“Where are you from?” This is the basic question that marks the beginning of countless conversations in places where cultural diversity converges almost by autonomy. Iconic cities such as Berlin or New York guarantee in advance the interaction of people from almost every nation, sometimes in spaces of less than 1 square kilometer. However, when the borders are diluted from our origins, this initial question gives way to numerous approaches, before which not everyone has the same degree of empathy or understanding.
“Creation as the meeting point of the differences that bind us”, I would say. In fact, this has been the leitmotiv of the journey that took me to ufaFabrik theater as the first stop when I just arrived to Berlin.
Lots of people running from here to there, an eclectic scenario, colored costumes, phosphorescent make up and a wide variety of accents filled the forum some moments before the release concert of Quest, the latest material from Out of Nations project, and the maximum point of a journey of life through experience, music and transcendence by these artists.
Lety ElNaggar, the main music composer, was in charge of the group and the crew, and I tried not to interrupt anything before the show, while I was having a conversation with one of the guests musicians for that special night, the violinist Alexey Kochetkov. He introduced me with Lety, whose deep look kept all my attention while she was saying me ‘Hola’ with a big smile. Later on, I would be able to have a more profound conversation with her.
We met up in a small café close to Friedrichshain, one of the favorite neighborhoods for alternative art in Berlin. For Lety, Out of Nations is the synthesis of her life experience, through which she has been able to connect with other artists, and with the audience of course.
“I was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and my parents are immigrants from Egypt and Mexico”. She got involved in music with particular teachers and began working as a professional musician in New York, playing the saxophone, flute and ney, a traditional Arabic flute. Besides, she has a degree in Middle Eastern and South Asian studies in Columbia University.
“Melting between cultures with music”
Back in 2012, she took a different path and decided to move to Cairo, while traveling intermittently to Beirut. That was certainly a decisive point as Lety met producer Khalil Chahine. Soon, they both found out that their mindset was similar, about melting between cultures that they were touched by into World Music genre songs but with modern sound, in order to expand Lety’s first compositions into bigger arrangements, which formed the basis of Out of Nations concept.
“Back in the US, I used to perform mostly jazz, pop and classical, and then I started to learn and perform Middle Eastern and Latin rhythms. Khalil had more experience doing this in Berlin from previous years, also in other parts of Europe and in the Middle East, so I decided to move here as well to continue working together”.
As Quincy Jones said: “Leave space for God to walk through the room”
The musicians who give voice to Out of Nations have met along the way, “everyone is from somewhere else, it’s just about people that we have a connection with musically, who are willing to add their musicianship to the project”, says Lety. “When Khalil and I get to the studio, we have this kind of process: at first having a concept; then having a full arrangement and specific ideas about whats going to happen, and then leaving little space for God. This is what Quincy Jones used to say, and also every musician have their space to perform with their emotions, and for a bit of improvisation”.
Feeling Out of Nations
This project is based on the idea that humanity must be rooted in something more than nationality, and in fact, to go beyond any categorization. “We are against stereotypes, and it applies also in music genres”.
In fact, when listening to Out of Nations on stage, their music takes you into a journey through a lot of distant regions in only one song. They manage to blend traditional sounds from different origins in a very natural and organic way. Also, the stage has a chromatic diversity that complements its concept.
“I noticed that I started to feel Out of Nations after the period when I moved from New York to Cairo, Beirut, then Berlin… and in some moment I felt that I didn’t have a clear answer to the question Where are you from?” Lety remembers. “Also, I started to meet more people who didn’t have a clear answer for this, for example, our band members, and of course, some people from the audience who came towards us saying: ‘I feel Out of Nations too!’
After 4 years of intensive work, ‘Quest’ album is ready and since its release on August, the band has been touring in cities like Luxemburg and Bern.
Of course, Latin America is a region where they want to be more involved in short term: “we had two very nice shows in Bogota back in 2011. It was one of the best audiences, there was such great energy with the people”.
Lety and all the band have a clear compromise towards this music project: “We want to share this message as a way of living in our increasingly globalized society. We are willing to engage with people who may never thought about this idea. Possibly after watching a show and witnessing our mixed audiences and performances, they may begin to feel this way too”.
Out of Nations includes Lety ElNaggar on saxophones, clarinet, flute, ney; Khalil Chahine as producer and arranger; Christian Tschuggnall on drums and percussion; Charis Karantzas on electric guitar; Jonas Cambien on piano, keyboards and synthesizer; Ayman Mabrouk on percussion; and Ahmed Nazmi on electric bass.
You can find out more of the project in their Official Website
Listen to the album ‘Quest’ here: