'A Lot Of Hope And A Lot Of Fear': Anouar Brahem's Arab Spring Remembrance The Tunisian oud player's latest album, Souvenance, is his response to the Arab Spring after years of reflection. Betto Arcos has his story.
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'A Lot Of Hope And A Lot Of Fear': Anouar Brahem's Arab Spring Remembrance

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'A Lot Of Hope And A Lot Of Fear': Anouar Brahem's Arab Spring Remembrance

'A Lot Of Hope And A Lot Of Fear': Anouar Brahem's Arab Spring Remembrance

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

We're going to hear next from someone who has been trying to figure out for years how to respond to the upheaval in his country. He's Anouar Brahem, one of Tunisia's most esteemed composers and musicians. Now his thoughts on the events that launched the Arab Spring are on a new album called Souvenance. Betto Arcos talked to the composer.

BETTO ARCOS, BYLINE: Anouar Brahem wrote this short text for the liner notes of his new album.

(Reading) Extraordinary events had suddenly shaken the daily lives of millions of people. We were propelled towards the unknown with immense fears and joys and hopes. What was happening was beyond our imagining. It took a long time before I was able to write this music.

(SOUNDBITE OF ANOUAR BRAHEM SONG, "IMPROBABLE DAY")

ARCOS: Brahem says he's always been skeptical when an artist suggests he was influenced by a political event. So he didn't want to be too specific in his notes.

ANOUAR BRAHEM: I really wanted to give the imagination of the people to listen to the music without any indication. This was important for me. That's why I wrote this small text but in the same time, trying to give the imagination of the listeners totally free, in a way.

ARCOS: The album opens with a long piece, a kind of sweet, titled "Improbable Day."

(SOUNDBITE OF ANOUAR BRAHEM SONG, "IMPROBABLE DAY")

BRAHEM: A friend of mine told me that this first part of the piece it sounds like a calm, you know? But he told me that it's like the calm who prepare the storm.

(SOUNDBITE OF ANOUAR BRAHEM SONG, "IMPROBABLE DAY")

ARCOS: Anouar Brahem says he was at an artistic crossroads at the end of 2010, trying to find a new direction for his music. He had written a few draft pieces. Then a series of events began to unfold in Tunisia.

BRAHEM: It was really amazing because we suddenly were - in a few days, the regime fell down. The president left. And we were in a kind of revolutionary situation, and we all were really involved in that. There was a lot of demonstration on the street and sometime with very chaotic situation.

(SOUNDBITE OF ANOUAR BRAHEM SONG, "IMPROBABLE DAY")

ARCOS: He didn't want to leave, but he says it was difficult for him to write music.

BRAHEM: Because everything - even when I tried to compose, everything sounds so banal. Everything sounds trivial, and it doesn't make sense. I had a kind of fear that maybe I lost my inspiration or something like that.

ARCOS: Brahem was stuck. But A.J. Racy understands why the composer stayed in Tunisia after the Arab Spring. Racy is a professor of ethnomusicology at the University of California, Los Angeles. His specialty is music from the Arab world.

A.J. RACY: You can stay in your hometown where you were born, and you're in consciousness of the society that you're living in. He senses the tensions of his being there.

(SOUNDBITE OF ANOUAR BRAHEM SONG, "DELIVERANCE")

ARCOS: Anouar Brahem says it was important for him to wait for things to settle down in Tunisia and then start composing.

BRAHEM: To have maybe less tension, to have maybe little more distance. And then I started really little by little, and this took me time.

(SOUNDBITE OF ANOUAR BRAHEM SONG, "DELIVERANCE")

ARCOS: Brahem says when he started composing the music for this album, the creative process felt all too familiar.

BRAHEM: To be honest, when I start to compose, I feel always that I am moving more or less in the fog, you know?

ARCOS: But in the political and social uncertainty, Brahem says he wasn't hearing the instruments of his working quartet - the oud, piano, clarinet and bass - for which he often composes. He says he was hearing a string orchestra. It took him months to figure out a way to use them.

(SOUNDBITE OF ANOUAR BRAHEM SONG, "SOUVENANCE")

ARCOS: As the title of his new album, "Souvenance," suggests, this recording is Brahem's personal remembrance of what he experienced during and after the Arab Spring.

BRAHEM: All these four last years were little bit difficult, very unclear political situation. But now we just had a democratic election of the parliament and of the president, and the situation is more stable. And I think we are on a good way.

ARCOS: Although Anouar Brahem says the country is still very fragile, he's hopeful for its future. For NPR News, I'm Betto Arcos.

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