Detroit Performs


Arab American Artists

In this episode of Detroit Performs: World-renowned musicians Victor Ghannam and Jacco Muller; a new era for Orchestra Hall; and interdisciplinary Lebanese-American visual performative artist Bana Kabalan.

AIRED: June 16, 2020 | 0:26:49

- [DJ Oliver] In this episode of Detroit Performs,

world renowned musicians,

a new era for Orchestra Hall.

And an interdisciplinary visual and performative artist.

It's all ahead, on this episode of Detroit Performs.

- [Narrator 1] Funding for Detroit Performs

is provided by

The Fred A. and Barbara M. Erb Family Foundation,

The Kresge Foundation,

The Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan,

The A. Paul and Carol C. Schaap Foundation,

The Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs,

The National Endowment for the Arts,

The DeRoy Testamentary Foundation

and by contributions to your PBS station

from viewers like you.

Thank you.

(high pitched instrumental music)

- Hello and welcome to the Detriot Performs.

I am your host DJ Oliver

and I am chilling in my living room

as we continue to keep each other safe out there

and staying at home.

Now I cannot wait to get out there

and see the arts team in person,

but for now, we have enough arts in today's show

to quench your thirst.

Our first segment features our producer, Sarah Smith,

who caught up with world renowned musicians,

Victor Ghannam and Jacco Muller.

Take a look.

(high strung oud music)

- I'm here with world renowned musician, Victor Ghannam,

and a musician that Victor collaborates a lot with

(mumbles) also world renowned musician, Jacco Muller.

Victor and Jacco,

how are you guys doing?

- Great.

- Well, thank you.

- Wonderful.

So Victor, how did you find your passion for music?

- Actually, I started playing a guitar

at four years old

and then my father,

who was a music lover,

in particular Middle Eastern music,

we used to hear it around the house.

So he bought me oud, which is the loot.

And I started to play that

(high strung oud music)

- What is the mood or the feeling

that oud evoke that really draws you to that instrument?

- In particular for myself I love

the improvisational aspect

that am using the oud string music,

you have a lot of improvisations


basically cradling it.

Your whole body feels it.

(Victor laughs)

It's kind of like an extension of your emotions,

your sweat and your soul.

(high strung oud music)

- When you first started with the oud

and getting more gigs and stuff,

how was it?

Were you on your own?

Or did you actually join a band?

- It started out,

my dad would take me to weddings or parties

they would throw me up on a stage,

and it just evolved from there.

I started doing gigs and years of nightclub work.

I started working with

some of the major singers from the Middle East

and then I got involved with the National Arab Orchestra,

which is

it's very

very fulfilling because it's so structured,

it's so organized and

I mean, they're considering it

the Premier Orchestra outside of the Middle East.

Which I'm grateful to be a part of.

(high strung oud music)

- What is the music that

the National Arab Orchestra plays when they get together?

- Well predominantly, it's the classical Arabic genre.

And we have some amazing musicians from around the country,

some great amazing singers and vocalists

and we've done collaborations with students.

We started out just a small ensemble.

Michael Abraham is the director.

We got together.

We were just we want a gig and Michael had a dream.

He followed it, pursued it and it grew.

And they've got,

it's a non-profit organization.

People donate to it.

We've performed at Saudi Arabia and all around the country.

(high strung oud music)

- What is it like to be able

to bring that music to families

that have moved from the Middle East

to Metro Detroit?

To be able to bring a little bit of part of home to them?

- (mumbles) if you see the reactions,

they feel like they're back home again.

And the smiles on their faces

and obviously just a lot of give and take

where we feed off the audience

and they're remembering the homelands

and a lot of them keep in mind

they left a lot of problems

in their home countries

and it's just so gratifying that we're able to

bring them back the good memories

that they used to have with the music.

- How is the Middle Eastern music?

Do you dabble in any other genres?

- Oh I used to play rock and roll, Beatles, Stones,

Jimi Hendrix, Back in the Day, electric guitar.

I love Chaz.

I basically love all kinds of music.

And then fortunately I was able to meet Jacco.

And I always loved flamenco when I was younger.

And it's so funny how that happened, how we met.

Evidently Jacco has an appreciation

for the instrument oud.

He is a master flamenco guitarist

and he was touring doing some workshops.

He happened to be in Detroit

and there was a mutual friend

who was a flamenco dance performer.

And I guess he casually asked her,

I wish I could find somebody that plays the oud.

And she says I got just a kind for you.

