A Conversation with Music Composer Karkanawi

Music Composer Ahmed Karkanawi

I was recently fortunate enough to have a conversation with Music Composer Karkanawi, in light of the release of his latest album, Symphonic Oriental Images. He is revered as the first Saudi Musicologist, ethnomusicologist, and Classical Composer.

 Karkanawi developed his unique style in Lebanon, where he earned his Degree in Musicology from Notre Dame University, Lebanon. After 7 years in Lebanon,, Karkanawi returned back to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia where he continues his musical journey exploring sounds.

Karkanawi’s style pulled off the melodious combination of “charming Oriental music and the Greatness of Classical music”.

Music Composer Ahmed Karkanawi

I write music to enjoy it myself before anyone else. I keep searching for those sounds that I would crave to listen to, but cannot find in any musical repertoire.

Karkanawi, welcome to CreativInn. When did you start composing and what were your early passions and influences?

Actually, I cannot remember myself not being a musician.

Since I was 5 years old, I was obsessed with playing on my toy piano for hours and hours, trying to play those notes I have in mind. And the greatest joy was to seize those tunes and put them all together and start playing them again and again.

My family was extremely happy, supportive and encouraging. Despite the hard-financial situations back then, I still remember how my parents always managed to buy me more advanced Keyboards every now and then.

In addition, my family’s love for music helped me getting exposed to a wealth of music as a child, all of which influenced my development.

What genre of music do you consider your work to be? Who are your major influences?

My music is mainly considered as Classical, but it has deep Arabian influences that reflect my original musical background.

The philosophy of my music is highly influenced by the music of major modern classical composers such as: The Hungarian Bela Bartok and Zultan Kodaly, and the Armenian/Russian Aram Khatchaturian, who had similar approach of creating Classical music that is deeply based on the ethnic sounds of their homelands. However, I have an endless list of great classical composers that influenced my music style such as: Beethoven, Brahms, Shostakovich, Prokofiev, Debussy, Ravel, Satie, and many others….

Do you remember the first music you ever listened to and the impact it had on you?

I still remember that day when I listened for the first time to Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece: “March Slave”. That was the day I knew that Classical music is my passion, and composing that kind of music is my ultimate goal in life.

Tell us about your artistic process and the way you brainstorm ideas? What do you usually start with when composing?

I don’t really have a certain process. Every piece has a different story.

However, when the musical thought is there, I simply open my lap-top, and start writing down my music without knowing where am I going with the piece, I simply leave the sounds to lead me. When I am composing, I live two roles at the same time every moment: I am the listener who guides the composer, jumping all the time between the front seat and back seat.

What do you think the most appealing aspect of your new album “Symphonic Oriental Images”?

It’s a single album with two tracks: “Oriental Paranoia” & “Longa Awwad”, which I have composed around 2008. The most common comment on the music is about the homogeneity created between modern harmonies, classical musical techniques, and traditional Arabic musical elements, hopefully, I achieved that in an original authentic way.

However, it is not me to say what is appealing about the music, I would rather ask the audience to tell what they think about it.

What are currently your main compositional challenges?

Personally, I write music to enjoy it myself before anyone else.

I keep searching for those sounds that I would crave to listen to, but cannot find in the musical repertoire.

But, a little time after finalizing a certain piece of music, I start doubting and questioning everything about it: is it good? Is it bad?  Does it add any value to the people? Is it worth listening to? Do I still love it as I used to while composing it?

Some pieces can survive after all these questions. But, many cannot. That makes every note I write is a new challenge by itself. 

The relationship between music and other forms of art – such as painting, video art, and cinema – has become increasingly important. How do you see this relationship yourself?

As a poet, a writer, a specialist in Advertising, and a musician, I live the creation of different arts all the time. However, I am a bit biased to music.

I believe that human memory has significant bonds with music, comparing to other arts. In addition, Music has the most powerful ability to take someone beyond time and space. Therefore, the relation between music and other arts became increasingly important, because that divine power of music is capable of magnifying human perception of that other art, it dramatizes the experience to become so unique and unforgettable memory.

For example, It is way more pheasible for most of the people to remember the soundtrack of their favourite movies rather than memorizing the scripts or the sequence of events.

It is more likely that people would play Mussorgsky’s “Pictures & Exhibition” in their cars, rather than staring at Victor Hartmann’s paitings that inspired Mussurgsky.

And in Advertising, a good jingle can always be the ingredient for the most successful Commercials with maximum impact. The commercial might end soon, but a good jingle will last.       

There is no greater role in life than being a true artist. The greatest thing any artist would achieve is to make his art touch at least one person in a profound way.

Music Composer Ahmed Karkanawi

Do you feel it necessary that an audience is able to deduct the processes and ideas behind a work purely based on the music? If so, how do you make them transparent?

This is a very controversial issue. The Russian Composer Stravinsky tackled this deep philosophical aspect in music, and he considered music by its very nature, essentially powerless to express anything at all, whether a feeling, an attitude of mind, or psychological mood, a phenomenon of nature, etc.. For Stravinsky, expression is never an inherent property of music. That is by no means the purpose of its existence.

On the other hand, modern science proved the positive effect of soft systematic music on animals, which indicates that sound can have a meaning and effect by itself, regardless of our cumulative experiences. 

Personally, I would like to guide my listener to the meaning of my music through a short descriptive name for the piece. 

Should a composer speak with the voice of his or her own time?

Time and space might be nothing more than some illusionary boundaries, I believe artists should live beyond. How much humanity would have lost if Beethoven limited himself to those realms! Instead, he mastered Classicism, and moved the evolution of music toward Romanticism, and ended up introducing humanity to the first signs of Modernism with his latest works, especially his late string quartets.

What role do you want to have in society as an artist?

There is no greater role in life than being a true artist.

The greatest thing any artist would achieve is to make his art touch at least one person in a profound way.

Thanks again for the opportunity to interview you for CreativInn! Are there any final thoughts or words of advice you have for our readers?

I would really like to thank you for giving me this unique opportunity to introduce myself to the respectful audiences of Creativinn. I really have enjoyed this insightful interview.  

If you want to know more about Ahmed Karkanawi, don’t hesitate to visit his profile page or let him a comment below!

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