Born: January 1 Primary Instrument: Oud
Brooklyn-based musician Brian Prunka was already an accomplished jazz guitarist in New Orleans when a series of events led him to become a beginner again, learning the oud (Arabic fretless lute) and Arabic music from the ground up. Fifteen years later, he is the leader of Nashaz, a group that finds unexpected kinship between jazz and traditional Arabic music, garnering praise and support from Arabic music luminaries like Simon and Najib Shaheen, Youssef Kassab, and Ray Rashid in response to their recently released self-titled album (www.nashazmusic.com). The journey took him from New Orleans to Brooklyn, and eventually to Haifa and Ramallah, in the process finding his own voice with an authenticity that has won him respect within the Arabic music community, whether performing with Simon Shaheen's Qantara, Zikrayat, or the New York Arabic Orchestra. The upcoming Nashaz concert November 9th at Alwan for the Arts, an Arabic cultural center in lower Manhattan that is known for its presentation of renowned musicians from the Arab world, promises to be an intimate event celebrating the recent CD release among their friends and peers in the NY community of Arabic musicians and music lovers. (www.alwanforthearts.org/event/964)
The oud is often called the king of musical instruments in the Arab world, and the sound of this instrument indeed has a strange elemental power, with a commanding magnetism that is paradoxically intimate and assertive. Prunka's oud in particular has an interesting history: built in the 1930s by the legendary Nahat family (think Stadivarius of ouds), it was at one point practically destroyed. After undergoing several rounds of reconstructive surgery by different luthiers, it is now a kind of hybrid with its own sound. It's kind of a mutt, says Prunka, but it has old roots, and you can hear that. In a way, it's a perfect metaphor for this music: I can only filter the traditions through my own experience. I love jazz and Arabic music, and the most honest thing for me is to try to express that in my music.
The sense of community created by music is important to Prunka as well: music brings people together; often people that might not have much else in common. But if you spend time with people, that's how you get to understand their perspectives and experiences. And you inevitably find that certain things are just universal to everyone's experience of being human. That's what art is supposed to express, I think-to illuminate our common humanity. That's why Prunka doesn't really think of his group as fusion or mixing of styles: Of course there are differences in musical styles, but ultimately it's all one kind of music: human music. When you think of it that way, that every kind of music is trying to express what it means to live a human life on this planet, then it's more about just washing away these lines that we've drawn around things.
However, he doesn't dismiss the cultural role of music, saying music creates a sense of communal pride-that your community, your ancestors made this remarkable creation. But is also a way of creating dialogue, and expanding your definition of community. People can be divided about a lot of things, but music can help create an inclusive atmosphere focused on what we have in common rather than what divides us.
A vibrant fusion of Arabic music and jazz, Nashaz is at times mysterious, at times racing, always fresh and adventurous. Highly recommended. —Midwest Book Review (midwestbookreview.com)
Sounds unlike anything else. . . as listenable as it is engaging. Strong melodies that are both memorable and easy to hum along to . . . will leave the listener wanting more. Highly Recommended. —Dave Sumner, Bird Is the Worm blog (birdistheworm.com)
Wild, engaging stuff that simply clicks . . . a must —Midwest Record
Nashaz has taken up the gauntlet and run with it. Lyrical and poetic . . . there is an authenticity of this music that can only come with an intimate experience of tradition and culture. An impressive accomplishment. —Dawoud Kringle, DooBeeDooBeeDoo Online Magazine (doobeedoobeedoo.info)
The music is fascinating . . . excellent throughout. —Rick Anderson, CD Hotlist (cdhotlist.com)
An impressive debut —Chris Heim, Global Village KMUW
My new go-to disc . . . It's got under my skin! —Alistair Johnston, Muzikifan blog (Muzikifan.com)