They gave me a call and

we got together while he was in Detroit and

it was magic.

(high strung oud and guitar music)

- [Sarah Smith] So Jacco,

what made you want to collaborate with Victor?

- When I met Vic I said, "let's jam together"

and I, then after half an hour,

we just played,

half an hour we were jamming and

then I looked at him I said,

"Vic we gonna make a record together."

And it's such a beautiful thing because

what I enjoyed most about it

apart from playing the fake,

he's like the master of oud.

He's such a (speaks in foreign slang).

I learned so much from the guy.

And so thankful for the experience.

But apart from that,

what I enjoyed also a lot is like

seeing all the different people just at the end,

everybody having a good time, it's yeah.

What else do you want in life?

It's beautiful.

- It was magic.

I mean some of the best times in my life

were sitting on a stage with that man right there,

with Jacco.

(high strung oud and guitar music)

- So what is the music

that you collaborated together on?

- Well the first CD was totally flamenco.

Viento del desierto.

It was totally Jacco's compositions.

And the second CD we did was Palace of Dreams.

- That last album we both composed

like half of the album is.

And like the first work one song

which actually the title is like Fellows of Dreams.

And I made that.

I composed that song

but also lyrics actually in four different languages.

And my goal actually was to bring the whole world together,

which I think at the end is the most

beautiful thing to do.

(a lady singing in foreign language)

- Now, let's talk a little bit

about disease times right now,

with the COVID-19 situation.

How is music helping both of you kind of handle

staying at home and staying safe?

- I'll grab my instruments once in a while.

When I grab it,

it just seems to help me.

I wanna escape from all the problems,

just temporarily.

- [Jacco Muller] Apart from the old negative things,

I believe there's gonna be a lot of positive vibes

out of this whole thing.

Because I think people are gonna be more aware

when there's live music

and like the festival or whatever

and people will be more appreciative.

- The appreciation will be there.

We'll come back hopefully and

make people realize

not just in music,

what's the most important thing in life

and even a musician will have a different inspiration

after all of this.

(fast-paced instrumental music)

- [Sarah Smith] What are you looking towards

in the future with your music?

- I'd like to collaborate

and do some more work with Jacco

and I'll get around to composing some more.

I look forward to

more performances with the orchestra.

(high strung oud music)

- What do you hope that your audience

takes from your music?

- I just hope

they feel that they came along for a ride

and felt it

to bring themselves to say that

we enjoyed your music,

we felt a part of it.

(high strung oud music)

- You can learn more about Victor Ghannam

and Jacco Muller,

as well as all the artists that we feature,


Up next is our final installment

of our Orchestra Hall Centennial celebration,

where we will find out

what's currently happening

and what's in store for the future.

- When I first started working here,

this area wasn't developed like it is now.

So to be right here in the community

and to be a part of it as it's developing and growing,

man it's amazing thing.

- This is our home.

Home presents security.

Home presents responsibility.


it also helps you with a vision

because when you have a home

you can imagine all kinds of things.

- A lot of what this orchestra does currently,

my work included,

is made possible by this space that we're in.

This original historical space

and the additional space that we've created.

And of course then,

the onus is on us

to make sure that this space is a space for everybody.

And that's where a lot of the work continues.

(slow piano music)

- [Narrator 2] In the wake of Orchestra Hall's expansion

into the Max M and Marjorie S Fisher Music Center in 2003,

excitement for a new fixture of art and culture

on Woodward Avenue

was the highest it had been.

Since the building's golden years

under the baton of Gavrilovic.

However, within just a few years,

dark financial skies were on the horizon once again.

- Detroit was obviously one of the first cities

to be affected by the recession.

And when you have to go through those tough times,

I think that tradition,

it's always there in the back of your mind.

'Cause you start worrying about the future

and you don't want a tradition to end.

And you're trying to figure out

everything you can in order to make sure that

this can go on.

- And I truly believe that

in the great recession, for example,

we had a number of issues that came in front of us,

work stoppage

and a settlement of a bank debt

that we almost went out of business

and I would say that if it weren't for Anne Parsons,

we would be out of business at this point, quite frankly.

- When you face a challenge,

the most important thing is not to freeze (chuckles)

and not to dig in and go into denial,

but to accept it.

And that's what we did.

- [Narrator 2] While both the city and the nation

teetered on the edge of yet another economic collapse,

the challenges in front of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra

were made that much graver

considering the fact

that they still needed a new maestro.

- When we went through those tough times,

it seemed like a leader would emerge

who was perfectly suited to the time.

