Assyrian Music Interviews
By the Assyrian Voice Network

 

 

Assyrian Voice Interview with Assyrian singer Tony Gabriel
In Toronto, Canada: Oct. 2005:

The interview took place in the presence of Tony Gabriel, his keyboard
player Wael, and his new Bass player David.
 


Mr. Gabriel, let us start this interview by asking you about your career and how it all started:
-My start goes all the way back to 1988, in Kerkuk, Iraq, with a band called "Angels Band." In 1990, I moved to Baghdad, where I played with "WeBand"  in the popular Damour and Nineveh clubs.  Then, I settled with "AshurKings" band, until I left Iraq in the mid 90s.  Having settled in Holland for some time, my music career resumed there from 1997 to 1999.  Finally, I settled in Canada, where I have been living to this day.  Wael, my keyboard player has been playing since 1998, a relatively short time, given how professional he has become. 
 

Give us a list of all the music albums you have released in your career:
- 2002 Live (double CD)
  2004 Assyrian CD "Qalet Zorna"
  2005  Live Assyrian/Arabic CD
 

Why and how did people fall in love with your singing and become such a sensation in Toronto, and Canada in general?
-To begin with, I am a person that likes to update themselves with the newest and latest in the music world. I also care about my personality and stand on the stage.  And most important of all, I cater to my fans and listeners' needs and wants. Whatever is nice or good for them, I will song with no hesitation.  In other words, I have always cared about what my listeners want to hear. 


What is the role of your current band in getting you to where you are now?
-Me and my keyboard player "Wael" have been together for 5 straight years. We are so used to each other, to the point where I believe no one can go along without the other.  Being together for this long has brought consistency and stability to how we sing and play our music.


How do you see Assyrian music? is it going forward or backward?
-Honestly, it hasn't changed, it is still the same. Some of our people are hard to please, as they are not willing nor are they ready to modernize our music; simply take it to the next level.  Sometimes they look at me in a weird way when I come up with something new, that we have never tried before.   As long as we have this resistance to change and modernization (while still maintaining the rules of Assyrian music) our music won't go forward.

Speaking of modernization, where do you stand when it comes to modernizing our music?
-I am all for it! I have said enough before, and I think people should know how important it is to modernize our music. As a simple example; look at Egyptian music. Before, they had the pure Arabic beat and music.  While they still maintained that, they have incorporated new Eastern, and even Western beats in their music, which has made it even more appealing, especially to the youth.


What other ways do you keep yourself up to date with music?
-It is more than just the music we play or the songs we sing. It is also about the music equipment we use. We like to always keep ourselves (the band) updated with the latest technologies in keyboards, synthesizers , even speakers, to which Assyrian musicians pay little attention.   But again I come back to music. It is the band's duty to keep up with the latest. For example, in our band, when we see something we like, we practice it right away, and present it to our audience soon after that. 


Speaking of Speakers, how important is sound to you?
-We care a lot about delivering good music, and good music will only be complete when you have a good and professional sound system.  We always seek the latest in sound technology. As a matter of fact, we will soon be on of the first, if not the first, Assyrian bands to have wireless speakers. This new technology, relatively speaking, will help us adjust to any hall we play in, no matter what the settings or shape of the hall is. 


Let us move to another topic, one that concerns all musicians and singer: the issue of illegal copying of music. What is your take on this?
-We are against it, strongly against it.  If you like us and like Assyrian music to survive and flourish, then you buy our albums.  If you don't like us, we won't force it on you.  But if you are going to copy our albums, and not buy it, then you don't really like us nor do you care about Assyrian music.


Have you, or all singers collectively, ever thought about protecting the rights of Assyrian singers? something along the lines of "RIAA"?
-I think it would be a great idea to appoint a person, of high integrity and big knowledge in Assyrian music, who would ensure that our rights as singers and musicians are protected.  Every country has an association or a union that takes care of singers, musicians and their rights, so we should do the same. Of course, this is hard, since it requires funding and various standards.  But you never know, future may hold something positive for us. 


What are some of your future albums, that are in planning?
-A lot of people are asking about more "Live" albums, which is something I am working on and will be releasing soon.


Who are some of the musicians and poets that you work with?
-James Gabriel (my brother in Holland), Dawood Barkho, Zaya Al-Bazi, Ashur Rodana (who is a member of this website) and others. Speaking of music cooperation, I have to admit that I don't have a lot of people to work with and that is a significant problem. 


How well do you get along with other singers and musicians?
Very well. I have played with a lot of them. It is based on mutual respect and understanding, all of which eventually result in a better Assyrian music product.


What do you think of our Assyrian Dance?
-It it is the best dance, period.  I have sang in many other non-Assyrian weddings and parties and none of what I have seen there is as beautiful as our dance, be it Khiga, Bellati, Shaikhani etc.  Moreover, we have never changed our way of dance, because it is not easy.  We have had this dance for decades,  and most Assyrians just love it.


How do you get to the new generation?
-I know what the new generation wants and likes.  I play a variety of music and don't concentrate on just one type of music. This way, I will be able to entertain all music ages, especially the new generation and the youth, who can be very demanding at times, due to their increased awareness of Assyrian music and their knowledge of it.   Of course, that is a very good thing. 


What do you think of the new phenomenon of "Assyrian Rap?"
-I don't like it a bit. This is not my idea of modernization which I talked about earlier. 


Is the music scene shifting?  Does the US still have a monopoly, where most Assyrian singers come out from?
-Well, there is more Assyrians in other countries now, so naturally, some shift is taking place.  For example, in Australia, you have two of the best Assyrian singers of the new generation.  In other words, the increased Assyrian population in other countries is producing more talent and more listeners who will listen to that new talent. And last, let us not forget the amazing role of the internet in promoting music, especially new and young talents.


How much do our people know about music?
-Not a lot.  We need people who know more about music, so they can criticize us when we make mistakes, in albums and on stage.  Back in the days of my singing in Kerkuk and Baghdad, we used to have a lot of people with so much knowledge in Assyrian music.  They listened to nothing else other than Assyrian music, and that increased their knowledge.  Having people who know enough about music is very important, as it helps make us the singers and musicians more accountable in what we do and produce.  It is more like an auditor, without which accounting can't function well. 


Have you ever thought about going to a music school yourself?
-Yes I have, and in fact, I did attend an academy of arts and music back in Iraq. But of course, I wish I could go more, but the situation right now just doesn't permit.


Who are some of the good musicians out there right now?
-I know most of these by first name and country: 

Why do most bands break up after playing for a few years, or even months?
It is about loyalty, and lack of it.  It is also about performance and how much or well do the band members play together.  Band members have to understand each other like one family. Differences will occur at times, but they should not divide the band. 


When it comes to problems with our Assyrian music, do you think it is more about Lyrics or Music?
-
Although many say it is the Music, I beg to differ; it is all about the lyrics. We need more creative music writing.


Any final comments?
I would like to thank all my fans, for all of their support. Meanwhile, I would like to ask all Assyrians to keep supporting our Assyrian music.  We are as good as their support. Music is a big part of our rich culture, and if we lose it, we lose a big part of it.  We hope to continue working hard and bring you the best. 

Assyrian Voice would like to thank you and your band for taking this opportunity to speak with us. We wish you all the success in your career.