Paris, FRANCE - LEBANON - Musician & composer
Interview made by Cyril Bruyelle in November 2016
If you could choose a ticket to go anywhere, where would you go?
I would have a tendency to go home a few kilometres away from here, or possibly if I have a bit more time, I would go to my other home, in my little Lebanese village, in the mountains.
What did you want to be when you were a kid?
I wanted to be an architect. My dream was to rebuilt Lebanon. I grew up seeing my homeland being destroyed every day so I dreamed of participating in its reconstruction.
With whom would you like to have a coffee?
With my grand fathers which I did not get to know. I would have loved to chat with them, to get to know more of their lives, of the choices they made. Eventually I would love to have a coffee with my daughter when she will be my age.
If you could choose something that could be taught in every school in the world, what would it be?
To me it would be improvisation: I love it and every where I go I keep on repeating how it is a constructive discipline, not only for its musical part or the fun of improvising but because it conveys a quantity of values, ways of seeing the world and concepts that I find very instructive for our society. Finally, for its “living together” concept, in the most etymological sense of the term, improvisation provides this capacity to live with each other. Improvisation is like a magic potion of living together, it is a secret very badly kept indeed because we are many to militate so that it is integrated within our educational systems and even to life in general.
To you, what’s that main characteristic that all human being have in common?
Empathy. I think at first, we are all kids. At one point, we are perverted by wickedness, which is also inherent to human being. We are perverted by the world in which we live, we are transforming ourselves and loosing this empathy. I think it’s nice to remember that we had it at first. Most of the time we cynically anticipate, what others are or can be. My mother tells me all the time, that my grand-father on her side, always said that people are all good. When we first meet them, we should behave as if they were truly important people in our lives, right from the beginning, even if we don’t know them, and for as long as it has not been proven otherwise. And when it is proven other wise, unfortunately, then we shall stop.
To you, who is the happiest person on earth?
Unfortunately, I do not know enough about people’s intimacy. It is interesting because sometimes there are people who seem to be sad and when you spend time with them, you realise that they are really serene. They are just aware of the difficulties of life, which they take on themselves and continue forward anyway. Other people, who would have everything to be happy, actually are hiding a malaise or are lacking fundamental things to feel serene and happy. So to know if someone is actually happy or not, I don’t trust appearances; I need to spend time with them.
I do not know who are the happiest people on earth. One day, I experienced something very strong, something similar to what you are currently doing Cyril but much shorter and finally very intense.
I always dreamed to go on a world tour asking people what was the most important thing for them. I was working on my last album and the main theme was that. I was thinking, “I am dreaming to go on a world tour and just ask this question to show to people that we all have the same priorities”. I did not have the means to do so. But one day, by chance I was in New York and had three hours to lose. I had my trumpet on my back, was very badly dressed, with a three days old beard. And with my cell phone, right in the centre of Times Square, where all nationalities gather, I starting asking this question to people walking by. I realised how much people were able to make each other happy. I was not feeling good at that time, I needed happiness and love, people in Times Square actually communicate these feeling to me. It was crazy. We were 10 years after World Trade Centre terrorists attacks, I had an Arabic beard, I was poorly dressed up with a weird backpack - trumpets covers are really strange - and I was pointing a phone at them. Rather than saying no, people smiled at me and gave incredible answers. I do not know if they were the happiest people on earth but in 2 / 3 hours I came across a lot of happiness.
If you were President of the US, what would your first reform be?
I believe we all have something to be blamed for. My first reaction if I were president of the US, would be to apologize for all that the US inflicted on the world for years. But at the same time before criticizing others we need to look in a mirror: Lebanon and France have also so many things to be blamed for. At the end, I think I would resign.
What do you need?
I need my family. The people who decided to put me in this world, my parents, my children... All those surrounding people that I find less and less indispensable in our societies; and which are for me a priority.
What would you do if we gave you 1 million dollars now?
I think that in my family, there are people struggling so I would help them in priority. I will finish repaying loans that I have for decades. And then I would improve my studio because I love this place. If there are still some money left, I would give it to some people, organisms that need it.
Which innovation, realistic or not, would greatly ease your day-to-day life?
Teleportation. It would be pretty amazing. I wish I could live a bit faster. The thing that slows down everything is transportation from point A to point B.
Can you draw something beautiful?
I draw very badly. I would not know how to draw something very beautiful.
I need to explain what it is: when I was a kid, I wanted to become an architect or at least participate in the rebuilt of Lebanon. I was passionate about the Twin Towers so I spent all my time drawing New York and these towers. Years later, I went for a national trumpet contest next to Washington.
I had sworn, while preparing for the contest that if I would win and if I would visit NY for the first time, and if I liked it, then I would decide to play music for the rest of my life. If I failed the contest but I still loved New York then I would start architecture studies. It was exactly six months after the terrorist’s attacks. When I started to prepare the contest, I had in mind to go and see the Twin Towers in NY. Obviously nobody imagined what was going to happen. I still went to NY, I won my competition and when I went to see ground zero I could not see the Twin Towers. I was very impressed by what I did not see. I made the decision that day to make music.
Can you sing something beautiful?
“Cécille ma fille” from Claude Nougaro
What are you afraid of?
Of death, a lot.
What is your dream?
It depends of what we are talking about. Are we talking my dream for my own life or for the world in general? My dream would be that my family, friends, my entourage are happy, are in tune with the world they live in and in peace with themselves and the world.
Close your eyes, you are in 2100, what do you see?
I see a harsh world. I see some very poor people and some very very rich people. I see only few people in the streets, everyone is inside as if people had decided to do everything from home. There are only deliverers, or people that have mandatory things to do outside. I see people at home in their tiny apartments because there is not enough space.
What is the most beautiful thing that you’ve seen in your life?
The birth of my daughter. I would not have missed it for the world. I was supposed to work during this time of the year. Sting had proposed me to go on a tour with him. There were about 40 dates and it should have ended 2 months before the birth of my daughter. But I freed myself for the three, four months prior to her birth.
If you had to write a book about the current world, what would you be the title?
Hoping future generations will forgive us.
What does religion mean to you?
I don’t care. No one needs to know my God and I don't care about other people's God. The religious question is very intimate and I would say that God for me is the choice that we make of it.
Which of your country's cultural specificities are you the proudest of?
For France: dissatisfaction. The French are fundamentally dissatisfied. It is a really bad side because we are constantly grumbling. But it is also a way to question everything, never to be satisfied. I like this distance that French people have on themselves and on the world around them. But there is also the risk to lead to the worst so we should moderate it slightly. Especially, now that they are abusing it a lot. But it is something I do not find in many places where I go. I find that people are very proud and very happy with who they are while sometimes they should not.
For Lebanon: its to belong to a population that, although they fought for many decades, they never fell. Lebanese have been on their knees for years – civil war, economic and social difficulties, the refugee crisis (the fact that the Lebanese have become refugees). In spite of all, Lebanon does not fall, the Lebanese do not let themselves go and continue fighting and living.
If you could do any job regardless of money, what would you do?
There are lots of jobs that are unrelated to money. Building things, inventing things. I dream of knowing how to cook, built a house, a table. I do not know how to and I fantasize about learning to do something with my hands. I have the impression to build, to invent something but it is sound, it is abstract.
If you had to explain our planet to an alien what would you say?
I would say: « Don’t have too many expectations, but you will see it is not that bad. »
And you, which question would you like to ask to the world?
“What is the most important thing in the world for you? “