Styrian accordion vs. Arabic short-necked lute

Soundbase Online 10th May 2003 | Text: SB

Well, these two really have a nerve! Without having ever met before, in March 2002 Hubert von Goisern and the Egyptian pop star Mohamed Mounir met in Assiut, an Upper Egyptian city described as a former centre of Fundamentalism, in order to appear together there in front of more than 15,000 people on the university campus. A cool twenty minutes remained for practising and a first rendezvous between the Styrian accordion and the Arabic short-necked lute, the "oud" - and: it really worked! In the meantime one is nearly accustomed to the fact that HvG rises to top form in the most worn down situations. Evidently he needs the thrill from time to time. It seems to be no different with Mounir, who sees himself as a mediator between the Orient and Occident. At the meeting organised by the Goethe Institute in the framework of the Cultural Days of the German-speaking Countries, the two noticed that they also harmonise well on a personal level as well as musically, and after a further meeting in Cairo, agreed to a joint tour through Austria and Germany. Tour start: 9th June.

In March, I met them both at a press conference in the Chelsea Hotel in Cologne.

Hubert von Goisern

What repertoire can we expect on the tour?

Fifteen concerts are planned and before we start we have two days to practise at my house. Roughly said, we will divide the thing into three parts. Mohamed and his band play a third, my band and I will play a third and we will organise the rest together.

Have you not practised together yet?

In Assiut we had twenty minutes before the appearance to practise and something quite good came out. When we now have two days, it could actually go really well.

Is it chance that the two of you understand each other so well and have similar interests, or was that simply a natural idea from the Goethe Institute to bring you together in Assiut because you obviously had a lot in common?

It was a stroke of luck, but each stroke of luck also needs a basis on which one can build. It is not all chance. You meet many people in the course of a day. Sometimes it clicks and works more or less, whether in the musical area or in relationships. It is a great chance to be able to work together.

In which language do you communicate with each other?


Mohamed speaks broken English. Is that enough for communication?

He is a bit shy in interviews. So he does not like to speak English so much. I know that myself too, you worry about misunderstanding with unknown people. A mutual confidence prevails between us and then it works with communication. And when there are problems from time to time, there is always someone there who can explain what is really meant.

Are there situations or areas in which you do not harmonise together so well, where you felt that cultural difference and perhaps had to "get it all together" for the first time. There were some communications problems between you and the Tibetans with whom you recorded the Inexil CD. Is that also the case with you and Mohamed?

I have become more mature in the meantime and a bit more relaxed. I think that the differences are actually the first exciting things. You are always pushing at your own boundaries and not at the boundaries which someone else puts out for you. The older you becomes, the more conscious you are that they are your own boundaries.

For the coming tour, does the fun in the music stand in the foreground for you, or the international understanding which the Goethe Institute had in mind when it prompted the contact and co-operation between you both?

The idea is to make music together. That is much more fun than making music alone. After it worked so well in Assiut, we agreed to meet in Cairo and then the idea arose, if we don't have a joint project now, then we will probably barely see each other again. And it is my wish to spend time with Mohamed, to get to known him better. I can manage that in what we are doing together.

To what extent do you mutually influence each other, or learn from each other?

Mohamed is a much gentler creature than I am. That is exemplary to me. Sometimes I seem like a volcano next to him. I also think that that the calmness with which he deals with interview situations is really great. When someone asks me a stupid question, then I give a stupid answer.

After the appearance with Mohamed in Assiut, you said that seed had been sown. Does your optimism regarding cultural exchange and international understanding sometimes leave you when you currently follow the Iraq war in the news?

No, not for my personal life. I know that this situation makes it more difficult, but at the same time, it is also a source of strength, I think. I do not let myself get dragged into this whirlpool.

Mohamed Mounir

When Mohamed - delayed due to stomachache - came, I worked flat out to greet him in Egyptian Arabic - I got myself a crib ready - unfortunately he did not understand me, I had probably got hold of the wrong Arabic. It should mean "pleased to meet you". I then tried with "Good morning. My name is Sandra." He understood that, hurray!

