pick people and trust them because I love what they do and trust that they will be able to make great music. I knew all the players pretty well when we started. The band’s really come together to create it’s own sound around this music and then it kind of lives and move in its own direction because of that.

Marc Ribot
As well as his own recordings, guitarist Marc Ribot is known for his brilliant work with the likes of Tom Waits, Elvis Costello and John Zorn, among many other artists, over the years. - Supplied, Ebru Yildiz

North Shore News: You’ve been playing with Haram on and off since 2012 – have the same musicians been involved since the beginning?

Gord Grdina: It’s the same band. Sometimes we can’t get everybody out. We’ve gone from a septet to an 11-piece – sometimes Josh Zubot joins us which he will for this concert coming up. It will be an 11-piece band plus Marc (Ribot).


North Shore News: What were the sessions like for the debut Haram recording on Songlines?

Gord Grdina: The whole game plan was to sort of refine the music and the parts that we were playing but also keep the sense of a band – the wildness that the band has live with the freedom that every night be different and the improvisation be open so that everybody feels like they could play whatever they want. We set it up so we all could see each other in one big room and recorded it all live. We recorded the original album at Factory Studios down on Seventh which used to be called Little Mountain Sound. Motley Crue and stuff made records there back in the day.


North Shore News: What changes with Marc Ribot in the mix? Or does it?

Gord Grdina: I don’t know how it’s going to turn out – whatever it is I know it’s going to be exciting. We’re still going to play our repertoire it’s just going to be an added dimension with Marc. He’s got that same sense of abandon. He’s able to take every project that he’s involved in and take it to another level. It’s going to be an amazing evening.


Good Grdina’s Haram: Her Eyes Illuminate (Songlines Recordings, 2012)

1. Raqs al Jamal (Dance of beauty)

2. Tilli Edhakilo (Go out and laugh with him)

3. Sharpening

4. En Shakawt al Hawa (If you complain about love)

5. Alf Leila Wa Leila (A thousand and one nights)

6. Sama'i Farahfaza

7. Ana Wa Habibi (Me and my love)

8. Laktob Aourak al Chagar (I will write to you on the leaves of trees)

9. Che Mali Wali (Because I am abandoned)

10. Longa Farahfaza


Gordon Grdina, oud, arrangements

Chris Kelly, tenor sax

JP Carter, trumpet

François Houle, clarinet

Jesse Zubot, violin, electronics

Tim Gerwing, darbuka

Liam MacDonald, riq

Tommy Babin, electric bass

Kenton Loewen, drums

Emad Armoush, vocals, ney

Compositions by Farid al-Attrash (1, 8), Ziad al-Rahbani (2), Baligh Hamdi (5), Çemil Bey (6), Riyad al-Sunbati (10), trad. (4, 7, 9); 3 is a drum solo by Kenton Loewen.

The Arabic word "Haram" means "forbidden" but it is a loaded signifier with multiple meanings. Grdina elaborated about the choice of the band name at the time of the Songlines' release: “More specifically, forbidden from the point of view of a dogma about how one should live or what is acceptable. I feel that any of these hindrances and outside-imposed boundaries limit the human experience. So in some circles what we do would be considered haram. Also, it is used as an exalted term by audience members during a concert to express that what someone is playing is badass. Which I dig, the turning of the phrase on its head.”




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