The Magic of Jazz

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Elie Afif’s journey with music began when his older brother handed him a guitar at the age of 13. And why did he do so? As a musician himself, a drummer and a member of a band, he needed a bass player. So, for Elie, while music began with filling a role, it quickly became something he fell in love with. Sharon Carvalho speaks to the jazz musician about the new definition of the genre

Tell us about your big break.
I was about 17 when the fusion guitar player, Mike Stern, was in Lebanon for a concert. Word spread through the music community that he was in need of a bassist and through contacts, his agent in the Middle East got in touch with me. I was invited to a practice session to play together to see if our style matched and it did. So, I performed with him during his concert. I guess he was impressed because when he went back to the States, he spread the word about me and my skill. Soon, more artists were getting in touch with me to play with them when they came to the country. This gave me the confidence boost I needed to perform. That is when I realised that performing with other musicians gives you the confidence and experience you need to get up on stage and play for millions. These experienced musicians are also the only ones who will tell you the truth about your music, which means they give the best advice.

What is it like to perform with family?
We’re five boys in the family and each one of us is a musician. The youngest plays the guitar, another plays percussion, the one older than me used to play the guitar too but he now runs his own business. And then there’s my brother and I who are in the same band. It’s definitely interesting to perform on the same stage with him. We have good times and bad ones too, just like it is with any musician. The difference is that we know each other really well. Even though he is six years older than me, we understand each other but we try to not take that for granted. Also, we try to look at each other as fellow musicians and not as brothers. This is important with jazz music because it is so improvised. We have moments where it all clicks and the music is beautiful. It is those moments that we remember always.

How much do you rehearse?
Apart from sessions with the band, I put in about seven hours while at the studio. But I don’t view it as rehearsal or practice. Music is my life so I don’t have to force it. There are days when I completely lose track of time and sit up to realise night has fallen and I need to sleep! And then there are days when nothing clicks so I just leave it alone and get back to it the next day. To me, playing music is a pleasure and that reflects in the hours put into mastering it.

What are your thoughts on the state of jazz music?
Currently, music is being fused in a way that is removing labels and I like this trend. Also, I think that jazz music lends itself to this movement beautifully. Jazz is all about improvising so the moment artists from other genres get inventive with their style, they label it as jazz fusion. And while some purists among the genre do not appreciate the degradation of the word, I believe that when musicians from other fields adapt and improvise, they are spreading the word about jazz music and reaching a larger audience. In the end, as musicians, we play to be heard and the more people that appreciate improvised music, the larger the audience that will fall in love with jazz music.