- Leonard Slatkin came in

when it was really dangerous here,

but Slatkin proved that it was not too dangerous

because he stepped in

and took hold and took through.

- When Leonard comes,

I think there was an excitement,

a world renowned figure

taking over the leadership of the orchestra.

- And it turned out to be really

the perfect partnership

at the perfect moment for us

because of Leonard's real community centric,

way of leading an orchestra.

Which was what we were yearning for at that time.

- This is not just an orchestra,

it's a family.

And this is not just the staff,

but it's a community.

- Leonard plays a really important role

when he comes here

because it is a very difficult time for the orchestra.

We had obviously a major strike here in 2010 and 11

and Leonard because he was so experienced

and such a pro

and such a tremendous musician,

was a real calming force.

And that was very reassuring

at a time when not much else was.

- When I arrived,

everybody knew

that the orchestra was in severe financial shape.

Despite maestro Harvey's incredibly successful

and much to be lauded tenure,

he'd been gone for almost five years.

There was no interaction in the community.

And aside from the recordings maestro Harvey made,

there was no real documentation

of the orchestra itself.

So my goals were to get those things in place.

- The webcast started with a thought.

Why couldn't we be the most

accessible orchestra on the planet?

So we have a broadcast to over a million viewers,

in over a hundred countries.

And this broadcast led to a new innovation,

which was webcasting educational content to the children

in the Detroit school system.

- One of the things that I'm really proud of

for the Detroit Symphony

here in Orchestra Hall

is their efforts to really

think outside of the box

in terms of how to

make what we do more relevant to the community around us.

- We need to embrace technology

if we're gonna be successful.

I think that that's been seen

for all of time with this organization.

And technology is a way of connecting people

at a higher and better level all the time.

- It's a way to get the message

and to some degree,

the sound of the orchestra

to a broader public,

other than the 1700 or so people

that come to attend a concert in the hall.

Now you're reaching out,

you go out in the community,

you play concerts in the community.

You're reaching out to them.

And with the webcasts,

people can now

put faces to the individuals

who are on stage.

- To have this outreach,

to be able to touch the next generation,

to have that exposure.

It really goes a long way in creating a rich community.

- When The Cube opened and started hosting,

poetry slams and jazz programs

that were going on the same time

that we would be playing a checkoff ski concert.

And it's really nice to see that fusion happening.

- This building is a hive of activity.

More so today than it has ever been.

The orchestra in this building

have a greater chance

than they've ever had

of fulfilling the prophesy from 1919

that this would become

the center of musical culture in Detroit.

- It's a community effort.

That's the main thing.

We cannot sit here by ourselves

and imagine our way

to an inclusive space.

We need to be connected to people.

We need to hear from people.

We need to be talking to people.

And most importantly,

we need people in this space

so that we can know if it is working.

(gentle instrumental music)

- [Narrator 2] Today, a century since

it's hasty construction,

Orchestra Hall still provides that looking glass

for the city of Detroit.

It reminds us of where we have been,

of what we have overcome

and it provides the inspiration and solace

we sometimes still need

to know that even when it seems

like our best days are behind us,

there may indeed be an even brighter future ahead.

- I think Detroit

and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and

Orchestra Hall,

all have stories of resiliency.

- To me it's a very Detroit story

and it in many ways captures the best of Detroit.

- I've always kinda felt

that it was kind of the center

of musical life in the city.

'Cause it represents a certain kind of ideal.

A certain kind of timelessness of great music.

So Orchestra Hall is gonna be here.

That is as constant as it can get.

- It's inspiring for concert goers

to see that there's a building

that's still standing at 100 years.

I think that gives everyone a sense of hope

of the future

and of classical music

and of just culture in general.

- When you see the faces

in our civic youth ensemble,

not just the players on the stage

but the audience of children who are mouths wide open

thinking I can do this,

gives them an inspiring vision for what they can be.

It's incredibly important.

- The fact is that we have an obligation

to continue the transformation of Detroit,

so that people choose to live, work, play

and raise their children here.

And this institution at Orchestra Hall

will always be a centerpiece of that.

- [Narrator 2] Detroit is a city

that continually reinvents itself.

They talk about boom and bust,

but what a wonderfully resilient city it is.

And the only thing that we can hope to equal

is the quality of Orchestra Hall.

And the stark wonderful silence

that draws people here

hungry for a sound

that they would hear nowhere else.

