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Joelle Khoury Interview, by Cynthia Khater 13 July 2009

Joelle Khoury

What is it like being an aspiring female artist in Lebanon?

Joelle Khoury is one of the very few notable Jazz Pianists and an aspiring Composer in Lebanon. She has also made several international works, in addition to coordinating with the majority of foriegn jazz and other genres artists that visit Lebanon. She is also the leader of "Inversion", a jazz quintet that she founded since 1995.

In this interview, we had the pleasure to learn from many of her personal experiences and self, and what's it like to be a female musician in Lebanon.

1-What has encouraged you to choose a musical career?

At one point in my life, music was the only thing sensible. It was the only thing that still "talked' to me; so I had no choice. Although I have diplomas in other fields than music (economics and philosophy), it is music that I really desire.

2-Why Jazz and not any other music genre?

I do compose and perform other genres, more and more often now, particularly contemporary classical music and some electronics. I love numerous styles of music, jazz being one of them. There are some genres that attract me less. 

3-What obstacles did you face during your musical career?

The major obstacle I have faced was the fact that I have started studying music at a later age in my life. I had basically gone to the States to study engineering when I fell in love with music. It is also there that I met jazz and my teacher. I therefore had to face many frustrations, mainly technical. I still work a lot to overcome some of these obstacles. Later I faced obstacles related to life in Lebanon, and the lack of "official" interest in music; the non-existence of real, efficient cultural planning and financing at a national level; what you call in Europe: politique culturelle. I guess I had to face some problems, but long ago went passed them, concerning my being a woman and an Arab woman in the field; one has to work a lot harder than most men to seem convincing. 

4-What are the special features that mark your compositions?

I cannot really explain that. Some people say my music has something very characteristic about it, a certain personality, but I cannot define that in words... I guess this is why we compose, this is why people write poems, or plays. Through the arts we can express ideas and feelings and concepts we cannot just explain by mere talk. I have heard people say my music is difficult, strict... I have heard several descriptions. My latest work though, my opera monodrama in Arabic Dream She Is, interpreted by Fadia El Hage, has very melodic, soft passages. I guess I am evolving and so is my style.

5-Have you reached all your goals? What are some of your future goals?

One cannot reach one's goal, ever. Whenever I believe a certain project to be the ultimate, most important goal for me, I am disappointed as soon as the music or the CD is out, and I start hearing and dreaming other music. I am glad I have not reached all my goals... otherwise what would I spend the rest of my time on earth doing? One of the main things keeping me going, is always dreaming another project, looking forward trying to realize one more goal, materialize one more idea... through music of course.

I am now working on a project involving electroacoustic, music, text, film and dance. One of my newest projects had been the "Meet The Composer" series. It aims at acquainting the local public, but why not later, internationally, with Lebanese contemporary composers living here and abroad. Our next meeting will take place in September.

6-What do you think about jazz in Lebanon?

Lebanon is not Europe, but I think things are getting better. I wish most of us could put more and more energy playing the music really pleasing us and not just pleasing the public, the sponsor or some pub owner.  

7-Do you advise our youth to seriously choose Jazz as a career? Why?

I don't advise anybody to choose music as a career, unless they are really desperately eager to play/compose music. It is difficult, really difficult, if one wants to really accomplish something important musically. Not just in Lebanon, it's a semi-continuous frustration. No matter what we do, there is always more. Music is so big and beautiful, I always feel small next to it. If you mean financially, a halfway decent musician will find means of surviving in Lebanon, if he 'she accepts whatever gig on the market. If one is picky and searching for themselves through music, then choosing it as a career (to make a living out of) is a very risky business, for the pocket as well as the psyche.

Cynthia: Thank you very much for your time, have a nice weekend, and good luck with
your upcoming projects.

Joelle: Thank you. I congratulate you for your site and wish you all luck and lots of music.
Take care.