To Turkey and back

In 2002, Yinon Muallem moved to Istanbul to add oud playing to his repertoire. This week, he takes the stage at the annual Oud Festival in Jerusalem.

November 15, 2010 22:22
3 minute read.
Israeli percussionist and composer Yinon Muallem.

yinon muallem. (photo credit: Courtesy)

Eight years ago Yinon Muallem left these shores for Turkey. The idea was to hone his percussion skills and add oud playing to his performance repertoire. Seven years later he returned to Israel with four CDs under his belt, as well as a wealth of on the road and recording experience with some of the top ethnic musicians Turkey has to offer.

One of the latter will share the stage with Muallem this Wednesday (Beit Shmuel, 9 p.m.) at Confederation House’s annual Oud Festival in Jerusalem – a harp player by the name of Sirin Pancaroglu with whom Muallem recorded Telveten released a couple of years ago. In the interim Muallem has also put out Breath which features nine original numbers by Muallem, as well as two traditional scores.

Now in his early forties, Muallem says he came back here with valuable professional and life wisdom. “I came back with more experience, as a musician and a person. I am married and a father now. My journey in Turkey wasn’t only a musical one, it was a personal odyssey too.” He also says he learned to take the rough with the smooth. “I didn’t like everything I discovered there and, sometimes, the detachment from Israel was difficult, and sometimes it was beneficial. When you are away from home that can give you freedom to express yourself without dealing with emotional and other stuff. And Istanbul is a great place to live in, with great energy.”

With five album releases in less than a decade Muallem has an impressive recording output, especially considering logistical and other obstacles he has to circumnavigate or overcome en route.

“Actually there are long periods when I don’t write anything. To me it seems a long time goes by in between. And each disc I put out I think will be the last. These projects are hard to finance and sometimes demand isn’t what I’d like it to be. But when a CD comes out I am always happy.” When it comes to composing Muallem says he prefers the go with the flow approach. “I don’t write from nine to five. I put the ideas to one side and, over time, they take on form and shape.”

SINCE HIS return Muallem has slotted back in smoothly to the local scene. Throughout his sojourn in Turkey he made regular trips here, performing at venues like Beit Avi Chai in Jerusalem and Tzavta in Tel Aviv. In August he performed at the Oud Festival at Tzavta and now he is one of the main draws at the Jerusalem bash currently in progress. He is also maintaining his Turkish profile, and a couple of weeks ago he popped back there for a few gigs.

Muallem’s latest release, Breath, is his most accessible and appeals to a wide range of tastes. The strong ethnic essence is still there but there appears to be more of a world music orientation to it than in his previous offerings. The percussionist says there was nothing premeditated about tailoring the CD to a particular market sector.

Breath is the result of a process, not of any conscious intent. But, I suppose you could say there is something more ‘commercial’ about it. There are more vocals, with words and some of the numbers are pop song length, like ‘Rast’, which I wrote for my son Jan Rast.” Breath also includes some vocals from Muallem himself, although he says we are hardly likely to hear him belting out Galgalatz style pop songs or trying his luck on A Star Is Born.

“I don’t call myself a singer. I use my voice to convey a message. I started writing “Breath” – the title song – for instance, on a ferry in Istanbul. Dilek [Muallem’s wife] was pregnant at the time and I think some of the song comes from fear, fear about the future. Breathing is always a good way of achieving calm.”

Muallem says he is always looking to explore new avenues of artistic endeavor and he never knows where his muse will take him, or what his creative juices will feed off.

“I may go in a more jazzy direction, adding my own colors. I remember the theme tune to The Persuaders [early Seventies] TV series [with Roger Moore and Tony Curtis]. I’d like to do a sort of ethnojazz version of that. I just want to continue to learn and grow, and succeed in what I do.”

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