“Each artist is a dreamer, or should be,” says Ramzi when speaking of his musical journey. “Borders have been created by human beings. But through music we can dream, break down these borders. In music, I feel completely free… I can travel with the sounds wherever I want.” The musical oeuvres of Palestinian violist, bouzouq player, composer, arranger and artistic director Ramzi Aburedwan are the living sonic expression of this sentiment. Ramzi’s music spans and bridges the embodied pull of Palestinian folk music, the deep emotionality of tarab, the complex harmonic and polyphonic vocabulary of Western music, the spirituality of Sufi traditions, and the playfulness embedded in a variety of improvised world traditions.
The freedoms music offered Ramzi are intimately entwined with his personal history and life experiences. As a child growing up in Al Amari refugee camp (Ramallah, Palestine), Ramzi was exposed to the violence of the Israeli occupation, most especially during the first intifada. He also experienced poverty and lack of access to many things, music education least among them. However, in 1997 a chance encounter led to an invitation for Ramzi to study at the Edward Said National Conservatory of Music, which had opened just a few years beforehand. The encounter with music changed the course of Ramzi’s life. From here on, his lifelong purpose and mission combined his own career as a professional musician and artist in tandem with the development of music education and cultural life in Palestine. Ramzi received a scholarship to study in Angers, France, where he completed his studies with honors. His artistic endeavors are anchored in the tremendous hardships, and also the joys, experienced in the places in which he lived, and in his musical travels within and between them.
Ramzi is the founder, composer, musical director and driving spirit of several ensembles that have extensively toured Palestine and internationally to critical acclaim. Dal’Ouna, whose name stands for the communal values of synchronicity, collaborative work and mutual support, is named after a style of song performed in Palestine, Lebanon and Syria. The ensemble features instrumentals and poetic genres based in folklore spanning from Egypt to North Africa via the Middle East, as well as original compositions, enhanced by jazzy, layered improvisations, hints of other world traditions, and a profound sense of bluesy lyricism. Dal’Ouna’s third album (Reflections of Palestine, World Music Network 2012), featuring Ramzi’s compositions, was the winner of the 2012 Indie Acoustic Project (IAP) in the World Music Category. Al Manara is a Belgian-Palestinian ensemble built on the collaborative juices and musical dialogue between Ramzi and the Belgian pianist Eloi Baudimont. It features Ramzi’s compositions, poems of the beloved Mahmoud Darwish, and an East-West blending of Palestinian melodies, European polyphony, Arabic and European instruments, and a host of historic and contemporary influences that have taken Ramzi into a yet-uncharted exploration of the possibilities brought to life by the bouzouq. The ensemble’s self-titled album release came out in 2013. Founded by Ramzi in 2010, The Palestine National Ensemble for Arabic Music (PNEAM) revives the classical Arab musical heritage in Palestine, which was decimated in 1948, when founding members of the Palestine Broadcasting System’s (PBS) Huna-al-Quds classical Arab ensemble were forced into exile. It combines historical genres such as samiat and muashshahat with twentieth century Arabic repertoire classics (tarab music) alongside the works of Palestinian composers and ones written specifically for the orchestra. The ensemble has recorded one CD to date (Muashshatuna, 2012) and has toured in Europe, the Gulf, and Palestine. The Diwan Sufi Ensemble is dedicated to sacred Sufi music and the revival of Sufi musical traditions in Jerusalem, once a prominent center of Sufism, but which over the 20th century declined as such. Intervening forces included modernization and secularization, the spread of new Muslim trends, and the dispersal of numerous Palestinian rural communities during the war of 1948, all of which have pushed Sufi practices to the margins of Palestinian society. The ensemble features the vocal talents of Palestine-based muezzins along with instrumental fusions of Arabic and Sufi traditions.
Other projects of note include musical direction, composition and arrangements for the Fes Festival for Spiritual and World Music opening performances. “A Sky Full of Stars” (2016) gathered more than 80 musicians from around the world and recounted the stories of Arab women who had left their mark on history. “Spirit on the Water” (2017) explored water from both spiritual and ecological perspectives and featured a large orchestra, soloists from all over the world, and an aquatic sonic exploration that ranges from whale songs to onomatopoeic renditions of water and dreamlike underwater scenes.
While still a student in France, Ramzi founded Al-Kamandjâti (2002), a nonprofit organization that today manages a multi-branch conservatory in Palestine and Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon, establishes introductory music programs in Palestinian schools, organizes events and festivals, and develops locally-based orchestras and ensembles. As part of his directorship of Al-Kamandjâti, Ramzi is also the founder, producer and co-director for several annual music festivals in Palestine, including the Musical Journey for Spiritual and Traditional Music Festival (starting in 2016), the Baroque Festival (2005-2015), and the Music Days Festival (2006-2015). Ramzi and Al-Kamandjâti are the recipients of the Prince Claus Award for Culture and Development (2006), the Takreem Award for Cultural Excellence in the Arab World (2015), and the Stars Foundation Impact Award (2016) for outstanding locally led organizations that improve the lives of children and young people.
The story of Ramzi’s life and of Al-Kamandjâti is the subject of several documentaries (It’s Not a Gun, 2005; L’archet de la Paix, 2012; Just Play, 2012), a play (Al-Kamandjâti Show, 2008) and a book (Children of the Stone: the Power of Music in a Hard Land, Sandy Tolan, Bloomsbury Press 2015).
Ramzi is also a 2017 recipient of the Gandhi Foundation’s Gandhi Peace Award.