“Open up your mind” – an interview with Dorsaf Hamdani

‘Stemmerett og stemmeprakt!’ celebrates 100 years anniversary of women’s right to vote in Norway. To draw a line to the present, an encounter has been organized between the well-known Norwegian singers Berit Opheim and Unni Boksasp, together with prominent vocalists from countries of the “Arab spring”, Dorsaf Hamdani from Tunisia and Waed Bouhassoun from Syria. Norwegian folk and Arabic art music alternate and mingle. The performance with support from Fritt Ord took place at the Førde Festival, July this year. A few days before the concert there was a debate about the situation for female artists in countries in the “Arab spring”, with Samara Sallam, Dorsaf Hamdani and Fawzia Baba-Aissa. In the previous post you can find the interview with Samara Sallam. After the concert we asked Dorsaf Hamdani about the project and her work. This (short) interview is held in English.

by Charlie Crooijmans

Who is Dorsaf Hamdani?

“I am a classical Arabic singer from Tunisia and I have a master in musicology. I participate in this project with my two Norwegian colleagues (Berit Opheim and Unni Boksasp) and a Palestinian singer (Waed Bouhassoun), which was a nice opportunity for us!”

In 1992, Mandani receives the best prices for young talent in Tunisia, in 1995; the second prize for Arabic Music in Jordan, and in 1996 the gold disc of the Tunisian song (biography Hamdani at Yala).

Do you have your own orchestra?

“Yes, I have an orchestra in Tunisia. The two musicians at the project are in my band. The violist, Mohamed Lassoued, is my artistic director and there is the percussionist. I do concerts in Tunisia, I travel also outside the country for concerts, and I participate in national and local festivals like this year in the summer.”

What is your usual repertoire?

“It’s a classical repertoire. Like the solo I made at the concert.”

What are the lyrics about?

“My lyrics are very poetic and philosophical. Sometimes we speak about love and heartbreak. In a way it is all about love, loving people, love each other. Or love itself, even romantic, or there was one Sufi poem about Gods love.”

Who are your idols?

“Umm kalthoum, Asmahan, and Fairuz who is still alive. I love this woman she is not only a singer but also a big icon, and a modern woman.”

How did you get involved with the project in Norway?

“This connection is a collaboration of Accords Croisés, which is my label and my producers in France, and the Førde Festival. This was an initiative to put women in front. It is 100 years anniversary of women’s vote in Norway and also the Arabic revolutions and the Arabic spring. So it was a nice opportunity and a nice gathering to get to know each other and to make a mix of cultures together. I think it is a full success for me. I am really glad that we made it, that we can show that there is no frontier and that women can be really upfront.”

How do you connect musically to another culture so different from yours?

“The way to connect with another cultures is to open up. That was my way of being, open up myself, my music, my culture to this other culture that is quite different. Sometimes we have to keep it simple – in a few rehearsals we cannot put all the Arabic music, all the rhythms, all the scales, it is impossible – but it can be also interesting in the way that we change our way of thinking and we just open up our mind, accept different codes from other cultures.”

Do you also have the feeling the the music is a reflection of the culture or community?

“Oh yeah, sure. It does. I think the way of being with music. It’s not only music itself, it’s the way we act. Music is connected to nature, connected to the human way of being, the language, everything is connected together. When you recognize this in your own culture  – it took me a long time to see this, but it is obvious now – you can manage with other cultures, absorb it and make it fluid.”

During the debate I felt that Norway wants to be seen as an open and free country advocating freedom of speech, while at the border you could be treated like a suspect. What do you think of this?

“I think it is the same thing everywhere in this world. Humans are the same everywhere. It is not only Norway or another country. It’s because there is a war, a revolution, or there is poverty. So people unconsciously will think, ‘we have to interrogate this person, because maybe he or she is a terrorist’. It is not very bad that the police asks questions, it is the police and they have to do their job. So I don’t see it as a big thing. Because even in Tunisia, in my country, I can be arrested. Just interrogated by the police, because there is an event and they are looking for something, a criminal or anything. We don’t have to see this as a judgement or as an aggression.  At my point of view, we have to open our minds and see the positive things. Always!”

Is it easy to do concerts in Tunisia?

“Right now,  it’s not a problem to do concerts, but sometimes we are afraid that maybe somehow there will come a period that fundamentalists will say, ‘okay now we have power and from this day on you cut everything, no music, no dance, no sculpture, anything’. So it is a menace. Right now there is no problem for my music. Maybe for other arts, yes, like rappers, or exhibitions of arts, with sculptures or nude photos or things like that, that have been aggressed. I cannot say that it doesn’t interest me because I am not a sculptor or I am not a photographer. No, I am an artist so I have to take part of this.”