Born in Paris, raised in France and Lebanon, now based in New York City, Karim Douaidy is an eclectic guitarist, composer and producer. Watch his amazing performance on Beirut Jam Sessions:
Besides working on his solo projects, Douaidy has also composed for a lot of different movies and other media. He composed “Dawama” for the Volvo Ocean Race; the very catchy song could be best described as Arabic Electronica, take a listen here:
What kind of music do you compose? How would you describe your style?
I work part-time for a music production company, so two days a week I work for this company. I’m a staff composer so I do everything, from jazz to electronic music, to dubstep. I just worked on a Latin jazz piece today for them. As for my kind of music, whenever I have time to work on my things, it’s hard to describe and I don’t have a term to describe what I do. I’m interested in Middle Eastern Jazz. This is definitely something I want to start exploring more.
What is Middle Eastern Jazz? How is it different from regular jazz?
The essence of this kind of music is definitely jazz, so it usually involves traditional jazz instruments, whether it’s a piano or a bass, a guitar, maybe brass too. But it incorporates Middle Eastern influences, like Middle Eastern scales and flavors and colors. One great example is Dhafer Youssef, who is a Tunisian composer. He’s actually a Sufi, he plays oud and he has a beautiful voice. His music actually describes the kind of music I’d like to get into. Basically it’s like conventional jazz set-up with a Middle Eastern touch, whether it’s the instrument that you add to it, or the scales, maybe introducing some micro-tonal instruments. Like how Arabic instruments have a very different music system, where it’s based on the quarter tones and microtones, which don’t exist in Western music. So the smallest division in a Western instrument is the semi tone; in Arabic music, it goes even smaller, so it’s a quarter tone. There are more notes and more frequencies; whatever that’s considered here as out of tune or off-pitch note is actually very legit in Arabic music. Whenever you hear the quarter tones or microtones in an Arabic piece, they make the music distinctive. It’s what makes Arabic music and Middle Eastern music in general so special. Persian and far Eastern music also involve that.
Are the quarter tones and microtones usually performed on Middle Eastern instruments?
Yes. And you know with Western music scales, there are minor and major scales. In Arabic music, you have Makam, and it involves microtones so it’s a very different approach to music. And I’d like to incorporate this into my music. There are many bands and establish artists who actually do that.
When did you start playing the guitar?
I was really young; I started when I was 7.
Do you have any goals for your music in the future? Would you stay in the music production industry or would you pursue more of your original music?
Ideally, what I’d like to do is to write my own music. To be self-sufficient just writing my own music. It’s really hard to make a living just by being a performer.
Have you tried being a full-time performer?
No, I really want to start focusing on that. I come from a very different background, and music is fairly new to me. I worked in genetics research for the longest time before switching to music. I’ve only been doing music professionally for 3 years now. I have a master’s in Biotechnology and Genetics. I worked in Harvard Medical School for the longest time before switching to music. So it’s a long process; step by step, I’ll definitely get there. It’s definitely my intention.
You’ve been playing the guitar for a long time. Did you never think about pursuing music full-time before you went to Harvard?
Back in Lebanon, it was not even an option back then. Now things are changing; the industry is definitely developing, you have more platforms and they are more accessible to young musicians. When I left 10 years ago, I didn’t even consider music as a viable career. I’ve always produced music on the side, and then I worked on this movie soundtrack. The director is one of my best friends, and that was when I kind of realized I wanted to do music full-time.
Which movie is that?
It’s called Ba’Adana. And this is definitely something I’ve been working towards, especially through Beirut Jam Sessions. The founder, Anthony Semaan, is my manager and we’ve been talking about taking my music career to the next level. Beirut Jam Sessions only started three years ago and they’ve been doing wonders in Lebanon. They’ve been bringing people from abroad, as well as encouraging local acts.
So tell me more about your background, your story is very inspiring. When did you come to the U.S.?
I was born in Paris, and lived in Paris for 10 years. Moved to Lebanon when I was 10 with my family, and then went to middle school, high school and went to the American University of Beirut, where I got my Bachelor’s in Biology. And then I left and went to Boston to get my Master’s in Biotech and Pharmaceutical Sciences. Then I graduated and worked for a few years. I’ve always made music on the side and the transition happened naturally. I’ve always told my parents that one day I may go to them and announce that I want to quit my job and do music. I kind of lucked out too, because it worked well for me. I quit my science career and applied to NYU. I put together a pretty substantial portfolio with the music I produced for movies. I wasn’t really expecting to get accepted, but I did. And it’s been amazing; I learned a lot from a composition perspective and a technology perspective. My Master’s was in 3D Audio with a concentration in film scoring.
How did your parents react when you told them you quit your science job?
They were kind of expecting it… They were really cool and very supportive. I’m a pretty lucky guy.
Do you want to play with a band?
I’d like to produce my own music, which is probably just a solo act that involves looping. So probably come up with things on the fly while having some pre-recorded music. That’s something I really want to do, which is the one-man band approach. I’d love to play with other people as well. I actually play in a band now; it’s a progressive rock band. We play progressive rock metal.
Tell me a little bit about your song “Dawama.” I absolutely love it!
You just made my week! I love hearing those things. I composed the song in my bedroom. It was initially for the Volvo Ocean Race; they commissioned me to write the piece with some Middle Easter flavor. It all started in my head, and then in my bedroom and then I recorded a few things in Lebanon with friends, I got them to sing and stuff. It’s amazing that people miles away listen to my music. It really makes me happy.
I really like the beats in the song. They’re very catchy.
That was my intention. I wanted to do something very traditional in a way. The middle section was very traditional Arabic music, and then I incorporated those heavier beats for it to sound more electronic.
I think that’s why it sounds so different. Traditional Arabic music and electronic music fusion, I’ve never heard anything like that. It’s so great!
Great! I will do more things like that then.