Is there anything that astounds or confuses you about the European culture or the Europeans' habits?

Since 1987 I have been coming to Europe often. So it is very familiar to me. I have very many friends here and there I do not feel like a stranger.

What went through your head with Hubert first yodel your experienced?

The yodel is not completely strange to me because I do something very similar in Nubian music (a small acoustic demonstration follows which I cannot reproduce here in written form).

Then the audience was probably not so amazed about Hubert's music?

The people were fascinated and very happy to see and hear something completely new which they did not know before. The same could happen in Cairo if Hubert were to appear there.

Some of your current songs have very religious lyrics, which was not the case earlier - before 11th September. Are you a religious person?

I have always taken from what is currently happening as a source for my lyrics, in Egypt for example because I live there. I thought the new song Madad (Peace, Love, Equality for everyone) was very good in this time, because it fits the situation right now. I am not very religious.

What do you wish for the coming tour?

I would be very pleased if the people accept what we will present well and that it goes down well, that the people have fun listening to us.

No missionary thoughts behind it; simply fun in music?

I am very flattered when I am called a messenger. I have messages too, but not deliberately. The people have a reason for calling me a messenger and I must make sure I do not disappoint these people.

What plans do you have for after the tour?

I will finish my album next month. It is called Red Lipstick.

Three CDs of yours will be released by virgin at the beginning of June. What will that be exactly?

It will be beautiful music. You will like it.

Many thanks for the interview, a speedy recovery for your stomach and have fun on the tour.

Dialogue between cultures

Neues Volksblatt 30th April 2003

Hubert von Goisern goes on Austrian tour with Arabic pop star

Last year Hubert von Goisern appeared in the Nile Theatre in Assiut (Egypt) with the Arabic pop star Mohamed Mounir, now right after the Iraq war, the important cultural dialogue project is finding its continuation: Mounir is accompanying Goisern on his Austrian tour, which also leads him to his homeland Bad Goisern on 21st June.

Hubert von Goisern is certainly "really not happy" about the "political colour", which the joint appearances have received in the face of the 11th September and the Iraq war, as he expresses in the interview. He feels "rather in a hundred year old tradition of dialogue between Europe and the Arabic area" than under the spell of current events: "There have always been people in this dialogue who defied the adverse attendant circumstance more than others. I believe that the artist especially stands at the front."

Nevertheless: "I am certain that we can make a sign against inhibition and mistrust when the people see: 'those people down there play the violin just as we do'," thinks HvG about the collaboration with Mounir - famous in the Arabic area -, who is known "as "the man of peace" there". "Each one brings the others a piece of their culture," ideally the joint appearance should "not just mix the cultures on stage, but also in the audience.

Although the cultural dialogue can also have its initial difficulties: "In Assiut I began with a yodel and a number in three/four time. Neither one nor the other is a normal mode of expression there," smiles Goisern. "Nubian music like Mounir's only has even metres. But they first told me that after the appearance." The audience's reaction was the opposite, barely clapping between the songs, which at first confused Goisern.

Incidentally, he and Mounir will play a third of the concert each alone, they are providing the last third together. Goisern wishes the audience to be "enriched and happy" afterwards.

On 5th May, Goisern's new DVDs Grenzenlos and Iwasig are released, in September the CD Trad 2 with folk songs and yodel melodies.

Because true world music is without frontiers

Heilbronner Stimme 25th April 2003

In the face of the attacks of 11th September and the Iraq war, your tour with Mohamed Mounir has attained a sad relevance. Have you worked together for a long time?

We became acquainted in March last year. At that time I was asked by the Goethe Institute whether I would collaborate with a project with an Egyptian musician. The first joint concert then took place in March 2002 in Assiut, Upper Egypt. I had actually never intensively worked with Egyptian music. But Mounir is Nubian, and the Nubian music is his foundation and that is something quite different.

More African than Arabian?

More in the direction of Africa. Nubia is partly in Upper Egypt, partly in the Sudan. The music has no typical Arabian flourish and is rhythm orientated.

