Samer Rashed & Surge: Tales of the Gypsy Jazz

Jessica Harris visists MAC to catch a multi-talented musician.

Part of Celebrating Sanctuary Birmingham’s Refugee Week Festival, this event was very much about celebration, with the audience at MAC’s outdoor arena more than happy to party along with the artists. Rich in musical genres, and warm in its presentation, the performance ranged from gypsy jazz, to folk, to contemporary, with some flamenco rhythms and Arabic tones thrown in for good measure.

Palestinian viola player and composer Samer Rashed moved smoothly between these genres. In the first set he was accompanied by a small ensemble (lead guitar, double bass, drums) from Surge Orchestra. Syncopated gypsy jazz sounds, full of resonant minor chords, were evocative of people and places elsewhere, whilst lively jigs got the audience up and dancing.

In the second set, Rashed was joined by a larger ensemble from Surge. Here, the focus was on orchestral interpretations of some of his work, many of which had a contemporary nuance. Whilst this gave an opportunity for some orchestra members to express their musical interests and skills, the more ethereal quality of some of these pieces sat slightly at odds with the mood established in the first set. The audience responded when the feel returned to dance music in the last number, ‘Latin Groove’.

The programme gave opportunities for some great solos from individuals, including the versatile Alex Polack on trumpet and the exuberant Xhosa Cole on saxophone. Founded in Birmingham by Sid Peacock, Surge Orchestra has played a significant role in enabling musicians from this area to develop and find a platform.

All in all, the vibe was good, the music compelling and the swallows were flying overhead. Not a bad way to spend an evening.

Surge Forward develops and promotes music from across all genres and cultures with an emphasis on collaboration and commissioning new work.

Celebrating Sanctuary Birmingham supports, develops and celebrates refugee and migrant artists, and uses community projects to engage with refugees and asylum seekers.

MAC is working in partnership with Celebrating Sanctuary to deliver a summer of live music events for all ages. Further information can be found here.