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Two of Bahrain’s top musicians are representing the region in an international collaborative rendition of a 120-year-old song in response to Covid-19.
Jehad Al Halal and Salah Alawi Sharakhat, members of Bahraini band Majaz, are part of 19-artist ensemble performing We Shall Overcome, reimagined by Scottish composer Simon Thacker.
Salah said: “This version of We Shall Overcome is a beautiful testament to the force for positivity and unity that music will always be. We hope it will lift your spirits during the time of Covid-19. I’m very proud to be part of this amazing work, which has an important message of solidarity.”
We Shall Overcome is a gospel song, lyrically descending from a hymn penned by Charles Albert Tindley in 1900 that has been reinvented at significant moments in the last century, in particular the civil rights movement in the US.
Simon approached bassist Salah and cellist Jehad after taking a liking to Majaz’s live show a couple of years back and watching a number of their YouTube videos.
They are the only musicians participating from the region. The group also includes musicians from India, Poland, Russia, Pakistan, Iran, Bangladesh, Nepal and the UK.
Salah said: “It felt great to perform a piece with such a historical lineage. This song also transformed as it went around the world; for example, every Bengali learns it in school as Amra Korbo Joy. It’s a great example of how universal music is and how it unites us. This new transformation is another stage in the song’s journey.”
Simon’s rendition features a base of guitar, bass and tabla layered with multilinguistic lyrics, with each musician and singer’s parts recorded independently.
Salah explained: “Simon started off with the guitar track then added me on bass and Praveen Narayan from Chennai, India on tabla. That was the guide track that was sent to everyone to add their parts. We discussed a lot of nuances in the process. This is a pretty unusual way of working as normally each person would add a layer having heard what everyone else had played.
“Simon explained to each person, and in many cases was on video call when artists were recording, to make sure that all the parts would fit when he came to put it together, with most artists only having the guide track to perform to.
Each singer was asked to record verses three and four in their native languages. Hence, verse three starts off with a medley of Hindi, Urdu and Polish lyrics.
Through the dulcet duo’s bits in the song, the global community has a chance to experience contemporary music emanating from the Gulf. Salah added: “International audiences and musicians are often amazed at how diverse our influences are and how we incorporate them into our sound. We have the greatest respect for the previous generations in Bahrain that lived and breathed music since the 60’s and pioneered new sounds.
“We hope that our music will continue to evolve while maintaining an unbreakable link to our cultural and regional identity.”
During Covid-19, Majaz has been working on recording more songs while honing their online performance skills. They recently put out a show through the Abu Dhabi Cultural Foundation programme on YouTube entitled An Evening with Majaz Band.
They will soon be unveiling Shuruppak (“the healing place” in Ancient Sumerian), the third single from their upcoming EP.
Salah concluded: “It takes equal effort as playing live in front of an audience! Capturing a good live sound for a virtual performance is an art in itself.
“The greatest lesson learned is that, despite the circumstances, we must remain determined to connect with our fans and keep making the best music that we can.”