Kinan | The Sound of Home (Episode 5) | The PlainStory Podcast | NET Nebraska

Kinan | The Sound of Home (Episode 5) | The PlainStory Podcast | NET Nebraska


(instrumental music) – I do believe that making music is an act of freedom by itself. (instrumental music) I know it doesn’t build houses, it doesn’t bring refugees back home. (instrumental music) But what I think it does,
or what I hope it does, is that it gives reason
for people to maybe hope. (instrumental music) – On this journey through music and home, I thought, even though I value it dearly, I thought that music was something extra, beyond food, shelter, basic needs, something higher up on
Maslow’s hierarchy of need. But what I think I’m
discovering is that it’s not. (instrumental music) Hello, this is Genevieve Randall. You’re listening to The
PlainStory Podcast, and this (instrumental music) is the clarinet and music of Kinan Azmeh. (instrumental music) I am a huge fan of Kinan. When I first heard he
was coming to Lincoln, I thought, “Are you kidding me? “Do you know who this guy is?” He’s so talented, and I can’t believe I would be lucky enough to
hear his music live in Lincoln. I see his name in the liner
notes of so many recordings as I program the Verge. His music is hard to pinpoint. You’re never sure where it is coming from and what it’s influenced by, maybe because he’s traveled
so much throughout his life. Today, Kinan lives in New York City, but he grew up in Damascus, Syria. When I say you’re home, today, what is it that you think about? Do you think New York,
or do you think Syria? – You know, this has been a question that I’ve been obsessed
with for a number of years. When I moved to the U.S.
to New York in 2001, I never wanted to become an expatriate. You know, I always wanted to be in touch with the Syrian music scene, because I wanted to
continue to be part of it, and I wanted to grow with it also. In the meantime, I wanted to be part of the New York music scene,
with all what it has to offer. – Kinan’s music is
worldly and world-class. I mean, all you need to know
is, Yo-Yo Ma took him on tour. For Kinan, playing with Yo-Yo Ma also put him in the spotlight for reasons he’d just as soon forget. – I was playing, actually, a duo with the wonderful Yo-Yo Ma, and I was commissioned to
write the piece for both of us, so it was, you know, I was quite on a musical
high, if you want. I flew the day after to Beirut, because I was supposed to play
the Mozart Clarinet Concerto with the Beirut-based orchestra. I landed, and that’s when I heard that the travel ban was issued. – The travel ban. This might be why you’ve heard of Kinan. He got a lot of media attention in 2017. While Kinan was touring, President Donald Trump
signed an executive order, one that many people started
to call “the Muslim ban.” This travel ban had Kinan, a Syrian national with a green card, wondering if he could even get home to his New York apartment. – And my first thought was
like, “Oh okay, what…” You know, what’s funny is, the first thing I thought
about was my plants. I have a few tiny plants in
my apartment in New York, in Brooklyn, that I
worried about immediately. I was like, “Okay, well,
who’s gonna water the plants?” – “Who is going to water the plants?” It’s such a human moment,
thinking about personal routines, even though he’s suddenly in the center of international news. He was never in danger. He had support from fellow musicians. How many people have
Yo-Yo Ma in their corner? But you can tell, his thoughts about home
have shifted and moved. Kinan’s parents still live in Syria. The Syrian uprising was in
2011, followed by civil war. Kinan hasn’t been able
to go back since 2012. Sometimes, where home
is, is beyond control, and when you listen to Kinan’s
music, this is apparent. – I think there are different ways of how people explain home, and home, for some people,
is where your memories are. In that case, of course, it’s Syria. That’s where I have lots
of my memories, as a child, also as a teenager and a college student, but then I have my recent memories in the last 18 or 19 years in New York, which are incredibly important. My personal way at looking at home is, it’s the place that you
have to contribute to without having to justify it. And in that sense, yes, home is Syria, but also, home is New York. But I think home is everywhere
I’m able to contribute in a positive way to the surrounding. The concept of home for
me is quite dynamic. (instrumental music) – Yeah, you can tell why I
wanted to talk to him, right? As I look at his albums, I see
titles like “The Wanderer,” “Airports,” “The Fence, the Rooftop,
and the Distant Sea,” “Love on 139th Street in D,” lots of compositions that
