Dimitrios Kambouris, Getty Images Move out of the way because Beyonce is playing…
- Posted on Mar 2nd 2010 12:15PM by David A. Cobb
Describe your sound in your own words.
1001 Nights Orchestra is Austin's longest running Middle Eastern music group...
How did your band form?
The current band is the latest incarnation of a concept that started in 1987 with a regular monthly event called Mahfel in a small Austin venue -- which no longer exists -- called Chicago House. At the time, it was the only local band performing music from Iran and the Middle East in Austin. The band has had many different variations since then but has always focused on folk and pop interpretations of Middle Eastern music. The repertoire now has gone beyond the Middle East to include modal music from Eastern Europe, the Balkans and the Caucuses.
What are your musical influences, and how do these play into the music you make?
We have many, many influences, mostly because of where each band member is from. For example, our clarinet player, Ken Maranian, who was born and raised in Boston, is an Armenian-American and so he grew up listening to his grandfather play the oud. Don Weeda and Anne Alexander perform with several other bands in town and are steeped in the Slavic, Balkan and Eastern European traditions. Our bass player friend, Mark Rubin, who sits in with us whenever he can, is a master of Jewish traditions, and I grew up in Iran and bring influences from both traditional folk and pop genres to the band.
How did you come up with your band name?
The name is derived from the famed story book of '1001 Nights,' also known in the Arab world as 'Arabian Nights.' These are stories that were told by a Persian slave woman called Scheherazade to the sultan in order for the sultan to spare her life. Every night, Scheherazade would leave the crucial ending of a story unfinished, so the sultan would ask for it the next night. Supposedly, these stories went on for 1,001 consecutive nights, until finally the sultan freed Scheherazade from slavery for her magnificent talent for storytelling. I liked the name for my project because the '1001 Nights' stories are knows through out the Middle East by Arabs, Persians, Turks and other groups. So, also is our repertoire shared between these groups.
What has been your proudest accomplishment as a group?
Definitely our proudest accomplishment was writing an original score for the live accompaniment of the 1924 silent classic, Thief of Bagdad, which was screened multiple times from 1999 to 2002 in Austin. I directed an orchestra of 10 with over a hundred instruments from vast regions represented in the fantasy film, incidentally based loosely on the stories from the "1001 Nights," the first truly large production of its kind in Hollywood. We got a "Best of Austin" award from Austin Chronicle for it and it generated really good reviews from Hollywood to Austin.
What are you looking forward to most at this year's SXSW?
Besides having a great show with a good hopping audience as we often do, I am hoping to go out and check out a number of cool bands coming to Austin. I usually create a "best-of" list in advance and hit the streets for four nights. For me, this is the best time to get creative ideas and be inspired musically, short of being in Europe or a big city like New York or San Francisco. In fact, because of the size of Austin, I think the experience is much more manageable than it would be if it were at a large mega-city.
How do you think your particular type of music will be received at SXSW? This is not the first time you have played SXSW, correct?
No. This is our tenth appearance at SXSW, so that should tell you something about the popularity of this music. We often have enthusiastic crowds who cheer us up at our venue.
Beatles or Stones?
I'd say we are more like Beatles in a lyrical sense because of all our love songs. But, when it comes to solo instrumental improvisations (which the Beatles lack), we are definitely rocking like the Stones.
How you feel about the craziness that descends upon Austin during SXSW?
I know there are a lot of skeptics, but I love it. It's spring break, so you experience a totally different Austin filled with new faces and new energy.
David A. Cobb is a contributor from Seed.com. Learn how you can contribute here.