Q & A with Merit Ariane from Jaljala

Who or what has been the greatest influence on your music?

The very first person to instill my love of music in me was my mother. She loves singing and we spent many mornings singing songs from a massive German book of folk and children’s songs. My first words were actually the lyrics of a folk song!

Apart from this, there has not been one single influence on my music – I’ve always taken inspiration from different kinds of music and musicians. However, I do remember when I first discovered Sevdah, the folk music from Bosnia (I lived in Bosnia for one year after university, working for War Child Amsterdam at the Pavarotti Centre in Mostar). Sevdah had a real influence on me, I was captured not only by the beautiful, often sad songs, but also by the fact that they are a real melting pot of cultures, a blend of Arabic, Turkish and European music. Being half German, half Egyptian, I loved hearing the different voices come through together and it inspired me to include all of who I am in my music.

Give the readers an idea of what you’ll be doing at The Forge.

We will be playing mainly traditional Arabic music – a variety of classical, popular and folk songs, paying homage to some of the giants in Arab music like Fairouz, Oum Kalsoum and Abdel Halim Hafez. There will be quite a mix of musicians at our concert. We are incredibly privileged to have Abdul Salam Kheir in our group, a true maestro of classical Arab song and one of a few of his kind left in the world; he will also sing some songs, accompanied by two other ‘veteran’ Arab musicians on percussion. Talented Balkan music specialist Meg Hamilton is playing the fiddle and I’m also very excited that, for the first time, Jaljala will be joined by jazz pianist Alcyona Mick, who will add a spice of jazz to our otherwise more traditional sound world.


Where do you see yourself/yourselves in 5 years time?

I am planning to be performing more of my own music, possibly exploring some theatrical aspects like movement and story telling in my performances. I will have hopefully finished a CD of original compositions, tour with a band with both Arab and Western musicians, and I’m also hoping to find a grant to continue my research into Middle Eastern Christian chants which I started in Lebanon a few months ago.

And I hope I will still be involved in exciting and completely unpredictable projects and collaborations!

What’s playing on your iPod at the moment?

I don’t actually listen much to my iPod – when I’m out I’m out and about, I like listening to the sounds of what is going on around me (except to noisy ambulances)! But when I’m at home, it’s an eclectic mix, from Bach to Stravinsky, Camille, Sting, Mohammed Abdul Wahab or Danish folk music. I like quirky music, music that isn’t afraid to push boundaries, music that deeply touches you. I love listening to great singers, including Asmahan (an Arabic singer from the early 20th Century), who has the most beautiful ornaments and feelings in her voice, Bobby Mc Ferrin, who just does the most incredibly creative things with his voice, and Edith Piaf, whose emotion in her voice just makes me melt.

Tell us about a typical day in your life/lives.

My typical days are quite different to each other! I work a lot with people, of all backgrounds and ages, which keeps life very interesting. I teach singing and lead workshops – at the moment I’m leading a project on Roma music and culture in primary schools in Iford with some fantastic musicians, and have also just finished teaching a course at the Royal College of Music for students who want to develop their creative and musical leadership skills. Other times, I’ll be travelling to do concerts, collaborations or research – the adventure of the unknown!

What do you do on your day off?

Going for long walks, catching up with friends going to the cinema and cooking

What and where is your secret gem in London?

It’s not very secret, but my favourite place in London is Hampstead Heath. It’s a real hideaway from the busy hustle and bustle. I especially love it at this time of year, with all the magic colours.

What are you most proud of?

Working with Woven Gold, a group of refugee musicians, and clients of the Helen Bamber Foundation. I’m proud to know them and to have the privilege to work with these extraordinary people.

And just finishing my first full length CD!

What’s the best thing about being a musician?

Meeting new people, seeing different places, collecting so many new experiences, the inexplicable bonds you build with other musicians and with the audience, and being able to have a lie in on a Monday!

What’s the worst thing about being a musician?

The unpredictability, getting ill and not being able to sing, and not really ever being able to switch off. 

If you weren’t a musician, what would you be?

I couldn’t really imagine a life without music!


Jaljala will be playing at The Forge on Saturday 24th November.

Doors 7.30pm

Tickets available 


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Tel:  020 7387 5959