“Berlin has had an Arab population since 1960, when then West Germany invited in thousands of Moroccans as “guest workers” to help rebuild the country’s post-war economy”(1). However, with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision in 2015 to take in more than one million migrants under refugee status or humanitarian protection, I began getting interested in the natural influx of new rhythms in a city as artistically prolific as Berlin during these last years.
I found out about Musiqana, a Syrian Tarab band based in Berlin. Tarab means ‘musical ecstasy’ and it refers to Arabic Classical Music. Unfortunately for me, Musiqana was not so active when I reached them, so the manager told me about Alexey Kochetkov and the Berlin Oriental Group he leaded.
Alexey and I met up in ufaFabrik, an international culture centre very appropriated for the event that would take place: the album release from Out of Nations project, where Alexey was performing as guest musician.
He moved from Israel to Russia, and then to Berlin with the idea of being a musician there. Since the first moment, he began getting involved with musicians from different regions: “my first project was a Solo Trio, with me on the violin, a guitarist from Chili and the same German percussionist who is still with us. We started to play basically everywhere, bars and pubs, and at some music festivals in the city”.
Music and diversity
Since then, their repertoire was quite multicultural, “we were playing a lot of Balkan, Gypsy, Jewish and Oriental music. We realized that people really enjoyed this music because it’s so alive, so energetic, and different from what most of the bands used to play here before”.
Berlin Oriental Group has contributed to open up the borders through the beauty of this music. “We bring these rhythms to people who maybe have not heard this music anywhere else, so it’s great to have an opportunity to play in different stages where just random people can listen. This is how some get exposed to this music for the very first time. It would be a shame not to spread the word about it”.
This diversity of rhythms is a natural consequence of Berlin Oriental Group’s current alignment, as well as their personal stories that have come together in Berlin.
“I think music is a pretty international language, so if you meet up with a good and professional musician, with whom you can also get along well in a personal level, then everything will definitely work out. In fact, we have a nice collection of origins. I was born in Russia, we have an Italian flute player, a Syrian duduk player, a German percussion player, another Turkish percussionist who sometimes joins us, a bassist and guitar player from Israel, and sometimes we have various guest coming from other regions”.
Although Middle Eastern projects are not figuring on the mainstream, Alexey considers that there’s a wider audience for events in Berlin dedicated to Middle Eastern Music. “Now at the time when everything is going more global and more open, people mix with each other, and I think it’s just a matter of time for a special song on this genres to hit the charts”.
“Open up your ears and listen!”
According to Alexey, the majority of people have been supportive and open to the multicultural idea that Berlin Oriental Group carries out in all their axes. However, there have been some critics towards musicians with Israeli origins: “this is because of political reasons, but basically what we say all the time is that we are living currently in Berlin and we don’t represent any political party or government. We are all together making music here and now, so we ask everyone not to judge people who were born somewhere specific and moved away just to play music”.
The greatest learning for Alexey along this path in music and life has been “to open up your ears and listen. Sometimes it’s not easy to move between cultures to understand everything, you just need to relax and let it in. It makes you more flexible, it takes you to pay attention to the others and then to bring together everything you’ve gathered to create something original out of it”.
We should learn about that in some other spheres too, I think.
Berlin Oriental Group are:
Özgür Ersoy – Baglama, Duduk
Alexey Kochetkov – Violin
Cristian Varas – Flamenko Guitar
Rafael Espinoza – Bass
Peter Kuhnsch – Percussion