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Q&A with musician Mardo El Noor

Mardo El Noor’s new album Baghdad Jazz Club is a collection of Iraqi classics given what the man himself might call a ‘groovy makeover’. Currently signed to Sony Music, Mardo, a German-born Kiwi who has spent time in Jordan and Iraq, says his musical life is a mere sideline. Not for much longer, surely

  • By Craig Hawes, Alpha magazine
  • Published: 13:46 October 1, 2012
  • alpha

  • Image Credit: Supplied picture
  • Baghdad Jazz club’s Mardo El Noor.

Describe the music on your new album in one sentence.

Simple, straight to the point and groovy.

Your album is a collection of jazz versions of Iraqi classics. Do you feel any kind of urge to show the world the cultural side of Iraq – one far removed from the Iraq people see on the news?

Well I haven’t been to Iraq since 1990 and I was a kid at that time. I’m more interested in showing people different ways and approaches to jazz music.

How strong is jazz as a musical genre in the Middle East?

I’m not really that close to what’s happening there, but from what I remember when I was a kid, there used to be a very strong jazz influence on the Lebanese music scene. Going on what I’ve heard from the record company and my representative there, there’s is a huge revival, particularly in Dubai, and a growing awareness of it.

Have you played in the Middle East much?

Not at all. Last time I was in Dubai was in 1999 when I played with a Latin jazz band and the last time I was in the Middle East was when I lived in Jordan in 2003.

Did you grow up listening to jazz? How did your love for it come about?

I started listening to rock and metal back in the Nineties, and then I started chilling out a little bit with downtempo house and that sort of thing. I realised that whenever there was any sort of jazz influence in music I gravitated more towards it. And from acid jazz or electronic jazz I leant more towards traditional jazz. So it all started with my interest in electronica, then electronic jazz, to jazz itself. I was interested in people who reinterpret jazz music. From there I’d explore the original stuff.

You’ve dabbled in dentistry, graphic design, music… are you going to settle on one thing now or are you going to get restless again soon and start learning to be a fashion designer, or an astronaut?

Well, I graduated from dentistry but never actually worked as a dentist. And I don’t really call myself a musician. I’m a serious musician hobbyist. My bread and butter is basically the visual arts. I’m an art director by trade and I also do fashion photography and film-making. Music is only a very serious hobby for me, so I wouldn’t call myself a musician really.

Can you tell us about your look? It’s brilliantly eccentric.

The way I see it, we’re all walking, moving billboards. And there’s no better way to express yourself than dressing the way you want and doing something interesting and special with yourself. The easiest way to tell the world how you feel or how you see the world is by the way you dress. I have a long love affair with fashion and I thought I’d better start with myself.

When are you coming to play in Dubai? We want to see you play. Perhaps at the Dubai Jazz Festival?

I’d love to. The intention is there and the passion is there. I love playing live in front of an audience, so once the people over there decide it’s time for me to come and invite me, I’ll come. I wouldn’t give it a second thought.

Five facts

If I wasn’t doing this I’d be an art director

A person who’s had a big influence on my life is Thom Yorke from Radiohead

A fictional character after my own heart Arthur Dent from The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy. He knows absolutely nothing, yet sometimes comes across as the wisest man in the universe

A word or expression that I use a lot basically

Stuff that I always travel with a bottle of water

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