are of a time and of a place. – Some people wanna hold
onto only one idea of home. I would like to think of
home as a kind of a pyramid. The deeper you get, the wider
your idea of home becomes. – It sounds to me like you’re just embracing every place that you go. – I think being in touch
with your surrounding is incredibly important, and for me, that’s the definition of home. Home is not materialistic things, really. It’s connection we have with people, with a space, with nature. It’s a combination of
relationships, really, that build on top of each other. – I was lucky enough to see
Kinan perform in Lincoln. The sounds of my town
come from everywhere. Lincoln isn’t a musical
desert, by any means. We have churches and
colleges and universities with robust music programs, and Lincoln does attract
musicians of world-class caliber. And sometimes, that music travels here from places like Syria and New York. In the case of Kinan, Lincoln wasn’t just another
stop on some kind of album tour. – I don’t think there is
a point to go on stage, you know, in my capacity as a musician, and to play for people, if all what you think of these
people listening to are like, “These are a bunch of
strangers, I don’t care.” It’s impossible. – Kinan came to play for a festival called the Lincoln Crossroads Music Festival. Remember Erik, the guy
with the standup bass that took me to Golden Studio? You’re going to get to know
him in a future episode. But for now, you need to know that, inspired by his experiences
with Hasan and Zeyad, Erik wanted to share the music
of Lincoln with the world and bring world-class
musicians to Lincoln. So I was able to hear this. (instrumental music) – You have to believe that
this is also your community, and by playing, you’re contributing, in a very small way, maybe, but also you’re learning from the community that surrounds you, and this is something that has been incredibly important in my life. (instrumental music) – That’s Kinan playing with his wife, violinist Layale Chaker. When Erik invited them to come to Lincoln for the inaugural year of the festival, Kinan said yes right away. – It was very important, and I think there is
something incredibly great about somebody trying to bring
the world to his hometown. And this is the way I also think of, maybe one day I’ll be
able to do it in Damascus, but maybe more importantly, in
smaller cities of Syria too. So I find the idea incredibly inspiring. And I’m never been to Nebraska before, so I’m really excited to
go and expand my community, you know, by playing for people that maybe some of them have never met
a Syrian musician before. – And for Kinan, the travel ban put that
mission into perspective. On January 27th, 2017,
President Trump signed Executive Order 13769,
which barred all nationals from Iran, Iraq, Libya,
Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen from entering the U.S. for 90 days. The reason people started
calling it a “Muslim ban” was because each of those countries have a majority of people
who practice Islam. Additionally, the ban
stated that all refugees were not to be accepted
into the U.S. for 120 days. This halted entirely a program that had been operating
since World War II. Kinan, as we know, was mostly
concerned about his plants. But this incident would frame his thinking and his music choices today. – If anything, it just gave me an incredible sense of support from artists and friends
from the U.S. and abroad. Everybody is offering, “What
can we do, how can we help?” because they heard about the story. But also, it gave me perspective. Yes, I was stuck in Beirut, I was blocked from coming back home, but I still had a roof over my head, I had money to buy food. – Kinan has told this story many times. He and Yo-Yo Ma got a
lot of media attention, appearing on CNN, doing interviews for Rolling
Stone and the L.A. Times. He felt embarrassed by
the attention he received. – This is really nothing
in comparison to what people go through on daily basis, people who have their house
bombed or who lose families, so still, it was not as big of an issue in relation to others. I was relating to my countrymen and women definitely more than ever before. – I’m thinking back to my
interview with Lacey Studnicka. She told me that even when you combine all the countries in the world that take in refugees for resettlement, even when you combine all those numbers, it is still less than one percent of the total population
of refugees worldwide. Think about being in a refugee
camp with millions of others, and waiting on that news about becoming part of that one percent, and then hearing the news that your chances just got smaller. – It continues to be incredible
