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Jordan in London: Pianist Tala Tutunji

Pianist Tala Tutunji is half Turkish and half Palestinian. She grew up in Jordan, studied in the UK, and now splits her time between Jordan and London. Her aspiration is to bring musicians together to transcend distance, borders and culture.

Tutunji runs Middle Eastern music courses at Chelsea Music Academy, which she founded with composer Bushra El-Turk. Her next London performance will be at Concert for Peace and Prosperity: Eastern Voices – Western Echoes at Cadogan Hall on 20 February.

We caught up with her for our World in London series.

How long have you been based in London?

I moved to the UK when I was 14 and went to Chetham’s School of Music in Manchester. I came to London from 2005 to 2009 and this is where I did my Masters at Trinity and also worked at the same time.

Right now I’m based between London and Jordan. For this year I’m based in Jordan but I’m always coming in and out of London. I can’t stay away! I travel to London whenever I have concerts, which is four to five times a year.

How would you describe your music?

I was classically trained, so there’s a strong Western classical influence. But because I’m Middle Eastern I try to do a fusion of both worlds and explore that.

I perform music which is by contemporary Arabic composers. It could include the piano and also Arabic instruments at the same time, such as the qanun, which has the same strength and body as a grand piano but is smaller.

We did an event for Opera Holland Park in October last year where we were asked to “Arabise” popular Western operas. It was a really interesting event.

We worked with the opera singers from Opera Holland Park and brought some Arabic musicians, and instruments like the nai, which is the Arabic version of the flute.

What can people expect to see and hear at the concert on 20 February?

I’m really excited to perform in this concert because there are many opera singers from Syria, Jordan, Jerusalem and Lebanon. We’ll be performing with the Orion orchestra, a Western orchestra. It will be an interesting blend of Western classical opera with Arabic music as well.

The music is based on a Lebanese folk tune but also has the Western classical influence. I’m going to speak a little bit in Arabic, trying to act as a vocalist at the same time. It will start Western and gradually get more Oriental towards the end of the concert.

With the Arab Spring it’s the perfect thing to do, to try and stretch the boundaries and explore all the different influences.

Do you have any other performances coming up in London?

We’re planning to do another event, Al Bassara (the fortune teller). We’ll probably work with more Eastern European influences on that. Hopefully that will be in summer 2012 in London, we’re not sure where yet.

Tell us about the Middle Eastern music courses at Chelsea Music Academy

We’re organising various events including Middle Eastern workshops for people. We’re working in London to spread the word on Middle Eastern musical influences.

Sometimes, prior to a concert, we do various workshops so people know more about the music when they come to a concert.

Where else would you go for a taste of Jordanian culture in London?

I know a lot of Lebanese and Palestinian places but I haven’t been to anywhere in London that has a Jordanian taste – yet!

There’s the Anglo Jordanian Society which does a lot of things. And there are the Maroush restaurants which are practically Jordanian. There are a lot of events organised through SOAS.

Now that I’m away from London for a while I really appreciate the eclectic feel of London. Sometimes when you leave you start to appreciate what it’s all about!

Do you have more Jordan in London recommendations? Let us know in the comments below.