Classical musician Yo-Yo Ma has teamed up with two leading Arab indie music artists for his latest song.
The collaboration is in tune with the album's theme of feeling far from home, with the Chinese-American cellistworking with artists from five continents. Afro-pop star Angelique Kidjo from Benin features, as does Spanish jazz singer and trumpeter Andrea Motis and Mexican singer-songwriter Lila Downs.
Ha'oud (I Will Return) is an indication of the eclecticism in store, with Ma's searing cello blending with Mashrou' Leila's mid-tempo evocative beats and keyboards.
The group’s frontman, Hamed Sinno, is in fine form with a mournful set of Arabic vocals exploring the anguish and uncertainty that comes from dislocation.
Narcy enforces that message with a pugnacious Arab and English verse about the experiences of “generation lonely.”
Working with a maestro
Narcy, real name Yassin Alsalman, who lives in Montreal, Canada, recalls how work on the track began.
“Mashrou' Leila sent me a recorded demo version of the song when we were on tour in 2019, he tells The National.
“We were doing four or five dates across North America and that was really one of the last tours I was able to do before the pandemic.
"I recorded my verse in Los Angeles on our third date. The experience of recording this song was as disjointed as displacement is. We all did our parts separately.”
With the pandemic temporarily putting the project on ice, Narcy began hearing Ma’s contribution around January.
He describes hearing his flow alongside one of the world’s greatest cellists as a career highlight.
The fact it is an experience shared with close colleagues Mashrou’ Leila makes it even sweeter.
“It is one of the biggest honours for me to be able to work with someone like Yo-Yo," he says. "Not only that, but also my friends Mashrou' Leila who have become my musical family and artists that I stand side by side with, in the independent music game.
“For all of us to work with a legend like Yo-Yo is unprecedented.”
A global outlook
While Ma has yet to comment directly on the track, a statement on his website says the collaborative spirit of Notes For the Future is inspired by The Bach Project, a global initiative Ma launched to foster an understanding of global culture through the arts.
The project had Ma visiting Beirut in 2019 for a whirlwind series of performances held across a single day in August.
Dubbed The Day of Action, it began with a free concert held at Qasas Neighbourhood Park and featured 300 young regional musicians performing with Ma and his Silk Road Ensemble on the rooftops and streets.
Later that afternoon, Ma headed to Beit Beirut, a structure positioned in the city's "Green Line", a former urban border where some of the worst fighting of the Lebanese Civil War took place, for a concert featuring Lebanese singer Oumeima El Khalil, oudist Ziad El Ahmadie and Syrian clarinettist Kinan Azmeh.
The last performance was held in the evening at the American University of Beirut, where Ma played alongside a local choir before appearing as part of a panel session.