Heart-wrenching voice accompanied by rhythms of double bass and oud got me pondering from the first minutes even though I couldn’t understand a word. I saw Kayan Project live in June at think.dk. A few minutes before the concert, Wassim and Kenneth were still testing the oud and double bass, while Eden was roaming around chasing some train of thoughts. I did not know I was about to get lost in translation.
Kayan Project performs improvisation and Folk in Hebrew, Arabic, English. Their performance swings between times, genres and languages, combining sounds and rhythms from the Middle East and the European West. Kayan project is about more than breaking borders – it is about connecting lands and people through music.
Tell me a little bit about yourself. How long have you been playing music and how was your first encounter with music?
Eden Cami I secretly started singing to myself, behind a closed door, at the age of fifteen, and went up on a stage for the first time when I was nineteen. I grew up in a very culturally mixed atmosphere. My mom used to sing old classic and traditional Arabic songs, my dad would listen to classical European music, and all around, there was always radio or TV from which I was exposed to Hebrew and Western music. At the age of thirteen, I heard a jazz song for the first time in my life and I was completely enchanted. I started consuming a fair amount of jazz from that point.
Wassim Mukdad I was born in Germany to Syrian parents who introduced me to music at a very young age. I started piano and reading music by the age of four and then specialized on the Oud by the age of 10 with a private teacher in Syria. I have been playing oud for 22 years and also studied it at the Higher Institute of Music in Damascus besides studying medicine.
How did Kayan Project come to life? How did you meet?
Wassim Mukdad I met Eden in Berlin 4 weeks after my arrival in summer of 2016 and she had already started with Kayan Project.
Eden Cami I think the first thing I said to Wassim was something like “We’re gonna play together”. I met him through a friend and already at our first encounter he had his oud. After I heard him play it was clear to me that we were going to work together. We had a very natural connection. Kayan Project was an idea I was shaping in my head for a while, even before moving to Berlin. It took me years to dare and sing in Arabic, while Hebrew somehow came more naturally. Still these two languages are so intertwined in me, I felt a strong urge to express them both in one project. For me it’s a little bit like a journey of self-discovery, and I’m so happy to find such musical partners to join me in this.
Is there a story behind the name?
Eden Cami Kayan in Arabic means existence, entity and structure. I felt that the word carries some kind of complexity and simplicity at the same time, and it very much represents my feelings towards this. My attachment and love to both Arabic and Hebrew can be difficult to understand or weird for some, but at the same time I’m very much at peace with this identity and simply trying to be, to exist as I am, and to bring it out in the music.
Singing in these two languages in one concert feels to me like my very own personal journey
How would you describe your music?
Wassim Mukdad Our music is like a bouquet of our own tunes combined with pieces from the Arabic and Hebrew heritage.
Where do you get your inspiration for your songs?
Eden Cami: There’s no regular pattern in which things happen. If it’s an old folk song, it could be that any one of the band members brought up the idea of playing it. If it’s an original, we all write music and bring that into the project where it normally evolves.
Are you trying to convey a message through your music?
Wassim Mukdad We are trying to convey the message of peace by mixing two languages that are featured everyday as enemies. Culture is a real means of communication against all these barriers and borders, it should be the bridge facing the walls of today and everyday.
Eden Cami I completely agree. I do have to say that many times choosing to play these songs and singing in these two languages in one concert feels to me like my very own personal journey that I very much want to share, but I know as well that somewhere in the back of my head I feel I must do this project and carry this message, because it’s simply there in me. I feel lucky to do so.
You can listen to the instruments without any need for huge amplification, which feels more real.
How long have you been playing home concerts? Do you feel it’s different than venue concerts?
Wassim Mukdad Actually, we don’t play home concerts as frequently as we would love to. It’s really different from venue concerts: home concerts are more intimate, you feel a bond with the audience without the need to break the invisible stage-audience wall. You have the chance to interact with the audience on a personal level. And another advantage of the home concerts is that you can listen to the instruments without any need for huge amplification, which feels more real.
What would be the ideal concert setup for you?
Wassim Mukdad This is a tough question, but I think that the more a relationship is built between the band and the audience the better. It’s not actually about the size of the place as it is about the equipment available like live video, for example in big theaters, as well as seating, an audience sitting in half a circle shape is always better than lines.
What’s the favorite spot in your home and why?
Wassim Mukdad By the window, as it is the source of light and outside color, and reminds me of how being outside feels like.
Eden Cami My favorite spot would be my balcony. It faces the inner garden, and most of the time it’s so quiet you can only hear some far away city rustle. Besides that, the balcony was the first place Wassim and I jammed together.
What’s your favorite place to create music in?
Eden Cami Until now it has been my room, always, no matter where I was living.
Who’s the first person who usually listens to your newest song?
Eden Cami Normally we take it straight away to the audience.
Why does music matter?
Wassim Mukdad Music is one of the rare human communication skills that doesn’t need a translator. It’s possible to play music with people and for people no matter where they come from, it reaches everyone in a unique way. Music lives over the generations, it is a timeless borderless activity that links people even if they never had the chance to meet.
Eden Cami I can’t think of a higher form of art, exactly because of the reasons Wassim mentioned. The only thing I can add is a quote from Friedrich Nietzsche that I deeply believe in: “Without music, life would be a mistake.”
Kayan Project released a new video in October, 2017, and you can watch it here:
Read more about Kayan Project on their Facebook page, and listen to more of their music on Soundcloud or their Youtube channel. If you want to book Kayan Project for a home concert, check out their listing on the Low-Fi platform.