What comprises the Euro-Arabic dialogue for you?

The Arabic area was never so isolated as now. The cultural exchange between Europe and the Arabic world has a long history. We count in Arabic numbers, the guitar comes from the Arabic area - we have picked up a great many Arabic cultures which we are barely aware of today. What Mounir and I are doing is really nothing other than a continuation of the cultural exchange.

How does Mohamed Mounir go down with his compatriots when he tries to build bridges? How do the Fundamentalists react?

According to him he has not been exposed to any hostility. Mind you he still had two female singers in his troupe last March. They cannot take part in this rather modern music any more because the pressure from the Fundamentalists is too great. At certain jobs at which the group plays rather traditional music, the singers have to appear veiled.

How is Mounir preparing for your music for the tour?

He has CDs of mine and is listening to them. It has come to my ears that he yodels along with my pieces - when nobody is listening to him. But it does not matter that he yodels, but rather that he brings his own musical expression. We have two days to practise before the beginning of the tour. We must be successful in bringing out common ground. This process is not closed with practise. When you are travelling for two weeks, it grows further.

Do you talk about world politics?

It is so omnipresent, it is a subject at all interviews - if not even the only subject. Mohamed is just as affected as we all are. The majority of people are against this war. Only a small percentage think what they are doing is necessary.

What common ground do you have apart from the connection with music?

Mohamed comes from the country. He does not represent the culture of the city, but a subculture, just as I do. Seen from Germany, I play Austrian music, but I do not represent what is played in the Musikantenstadl. It is similar with him.

Alpine musician of the world

Allgemeine Zeitung 23rd April 2003 | Text: Michael Jacobs | Photo: Archiv/wita

The Austrian Hubert von Goisern at the Zeltfestival
The declared opponent of war and world musician Hubert von Goisern appears at the seventh Mainz Zeltfestival

Hubert von GoisernThe Austrian musician Hubert von Goisern coined the term "new folk music" with thoughtful lyrics and alpine folk rock. After the split of the Alpinkatzen, he immersed himself in the music of the world. On 30th June Hubert von Goisern is appearing together with Mohamed Mounir at the seventh Mainz Zeltfestival.

As an alpine world musician who has recently travelled Africa and now goes on a German tour with the Egyptian pop star Mohamed Mounir, you must not have liked the Iraq war.

The great majority of people were against this war. I think that more problems will arise from it than will be solved. War is a barbaric way of resolving conflict. One says that only uncivilised societies do it, but we belong to that ourselves. But it is also unfortunate that countries like the USA or Great Britain are now demonised as idiots.

You put your money on the dialogue of cultures?

I find it exciting to work together with people from other cultures. The differences in mentality also show me my own boundaries. You have to find a common way, a common groove, then you notice how you tick yourself. I have learned tolerance through the exchange with other cultures.

Where are the mentality differences for example with the people in Africa?

We in the West are the absolute "checkers". We plan more, get up earlier, are more punctual... That provides us with economic and military advantages. But it is questionable whether that is really an advantage. We have lost the calmness to accept things as they are. I found the first East Germans who went on holiday in Austria after the collapse of the Communist system to be very refreshing, curious, open.

Have you been to Mainz before?

I have not played before in Mainz, but I like the Rhineland - Cologne, Frankfurt too.

Your musical partner Mohamed Mounir is known for his occasionally provocative lyrics. What is he like as a person?

He is a very shy, warm-hearted person. There is just music, music, music for him. It surprised him how much people in Germany are interested in his political opinion.

Which pieces will you play in Mainz?

The exact programme is not firm yet. Mohamed begins, then I come, then we will play a part together. Mounir is bringing his twelve member band with him; I have seven musicians with me.

You sing exclusively in Austrian dialect. Does it not appeal to you to record a song in English sometime?

I don't see any need for it. My audience first and foremost speaks German. It would perhaps be exciting to sing one time in High German.

