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.