Julien Weiss

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Perhaps the foremost player of the qanun (Arabic plucked zither) of his generation, Julien Weiss is also the most prominent non-Arab to gain renown in the world of Arabic and Middle Eastern music. With…
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Perhaps the foremost player of the qanun (Arabic plucked zither) of his generation, Julien Weiss is also the most prominent non-Arab to gain renown in the world of Arabic and Middle Eastern music. With his group the Al-Kindi Ensemble he has been sought after as an accompanist for the foremost singers of classical Arabic music, including Lofti Bouchnak, Hamza Shakkur, and Sabri Moudallal. As a musician, he is a purist, searching for the heart of classical Arabic music, looking into the past and resurrecting the music of what he sees as a golden age, the era of the 19th century takht (Arabic chamber ensemble). However, Weiss also looks to the future and has made innovations to his qanun, adding strings and adapting it so that it can accommodate many regional variances in the modes (maqamat) of Arabic music.

Born in 1953 in Paris and growing up in the Swiss-French region of Alsace, Weiss originally studied classical guitar before discovering the world of Islamic music through the recordings of the great Iraqi udist Munir Bashir. He decided to devote himself to studying the music of the Near East, and learned the qanun under the tutelage of Kamil 'Abd Allah, Hasan Gharbi, Saadettin Oktenay, and Salim Husayn. He converted to Islam in 1986 and adopted the name Jalal Eddine. In 1983, dissatisfied with the growing size of standard Arabic ensembles, as well as with what he perceived as the encroaching westernization of Arabic music, Weiss formed his own group, named the Al-Kindi Ensemble after the great tenth century Arab theorist Abu Yusuf Ya'qub al-Kindi. The goal of the group and its leader has always been to only use traditionally Arab instruments and has included, variously, Ziyad Qadi Amin, Abd al-Salam Safar, or Mohamed Saada on nay (reed flute), Adel Shams El Din on riqq (tambourine) and Muhammed Qadri Dalal or Sufyan Naqra on ud (short-necked lute).

Since its formation, the Al-Kindi Ensemble, with Weiss, has toured extensively throughout the Middle East, Africa, Europe, and Japan, and has also recorded extensively, both under its own name and as accompanists. The group's closest association has been with Shaykh Hamza Shakkur of Damascus, with whom they have released three recordings, including the two-disc set The Whirling Dervishes of Damascus in 1999. Weiss lives in a 16th century mansion in Aleppo, Syria, where he recorded his 1998 set The Aleppian Music Room and where he regularly gives house concerts in the traditional style.