Hubert von Goisern: musical boundless first link

Aachener Zeitung 2nd April 2003 | Text: Susanne Schramm

Cologne. Both make music, both come from the country, both draw from tradition. In addition to this, the Upper Austrian Hubert von Goisern (50) and the Nubian Mohamed Mounir (48) are about the same age. But with that the similarities end. Or do they? In an interview in Cologne with the AZ, Hubert von Goisern alas Hubert Achleitner explained why he is going on tour through Austria and Germany from 16th June with Mounir, who is a superstar in his homeland, but still nearly unknown here.

The two of them got to know each other last year in March in the Egyptian city of Assiut, the city the assassins who planted the bombs in Luxor came from. On invitation from the Goethe Institute, von Goisern could combine his two favourite occupations: travelling and making music.

In Assiut, he played together with Mounir in front of 15,000 people, mostly students. The security precautions were strong, everything was cordoned off and under surveillance. It was the first concert that was able to take place for a long time in Assiut. Von Goisern knew neither that Mounir was considered as one of the most well-known musicians in the Arabic area, nor his music. "I did not think anything about it, but became increasingly more nervous."

An hour before the appearance, they became acquainted. Neither spoke the language of the other, even body language is different. Fans can see exactly how it happened from the 5th May on a DVD (Lawine/BMG). Besides the concert film Iwasig, there is the two hour journey film Grenzenlos. The stay in Egypt and the subsequent tour which von Goisern and his band led to the Cape Verde Islands, into Senegal and to Burkina Faso is documented.

In Assiut the feeling of "he is a superstar and I am a foreign body" quickly disappeared. Von Goisern and Mounir musically lie on a wavelength, they play "not one after the other and not side by side, but with one another".

The chemistry also worked personally. "Mohamed is a very warm person with a very special magic in his voice. We both have joy in life and in playing music and the wish and the knowledge that it is a world in which we live and that we belong to the majority who want peace, equality and freedom."

So the plan matured to invite the new friend to Germany, in order to appear there together. "I hope that I can give back the openness and joy which I experienced in Egypt."

At the beginning of June, Virgin will release three CDs from Mounir, in order to make the music, which was criticised by Arabic Fundamentalists as being not religious enough and was partly boycotted, popular here too. "We are both devout people", says von Goisern of himself and Mounir, "but we do not go to the official church".

He himself had his first experience with an Islamic country in Egypt "and I was ashamed that at the beginning I was a bit worried about going through the Cairo Old Town alone." In order to experience there "that the people there have a much lower potential for aggression than us."

Mounir and von Goisern found each other on the other side of prejudice and condemnation. The Iraq war, says von Goisern, naturally dampens the anticipation of the tour, "but there is also strength to not let oneself be dragged into it." However every now and then it happens indirectly. When Mohamed Mounir arrives on 16th June in Munich with twelve musicians, in order to practise for two days in von Goisern's house, the background singers who were on the stage in Assiut will be missing: "They had to stop singing and are now wearing a veil instead."

Alpine Africa

Stuttgarter Zeitung 11th April 2003

Hubert von Goisern on world music, gentleness and Islam

Hubert von GoisernHubert von Goisern is the star of new folk music. In the last year he travelled around Africa with his accordion, on the 26th June he is now coming to Stuttgart with the Egyptian pop star Mohamed Mounir. In conversation with Michael Werner, the founder of the Alpinkatzen pleaded for a dialogue with Islam.

You travel around the world making music. Are you a happy person?

Yes, mostly. Because I live by the principle: I do what I thirst for.

Evidently you have thirsted to play at a Senegalese village festival with a accordion, which is only found in the Salzkammergut. The native women danced along enthusiastically. What did you think?

When you travel in another country in which another language is spoken, there are communication problems. You can compensate for that by staying a long time. When you do not have this time, then you must be able to speak the language or present something with which you can get to know the people. Music is a great help. People communicate, who previously had nothing to do with each other, and become a homogenous group on one rammed village floor.

You sang "I wollt, i war a wengerl mehr katholisch" to the people in Burkina Faso in Bad Goisern dialect. They did not understand that...

