Karama Coming Of Age

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It would be easier for me to act as a casual audience member to promote them. But that would be cheating, some sort of ‘insider trading’, since I am their number one fan. I knew Karama since the stage of conception. I might even have helped putting the plan together.
The founder of the band, the Moroccan-born oud virtuoso Soufian Saihi, is a close friend of mine. I met him when I was looking for oud lessons on Gumtree and came across his profile. I first took up the instrument wholeheartedly, and it didn’t take long before my enthusiasm started to fade away, as you would have expected. Meanwhile, Soufian introduced me to his fascinating world, and I got him entangled to my much boring surrounding.
Soufian used to share a top floor two-bed with an undetermined number of flatmates. At any given evening, an ever-changing cast of musicians from different ethnic origins and social backgrounds could invest the bachelor pad, others would simply ‘crash the party’ uninvited, the crowd would swell from two or three tenfold.
Next, the austere place turns into a backstage and a rehearsal mood prevails. A Brazilian percussionist would be trying an oriental beat, an English jazz double-bassist straining to keep in tune with the North African guembri, while an unconventional guitarist plucking in harmony with an academy laureate Japanese flute player… The cacophonous warm-up wold tidy itself up into an elevating output of sweet melodies and intricate rythms. With his oud as a lead instrument, Soufian proved a natural conductor able to foster a crossover from different genres.
What started as relaxed private perfromances gradually turned into serious gigs in some of London’s trendy pubs and live music venues. Karama (Arabic for dignity) soon started to hook the interest of the media and alternative music festivals’ organisers, catering for a multicutural fusion-loving public. A positively biaised audience but, alas, with no significant market power. Soufiance and his friends are familiar with the industry key facts, and so are the plethora of accomplished artists wandering around Covent Garden and Camden Town. But how accomodating and flexible should they be to integrate mainstream entertainment, without compromising their soul? That’s an existential question only they are allowed to answer.
Nevertheless, last time I saw the band members (some of them for the first time), I have noticed some ‘grown up’ features: intent on time-keeping, regular rehearsals, original production.. a professional attitude overall. The young Karama has matured up, with all the pros and cons.
Now I feel happy for Soufiane, Haruna, Demi, Riad and Elizabeth.. as well as those who left an those who will join in. They will eventally come out of their bohemian phase with its chronic shortage of money. It’s about time. Yet, when my bus runs along Old Kent Road, I cast a fond look at that unattractive block of flats. The reel of memories would unwind and I could see myself reluctantly rushing to catch the last train, leaving behind a cheerful company and a cast of performers worthy of a TV show.

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