(gentle instrumental music)

- Now she got some upcoming event

coming to you virtually from around the D

(upbeat instrumental music)

- Next up,

interdisciplinary Lebanese-American visual

and performative artist, Bana Kabalan.

Let's listen in.

(slow music)

- I'm here with visual

and performative artist, Bana Kabalan.

Bana how are you doing?

- I'm pretty good. How are you doing?

- I'm doing very well, thank you.

So where did you grow up

and can you tell us just

how did you get your usual creative side

to express your thoughts about the world around you?

- So I grew up in Metro Detroit.

I'm Lebanese-American first-generation

and my parents wanted me to mainly do the science route.

And at the high school that I was in,

we could use an elective for art.

And so I did that

and then found myself really loving both biology and art.

Being Lebanese-American,

being first-generation,

whenever I was in the US growing up,

I didn't feel super American,

I always felt like there was this disconnect.

And then when I did go to the Middle East,

I always don't feel Arabic enough.

But where am I?

There is no really this middle ground.

And so I found that what's for me to do,

and for me to feel this sense of home,

was to really just create it myself

and to embellish it

and decorate it myself

and use aspects of things that I like

and things that inspire me.

And I found that really working with Arabic elements,

Arabic motifs, somethings like that really added to it.

And then using this natural elements also

was what made me feel like

I had more of a deeper understanding of myself.

Because I also study ecology,

I'm constantly looking around, questioning,

making different questions and hypotheses

about why things are occurring

and if different habitats and ecosystems.

And so, in the same way of

exploring as an artist

I'm looking around thinking,

what can I collect here?

What is this habitat have for me to make

and incorporate into my artwork.

So it's this curiosity of nature

that really drives me

with both my practice in science

and then also my art practice.

- And then so can you tell us just a little bit more

into what your art medium is.

And why do you choose to express yourself in those ways?

'Cause it's very sculptural

but also something that you can wear, which is really.

- I really was fascinated with just creating spaces and

installations that you could go into.

Like creating this other worldly experience

but then kind of forget about the outside world.

Just this kind of safe space area.

And so I started off doing those installations

and then thought well why not go further and wear them

and perform in them

and create these different organisms

and things like that

that you could embody.

My creative process is first what I do is

I collect a bunch of stuff,

lay them out

and just usually make a mold.

I get wire that I usually find

to just create the structure of the piece.

And then just start attaching things,

see what types of shapes morph out of it.

And I typically like the pieces

to just be something that evolves as I'm working on it.

I want people to feel comfortable

when they're in the spaces that I created.

Or in the performances that I have

removes oneself from whatever space they're in

or whatever dynamic they're in currently

and then puts them in a new place.

And I think that that's what

the purpose of my artwork

always was for me to just have these like

areas of feeling comfortable

when dealing with childhood trauma,

dealing with other aspects of my life

that was negative.

What I find solace in

is just creating this world around me

and I really want other people to experience that.

- What do you think an artist's responsibility is

in creating social change?

- Specifically for me,

I choose to talk about

experiences that I have

being a child of immigrants.

My parents immigrants from Lebanon.

So incorporating this dynamic of like the bridge between

(mumbles) the east like that.

So I also incorporate my environmental issues

that I think are very important.

So I think that as artists,

to express oneself,

and in the lives that they have

and the experiences they have is important.

With the movement, the Black Lives Matter Movement,

it's I think important to have their voices heard.

I think it's really important to

collaborate with these artists,

represent them,

mention them,

have the community learn more about their experiences.

- And then just looking ahead,

what does the future look like for you?

- I definitely want to keep going with ecology.

I really hope that.

The more things that I learn with my research,

the more I will incorporate and really enhance my artwork.

And it will be the select feedback loop of

what I'm learning from both practices.

- And that wraps it up for this edition

of Detroit Performs.

As always, for more arts and culture,

head to

Where you'll find featured videos, logs and information

on upcoming arts events.

Also check us out on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

And make sure you guys are staying safe out there.

And we will continue to bring you

the best of Detroit's art scene.

Until next time.

Get out there

and show the world how Detroit performs y'all.

I'm DJ Oliver.

Thanks for watching guys

- [Narrator 1] Funding for Detroit Performs is provided by,

The Fred A. and Barbara M.Erb family Foundation,

The Kresge Foundation,

The Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan,

The A. Paul and Carol C. Schaap Foundation,

The Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs,

The National Endowment for the Arts,

The DeRoy Testamentary Foundation

and by contributions to your PBS station

from viewers like you.

Thank you.

(gentle instrumental music)


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