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Middle Eastern immigrants have substantially influenced Mexican food, language, and architecture – but what about the music?

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Meanwhile, back at the library…

Posted on July 3, 2019 by Amanda Ekery

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So excited to be sharing the process of my work here! Research is a big part of Árabe and I’ve been making regular visits to the Stephen A. Schwarzman Research Library in New York to learn about the migration patterns of Arabs to Mexico in the early 20th century and their influence.  (This library is also unbelievably gorgeous.)


Today’s visit included picking up a copy of Camila Pastor’s “The Mexican Mahjar: Transnational Maronites, Jews, and Arabs under the French Mandate” and articles by Dr. Leonora Acheson Dodge and Dr. Pastor.


I find that the more information on a topic I have, the deeper the well of ideas I can explore when composing. More updates to come soon!


My Dad’s family is from Syria and my Mom’s family is from Mexico. I was born in El Paso, Texas – a border town between the United States and Mexico, and grew up listening to Mariachi Bands and dancing the Dabke at family weddings.


Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about where I come from. El Paso has a sizable Arabic population amongst an overwhelming Hispanic majority. We have few music venues, fewer cultural institutions, and were unseen until Beto O’Rourke ran against Ted Cruz. (#betofortexas, even Beyoncé agrees)


Why did my Dad’s family decide to immigrate to El Paso via Mexico and how has that impacted who I am as a musician? My quest to satisfy my curiosity is fueling this research, which will lead to the performance and recording of a new original long-work composition for my 11-piece ensemble. This piece is to be shared with and dedicated to the community of El Paso over Thanksgiving weekend 2019.


During my preliminary research, I discovered Dr. Theresa Alfaro-Velcamp. She is the leading historian on Middle Eastern immigration to Mexico – ya, that’s a thing. In the early 20th century, immigrants from The Provinces of Greater Syria, current day Lebanon, Palestine, and Syria, fled the Ottoman Empire. Many Middle Easterners couldn’t immigrate to the United States because of an eye disease (trachoma) and instead went to northern Mexico, aka the backdoor to the United States. While they awaited treatment in Juarez, Chihuahua from Dr. Coffin, they became peddlers and worked to sell goods in rural areas, created roots, and unexpectedly left their mark.


Middle Eastern immigrants have substantially influenced Mexican food, language, and architecture – but what about the music? The al pastor taco comes from the Arab shawarma in which meat is cooked vertically on a spit; over 4,000 Spanish words are of Arab descent; and many churches in Guadalajara are constructed in the style of the Moorish Empire. But what about the music?


I am going to discover and research the musical influence Arab immigrants had in Northern Mexico through interviews with elders in my community and Dr. Alfaro Velcamp, working with musicologist/organologist Hannah Grantham, and composing and recording music for my 11-piece ensemble that is truly representative of who I am, informed by research and family tradition.


In news today, we are constantly seeing the villainization of people from Mexico and Syria. The El Paso region is the home where these two cultures live together and have been influencing each other for over 100 years. This project is allowing me to delve into these untold stories, unwrap the history of these populations, mold my personal compositional style in new ways, and share this music with a multicultural audience that has a unique and influential American immigration story.

Project Media

Keys With No Purpose
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Features: Amanda Ekery

Keys With No Purpose is my original album written as a reaction to the sexist culture women continue to face in jazz and beyond. This album is an excellent example of how I fuse research with composition. Lyrics are based on interviews I conducted with 4 young females in jazz, original research on female bandleaders and female experience in jazz education at 5 universities, and news articles such as the Boston Globe’s expose on Berklee Jazz Faculty. The album features my 11-piece band- https://amandaekery.bandcamp.com/album/keys-with-no-purpose

Some Short Songs
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Features: Amanda Ekery

Some Short Songs is my original album which explores the Lydian Chromatic Concept from a compositional lens. This album which can be heard in its entirety here (https://amandaekery.bandcamp.com/album/some-short-songs) showcases how I use melodic motives to inform improvisation and develop pieces.

Syrian Female Musicians: The Last Hundred Years
Features: Amanda Ekery

Throughout Syria’s turbulent history, female musicians have developed a voice through banat ishreh (communities of women who meet to sing, dance and socialize), refugee choirs, popular and folk music. Like many female musicians around the world, there are more opportunities for Syrian female artists now than one hundred years ago.

This paper focuses on how these opportunities were shaped and shows my dedication and thoroughness when creating and executing a project

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El Paso, Texas

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Last update on July 3, 2019

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