and ridiculous to think that one signature can change the
lives of millions of people, just like that. – So in the end, Kinan’s
life was able to move on. He got his plants watered, and he kept playing and composing. But there are millions
of people still waiting, hoping to be that one percent. – You realize, you got to
keep doing what you’re doing. Music, I think, changed for me, from being somehow of a luxury, into an urgency kind of situation. I don’t know how it affects the music, the notes I write on page,
or the way I improvise, or the way I play a classical piece. But what I know is that
music-making became more urgent for me than before. Now every time I play on stage, I remind myself of how lucky I am to be able to express my opinions freely and openly on a big platform. – Today, Kinan tries to
bring his music to refugees, volunteering to play workshops
for newly arrived children with the International Rescue Committee’s Refugee Youth Summer Academy. He’s also played at refugee camps. When you come away from those experiences, what’s your emotion? Do you feel hopeful? – It’s very hard to be hopeful. I’m hopeful that, you know,
when I see kids smile and laugh, yes, I’m hopeful, but then, it doesn’t blind me from seeing
the realities on the ground. You know, when you do, let’s say you do a
visit to a refugee camp, and you play, and you play with the kids, at the end of the day, you go back to your hotel room somewhere, while they stay in the camp. I mean, that’s the reality of it, and you have to be reminded of that. – And so, for an audience in Lincoln, Kinan was able to bring
that act of freedom to an audience that
included Hasan and Zeyad, and lots of other
Lincolnites just like me. This mission of Kinan’s is real, and it is why he agreed
to come to Lincoln. – There is something
million-like times more special when you play in a city or in
a state for the first time, because you realize,
you give keys to people to discover something
beyond what you just played. Because what we do, both Layale and I, is music inspired by traditions, (instrumental music)
but not limited by that, and we’re hoping that people will dig vertically a bit more to see, “Okay, so where is, what is
this inspired by or from?” And it’s so exciting
that this becomes part of the mosaic that, you know,
Lincoln has to offer. It’s wonderful. What I would like to see in (mumbles) is that this becomes also Nebraskan music. You know what I mean? This is also part of home. – So now, home and the music
of home is shifting again. Like so many people, I can walk
around with my blinders on. It might not be intentional. It just happens. The music that Hasan and Zeyad play, that is the sound of my home. But we tend to categorize, don’t we? We put things under an
index labeled “Other.” Kinan’s right, this is
the sound of Lincoln. Maybe we can change what we
think of when people say, “music in Nebraska.” – You know, I think this is, it sounds like a cliche,
but I really believe in it, when people are moved
together by something, they are no longer
strangers to each other, and sometime you even question, “Is what we’re doing
irrelevant in all of this? “Can this, whatever we did
tonight, can it change anything?” I think we have to hold
onto the optimists in us, to think that, yes, actually, it can, at least, it might change the
narrative in somebody’s mind, but certainly, art opens
up possibilities, I think, and art is an act of
freedom and hope also, and one has to continue to be hopeful, in spite of all the tragic
events, not only in the earth, but also elsewhere in the world. – I feel like that’s
what I hear from Hasan when he talks about playing, or even when he’s introducing each one of those songs that they did, he’s dedicating them
to people, to the lost, to the dead, to people
who’ve lost someone. There’s all of this sadness in it, but he just pours his heart into it. He turns that all into something else. – Every piece of music start with silence. There’s no exist, nothing exists. You create sound, (instrumental music)
and if you stop, if I stop blowing in the
clarinet, the sound dies again, and I have to put air in it and oxygen more for it to live again. So I mean, you have to keep
doing what you’re doing. In spite of all, people have
to hold on to their tools. (instrumental music) – On the next episode of
The PlainStory Podcast, normally here, I’d play some
clips of music coming up, but our next episode is so eclectic, we’re going to play out
on the music of Kinan, and really, who can complain about that? I’m not even gonna read the credits. (instrumental music)

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