In the past couple of days Asmara has been rejoicing in the presence of Joan Minor and Suleiman Hakim who brought the international love of Jazz to the heart of Eritrea, Asmara. Right before their show on the evening of the 21st December 2017, I had the pleasure of talking to and knowing these sensational musicians, artists.
Asmara is excited to sway in the delight of jazz brought in by Joan, Suleiman and their band. And for the Asmarinos’ further savor, Saturday the 23rd in the evening, they will be joined by Eritrean musicians for a joint cabaret. Joan and Suleiman believe that “the blues is all right”. They are our guests today.
- Thank you for your time. Let’s start with a small introduction about yourself.
JOAN: Hello. My name is Joan Minor and I am a vocalist. I love music, it is my passion, and I am delighted to be here in Asmara.
SULEIMAN: I am Suleiman Hakim. I am a saxophonist, percussionist, vocalist, musician… artist. I am thrilled to death to be in Eritrea. This is something we have been planning for a number of years.
- How many years exactly would that be?
SULEIMAN: Can’t say specifically, but I have known Joan for so many years and we have jammed on different occasions, working on projects, which we think of together over the years.
JOAN: We have different bands; we lead different bands. We work with different people. We started talking about this specific project over a year and half ago. We both love and think that touring around the world is a great way of interacting with people. Music has that power of connecting people even when you don’t speak the same language.
- Tell me a bit about your musical journey, please. When did you start and how did you get to the level you are now.
JOAN: Well, it’s hard to say because I started getting interested in music when I first remember. I have been singing for as long as I can remember. I had formal training not only in vocals but also in piano and violin. So I have been in the field for over thirty years.
SULEIMAN: I started playing music very young in Los Angeles, California. I had deep love for music, so I moved to San Francisco, studied part time in the San Francisco conservatory. I then dropped out because I wanted to study some of the musical giants of America. I then moved to the east coast and worked around New York and Jersey. Then, one of my professors, Professor Max Roach, invited me to join him for tour around Europe. Consequently, I discovered Paris. What I thought it was going to be a one year tour it ended up being a life style. From there on I have been touring around the world. Going around the world and meeting new people while sharing the love for music became my life style.
- How was it to actually breakout as young artists?
JOAN: I think when you’re young you’re fearless so everything seems to be easy. The problem comes when you enter the world of music older. Your consciousness doesn’t give much space to passion. You start to think of many ‘what if’s and your uncertainty stops you from doing your hundred percent. That was not the case for me. Luckily, I started music when I was very young. And so music was my life before it became my profession. What jazz has given me was strength to throw off those shackles and perform freely. And because as an artist you always look forward to expanding your inspirations you never think you have done enough. Which is why artists have artists that they like. Sort of a favorite someone that you know you can learn so much from. It is a fun thing. Music is a life thing.
SULEIMAN: When I was young and had just started performing in big crowds, playing jazz enabled me to be in control of my mind and my destiny.
- So you guys are friends?
JOAN: We are friends and colleagues. We met in Paris. Paris is interesting for this specific fact: artists of the same interest can bump into each other and start sharing ideas and working together. I had to learn early on that in jazz and music in general there is a beginning but no ending. You have to understand and accept the fact that an artist is a student. Through the years, and years after, you come across many questions, in a constructive way.
- How would you introduce the American jazz culture to people from here that don’t have a deep knowledge about jazz?
SULEIMAN: Jazz is one of different musical styles in America. If you look at a tree with different branches, you have blues, you have funk, you have neo-classic, you have African American gospels and just so many more styles that were home grown in America by Africans who came from different cultures and when combined developed this new style called jazz. Jazz is a fusion of different cultures. Jazz originally reflected the violence against humanity.
JOAN: Jazz is vast. You can think of the work songs, the Collin Responses and more. Some of the songs were actually messages telling people where to meet and escape. And the history of this style of music is deep and rich. Which is why they call it ‘Coming from a Black Experience’. It is indeed an amalgam of shared cultures, history and visions.
- So what does it mean to you?
SULEIMAN: It means so much to me. Jazz allowed us to speak our most deepest feelings without being beaten down. Your economic situation could be low but as long as you can manisfet your creativity and thoughts you are free. Although jazz is now an international style, to many African Americans it meant freedom.
JOAN: In short; jazz is our history, it is our present and also where we may want to go tommorow. Musically, economically and emotionally. It is an abstract of freedom and creativity.
- You told me that you are on several projects that take you around the world. Let’s now talk about this specific project that got you to Eritrea.
SULEIMAN: Joan and I like to travel around the world and share our passion with people of different places. Now for over a year we have been talking and planning to come here.
- Does this project have a name? like ‘Joan and Sul to Eritrea’ or anything?
JOAN: (laughs) No it doesn’t. It is just a project.
SULEIMAN: In all honesty, we have been so busy that we couldn’t even think of a name. It is just ‘Joan, Suleiman and the band’ project. As the leaders and founders, this project is under our name and everyone collaborating in the band. We have Steven Mc Craven from America in drums, Martin Bareaur is Austrian and he is on bass and Michael Dravigny is french international and he is our pianist. We made this group for this particular tour to Eritrea. Infact, our drummer just came off tour and joined us soon after. All of us work for different groups. However, as we all have the same interest we put our hands together and worked on preparing music that our Eritrean audience would enjoy. All of the musical experiences and ideas combined bring out freshness when trying something new. We got the invitation from the American Embassy and here we are. Our first concert was a success and we’re enthusiastic for the coming ones.
- We don’t see many American artists coming to Eritrea. What would you tell them?
JOAN: You are missing out. Eritreans are a beautiful people, friendly, relaxed and warm.
SULEIMAN: You don’t know what you’re missing.
- Well, thank you so much Joan and Suleiman. Good luck on your show tonight!