It has been a year in the making with nine countries visited and more than 80 musicians interviewed. Here musician and documentary filmmaker Fermin Muguruza talks about painting a 'soundscape' of the Arab music scene in Next Music Station, his series of documentaries exploring music across the Arab world.
What is the Next Music Station series about?
As the name suggests, Next Music Station is about knowing countries and their people through their music. It is a vibrant musical odyssey through the Arab world. From the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf and from the Mediterranean Sea to the point where the Blue Nile and the White Nile converge, the series explores the eclectic rhythms and sounds of the current music scene in a number of Arab countries.
The musical journey takes in different 'stations' - either a place or a specific style of music. The series provides a unique 'soundscape' of the diversity and rich cultural heritage of each country, each musician, each 'station' - where tradition and innovation come together.
Why did you choose to make this series?
Music and cinema are my passions, and I'm a musician myself who was touring around the world before becoming a film director. I realised that music is an incredible way to meet people and to learn about different cultures, so I decided to show it through cinema, making film documentaries as a tool against ignorance, because only through knowing and respecting the different cultures of the world, will we build a new relation system between countries. Next Music Station will try to contribute to this aim.
Can you tell us more about your personal background?
I was born in the Basque Country during the military dictatorship of General Franco. Any expression of Basque culture was forbidden at this time and the Basque language, Euskera, was about to disappear.
In the early 1980s I founded my first music band, Kortatu. Strongly political and socially committed, I started singing in Spanish, switching to Euskera as I learned the language.
My next band was Negu Gorriak and after 1998 I launched a solo career and I'm touring around the world as Fermin Muguruza, singing in Basque and mixing different musical styles.
I have also worked as radio speaker and music producer for my own record label, and five years ago I made my first documentary about recording one of my albums at the Marley family studios in Jamaica, Bass-que Culture. Euskal Herria Jamaika Clash.
In 2009, I directed the documentary Checkpoint Rock. Songs from Palestine and last year was shooting in Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Kuwait, Bahrain, Yemen and Sudan, making the 11 documentaries that form Next Music Station.
You travelled and filmed in nine Arab countries for this series. What did you learn about the Arab world through this project?
First of all, I always try to travel around the world keeping out the prejudices that the 'weapons of mass disinformation' create around everything. Well, I can say that the hospitality is maybe the only cliché that is completely true.
After visiting these nine countries and meeting with more than 80 musicians, I cannot speak about the Arab world like it is something uniform. It is clear that there are some specific characteristics in common, but each country has its own powerful personality.
I'm very thankful to all the people who opened their hearts and let me know a little bit more about their life and countries, and I tried to be very honest when I worked on this project. That's why I can say now that the series offers a fresh and vibrant portrait of a part of the world too long associated with negative stereotypes.
The diversity and rich cultural heritage of each station will show a new image of different parts of the Arab world, unknown to the general public. Prepare to see an Arab world that you may never have seen before.
Why are you interested in Arab music?
I'm interested in all kinds of music, but let me tell you this: At the beginning of the 1990s, Berlin was the most booming and creative city in the world. By the end of that decade, all eyes were on La Habana. During the beginning of the new millennium many moved focus to Istanbul, the authentic bridge between Orient and Occident. Nevertheless, now the first decade of the 21st century has passed, Next Music Station will show the world how the relief of musical creation runs through Arab countries and how tradition and new musical trends walk together in respect and communication.
The series was filmed before the recent revolutions and turmoil in the Arab world. Did you notice any signs of what was about to happen in countries such as Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen?
A new Arab awakening has galvanised the region, sweeping aside some of the ossified political regimes and putting others on notice. This series was made before the recent revolutions, but it shows that even though the political scene may have remained stagnant for so many years, artistic vibrancy in the region continued to flourish.
The series shows the atmosphere you could breathe in these countries before the revolutions. The way of feeling music and creating art gives us a lot of traces, clues and options to read between the lines to see the uprising that was coming.
Have you been in touch with any of the artists since the revolutions?
Sure. It's easier to keep in touch with the younger artists than the older ones, due to internet and social networks, but through our producers in each country we know how they are doing. It was especially exciting to hear from Badiaa, Zied and Amine, three of the musicians who appear in the Tunisia documentary, about the occupation of the Kasbah during the revolution and how they performed there. Then they told me how Lotfi Bouchnak composed a great song about the revolution.
And in Egypt, Arabian Knightz and El Tanbura told me how they performed in Tahrir Square, Fathy Salama wrote a song to support the revolution and signed and promoted the campaign to freeze Mubarak's stolen fortune, and I followed too how Mohamed Mounir was putting his music to the videos of demonstrations on Facebook, and how the people in Tahrir square sang his songs.
Music was part of the revolution. The revolution had music.
Next Music Station airs at the following times GMT each week: Tuesday: 2000; Wednesday: 1200; Thursday: 0100; Friday: 0600; Saturday: 2000; Sunday: 1200; Monday: 0100; Tuesday: 0600.