By Jamal Laoudi
Oud is a musical instrument that can be described as a pear-shaped and a short-necked string instrument characterized by its rich, sonorous sound and rounded back.  M’Oud Swing is a band that layers oud and modal jazz improvisation.  Both oud and modal jazz are quite difficult to master.  The sound the band creates is very unique and can be quite pleasant to the sophisticated ear.  Here is Karim Kadiri the band’s co-founder and composer: 

Who’s Karim Kadiri?
I was born and raised in Casablanca, Morocco until the age of 21 then I moved to Pennsylvania, USA where I still reside. I am an odd thinker on pretty much all subjects in life. I am also self-taught musically, intellectually, and in everything that has shaped my person.
I live for the truth and as such, I cannot accept any precept until I have personally dissected it, analyzed it, and felt sincerely convinced; that is why I probably disagree with humanity or at least most people I get to meet, on almost everything.
I feel as though humans accept stories and concepts with minimal resistance or analysis. Please do not think that I am full of myself already, to the contrary I am the humblest and most down to earth person you would want to meet, and I have fantastic relationships with most people despite my oddity.

What was your artistic environment like growing up? Were there any artists in your family? What kind of music were you exposed to?
My family, growing up, was very musically inclined.  From my grand-parents on down, everybody was in love with pretty much the same stuff, namely Oum Kalsoum, Sunbati, Abdelwahab, and finally on the Moroccan side, Ahmed Al Bidaoui, whose style was also more Egyptian than Moroccan.
In My early teens I discovered jazz with the movie the Benny Goodman story. He became my first love in jazz, later came Ella Fitgerald along with more modern stuff like Keith Jarrett, Chick Corea and others. My friends along with my mum thought I was nuts to be fourteen and to be listening to this weird stuff rather than the era’s pop that was more my age.

You have referred to yourself as a late bloomer.  Was it by choice? Talk to me about that and explain what you mean?
I did not even know I had inkling for music as a kid. It wasn’t until my younger brother had received a toy keyboard and neglected it that I discovered my love for playing.
As for Oud, I did not start fiddling with that until I was about 18, that is late! When I moved to the States in 87, I had no idea that I would ever be playing before a crowd as I simply had nothing to say musically.
I do not see the correlation myself but I was flooded with inspiration after the events of September 11th, 2001. I guess the sadness triggered something within pushing me to actually write and record a whole CD named “Shades of Brown” referring to the skin color of folks from around the globe. It was an anti-war, anti-violence, and pro peace CD.

You taught yourself to play Oud, one of the more difficult instruments to master.  What is involved in such process and how long did it take you to learn to play it well?
It took about 20 years for me to be able to say I was an average oud player. The more I perfect my techniques today the further I feel from what I would ideally want to be and sound like. The process of self-teaching f is easy to explain, love of the instrument is the fuel, the rest of the recipe is time. I had to put in an endless number of hours practicing (for years). True heroes of the instrument like Said Chraibi, Ahmed Al Bidaoui, or Saliba Al Qatrib constantly remind me that I have ways to go and I thank them for it.
Now that I have technique, I am struggling with the development of poise. Oud is like a Cello.  It needs emotion not speed, and therein lies the problem; we often try to compensate for soul by playing lots of notes, I am trying to go the other way and it is not easy but it is a beautiful and an emotional adventure.

You have a band called M’Oud Swing.  You have some CDs out and have and continue to perform in various venues.  If I am to buy one of your CDs or attend your performance, what shall I expect?    
If the benchmark is what I have been told every time someone spoke to me after a concert, then the answer would be that you are pleasantly surprised that the mix of “Tarab” and avant-garde jazz can work. I have had this type of feedback when we played Mawazine, Essaouira, Tanjazz, Jazzablanca and several others festivals in the US. I was once told by an organizer that the audience was pleased but confused…
My 3 CDs can all be heard on our site www.moudswing.com or on the social network for the music businesswww.karkades.com in which I am very active.

There is lots of improvisation in your band’s work.  Take us through the creative process and shed some light on the dynamics of the band. 
It was not planned that way but I quickly pretty much became the only writer for the band. I have written 99% of the music because my “brothers” in the band who are all Americans do like my odd meter and pattern-ridden style. I hate repeated rhythms and simply get bored with those I therefore write what I hear in my head which is never square.
I do not build a melody around a known beat or rhythm; my stuff is an amalgamation of odd phrases and patterns. Jazz musicians though confused, enjoy the challenge of soloing over this new concept. I also never try or force myself to write.  I hear stuff inside my head; I hum it at first then play it” a million times” then put it down. I have to add that Barry Sames, my friend, partner and keyboardist is my academic brain, he writes the stuff I play since I am musically illiterate.

Why isn’t there a vocalist in the band? Has that come up before?
It has come up before plenty but a singer is not a must. There are all sorts of bands out there. The day I hear in my head the concept of M’Oud Swing with a singer I will invite a vocalist to join us for a tour or a recording provided Barry and the guys agree. One major point I need to make is that I do not do music with the aim to please people or to be rich and popular. I do music that I like, the rest comes naturally; some will like it others won’t and that is not a factor for me.
Now for other projects that do not involve the band, I do have voice as part of the set up. My first CD has 10 songs with various vocalists. I also have two Arabic projects that involve Tarab singing.

What do you think your band needs to get to the next level and to pack let’s say Madison Square Garden?
We need a great agent. We just signed with one so let’s see how that goes.
Madison square Garden will more than likely never happen. We are a World Music and jazz band, such set ups don’t appeal to the masses. We are a feeling driven band, not a fun or dance one. We need small venues in order to be at our best. That said we have played to big crowds in Philly and once in Tangiers at a street concert offered to the city by the Tanjazz festival.

What are your short and long term projects and how can one stay informed and up-to-date with your work?
There are a ton of things in the works; an electric M’Oud swing project with EWI (Electric sax), electric guitar, electric oud etc.  A solo oud project plus a “Karim and Guests” type of world music project. All of it costs money so let’s hope that my sponsor for the last CD “Fondation BMCI” keeps coming through, or that I make a ton of money on my own so I can record it all.
To stay in touch with my band and a million others, you can always go on www.karkades.com and contact us there, chat with us etc; we would be honored. You can search for other bands, venues etc by country, city, keyword and more.

Continuous success Karim; last words:
Demand more of artists of today. Let’s not accept regurgitation of mediocrity, what is played on the radio and TV is NOT it! There is much more, much better and much more sincere music out there.
There are fantastic bands that can move you to tears today but they remain in obscurity beacuse they refuse to hop on the commercial music bandwagon. That is why I joined the Karkades network; I need to discover more of those guys. Peace to all!

Karim Kadiri Performs "Simon" with his Band M'Oud Swing


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