Record Review: Ibrahim Maalouf – Diagnostic (2011)

Experience Balkan-Arabic melodies backed by an abrasive 17 member all-female batucada ensemble during Ibrahim’s introspective self-inquiry

Ibrahim Maalouf Diagnostic Cover

Genre: Experimental / Balkan Brass / Latin Batucada / Arabic / Jazz

Region: France, Lebanon

Artists’ Website:

Label: Harmonia Mundi/Mi’ster

Ibrahim Maalouf released an ambitious and challenging record, ‘Diagnostic’, contesting even those remaining norms and categories in today’s music. It is orchestral and grandiose with Balkan themes dominating his trumpet performance and an all-women bateria Ibrahim Maaloufproviding a jarring rhythmic backbone. The connections are far-reaching and out of the box achieving a daring and ultimately diverse sonic tapestry to enhance the cinematic, autobiographic concept of the album.

Ibrahim is a multi-awarded trumpeter and composer born in Beirut, Lebanon into a musical family. At the age of nine, amidst the civil war, his family moved to Parisian suburbs where he resides mostly ever since. Ibrahim carries on the legacy of his father Nassim Maalouf playing Arabic music with quarter tones on the trumpet, which is a rare skill shared only among few musicians in the Balkans and the south-eastern Mediterranean region. His father actually added a fourth valve to a trumpet in order to expand its capacity to play Arabic maqams.

As Ibrahim explains: “Right from the beginning, he put in my hands a quartertone trumpet. But he wanted me first of all to learn classical music, and he wanted me to study in the same conservatory he had. So the first steps in microtonal music I had to try alone. I tried to copy him, but very quickly, I started to play differently. In my room, I used to take the trumpet and play very softly. I’d play Arab scales like my father did, but in my own way.”

After two critically-acclaimed albums ‘Diasporas’ (2007), ‘Diachronism’ (2009) Ibrahim returned with his third opus in his own label ‘Mi’ster Productions. What easily stands out is the hard-hitting success of backing his micro-tonal Balkan-flavoured melodies with the massive cadences of a batucada. There is a rhythmic kinship between the percussive patterns of Balkan brass bands and samba ensembles and Ibrahim’s exploration not only verifies that but also pushes the whole sound even further.

It was in his backyard in the mountains of Lebanon where he came up with this idea: “I was taking sticks and hitting these big metal Zalinde Logothings that were in the garden, left there for ages,” Maalouf reveals. “And suddenly, it appeared to me that I needed strong drums. Stronger than samples, or a regular drum set.” When he came back in Paris he collaborated with Zalindê, a 17-member strong, all-female, Brazilian-style batucada.

Ibrahim’s performance has incorporated indisputable ethnic influences from his own culture and beyond. Balkan and Arabic have become almost indistinguishable unified elements in his trumpet playing with impressive results. These are the fundamental ingredients of ‘Diagnostic’, beyond which the listener can discover a vast array of other styles tuned in (classical, latin, jazz and metal among others). As Ibrahim Maalouf put it: “Since it’s my music, I choose what I think is beautiful. For example, I love Balkan trumpets, and I really love Brazilian batucadas, and when you put a Brazilian rhythm under trumpets playing an Arab melody with a Balkan feel, I think it sounds really good. So I did it.”

In the present album Ibrahim takes an introvert look at his own life, identifying the ills and unleashing the cures with his uncompromising musical expression. Lebanon’s war and suffering, his childhood years isolated in the suburbs of Paris and his complicated yet loving family have sculpted his personality. He felt that he did not have space to expand his own personality and after enquiring his family and life this album is his big redemption. Beloved persons, his daughter, sister, mother and father have become odes in Diagnostic.

‘Maeva In The Wonderland’ is epic, celebrating the Franco-Arab-Chilean identity of his sister, shifting swiftly with chameleon skills Zalindefrom the acoustic piano intro to a full-scale batucada-boosted quarter tone trumpet assault only to embark to original afro-latin passages. The more dynamic, uplifting songs like ‘Never Serious’ or ‘Douce’ display moments of unmatched grandeur, intriguing and emotive (maybe minus the metal influences which slightly derail the sound) are further highlighted by the softer sides of the album . There are also some stretched-out tracks which feature Ibrahim on more personal, free form improvisation.

The album is multi-faceted , a synthesis of bits and pieces of Ibrahim Maalouf’s life. His classical studies, his love for folk and jazz, his experiences playing with big bands and a host of significant musicians from around the world all find their place in ‘Diagnostic’. In his urge to illuminate the uniqueness of his personality he has been forced to explore new, more ‘risky’ and less-populated territories.


Explore more trumpets and brass via Freegan Kolektiva:

  1. Mucca Pazza – Safety Fifth (2012)
  2. Rebirth Brass Band – Rebirth of New Orleans
  3. Boban i Marko Markovic Orkestar – Golden Horns (2012)
  4. The Bombay Royale – You Me Bullets Love (2012, Hopestreet Recordings)
  5. The Funk Ark – High Noon (2012, ESL Music)
  6. Seun Kuti & Egypt 80 – From Africa With Fury: Rise

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