They would not have understood it if I had sung it in High German either.

Doesn't the lack of understanding interfere with the communication?

Music is a language. A sung text is another language again. I do not think about whether someone can understand it or not. What is important is that I mean what I sing. Sometimes I look at Italian and French operas and I think it is also nice not to understand what is sung. It's all the same to me whether I am understood or not, but it is not necessarily essential that I understand it.

You yodelled to the Senegalese on the radio and you are bringing Mohamed Mounir to Germany. What is behind this internationalisation of the regions?

My lust for adventure, my curiosity is behind it. You do not know what to expect, situations with uncertain results appeal to me. What drives me is also this chauvinism in the Austrian alpine music culture - it gets on my nerves. Its other side, mind you, this unbelievable timidity also always resonates. This: we are nothing opposite the global players. That is not right at all!

Do you see yourself as a musical ambassador?

I think that I am a contact person who brings something in. It also makes me a little awkward for the people when I come home and no longer talk quite like them. If I can no longer agree with them all the time... But really I live my life. I don't want to preach to anyone.

Not since Paul Simon's Graceland have musical projects which work with folklore from the Third World countries been reproached for exploitation again and again.

If someone wants to criticise, then they can criticise. If I take something to Africa, they can say: we are forcing something on somebody. When we record something, the blues for example, which comes to us with its African elements via America, then nobody has the idea that now the southern countries are being exploited. That is stupid. Music belongs to everybody. At the beginning of my career, there was the criticism that I was also taking the songs away from the rural population, who already had nothing left. So (performing a windscreen wiper movement with his arm in front of his face) you should laugh about it.

In your song Afrika, you sing: "Wie viel leben auf dera Welt ganz ohne Geld / und wie viel haben so viel, dass gar nit wissen wohin." Then you confess that you can forget this fact playing music. Is that a permanent solution?

It works for me. When I play music, I come into my centre, then I feel good. It makes me open, receptive and soft. You could, in times as we are now experiencing, have this reflex: it is not paying off any more, the world is terrible. But the terrible things exist every day.

One could reproach you that nothing has changed with your appearances in Africa. The village remains a poor village, you remain a pop star...

No, because I have the feeling that we had a great day there in the village. We have the chance to take in each culture in this world via CDs, via the television. The people there do not have this chance. And I have presented them with a piece of my world and at the end of this tour, had 35,000 Euros fewer in my account, simply because I wanted to do this tour. Although it was exhausting, it was a wonderful adventure, not just for the travelling party with whom I was travelling, but also for the people we met. Something like a solidarity was lived there, a solidarity about which one still always talks.

Currently the pictures of outraged crowds from Cairo are on TV in German living rooms. But you are bringing the Egyptian popstar Mohamed Mounir with you on tour. Will the dialogue be more difficult due to the war in Iraq?

The circumstances have made the dialogue more exciting and I think that the West's depiction of a "cultural battle" is simply stupid. Before I played in Egypt, I also thought there was an unbelievable potential for aggression in the Arabic area. But that is complete nonsense. I think the Egyptians are much less aggressive than us. For example, driving in Cairo is a horror, a pushing and shoving and a confusion. There are traffic lights, but everyone ignores them. But it never happens that someone grumbles, clenches their fist or gives the V sign or gets at all violent. It happens daily with us. The potential for aggression in Germany and Austria is much, much higher than I experienced down there.

How could that be?

I attribute the fact that the Egyptians are gentle to Islam. I cannot subscribe to the statement that it is a religion that makes people aggressive. And we also see with the current situation which has affected the West that Bush refers to the Bible and Tony Blair is also somehow allegedly a very devout person. So you cannot claim that our religion would be better.

One could hold out that Bush and Blair would have trouble in finding Christian suicide assassins if they wanted to. Islamic fanatics, however, succeed with promises for paradise.

I see no difference at all between a suicide assassin and a soldier who goes into the country and knows with considerable certainty that he will lose his life if he throws himself into battle right at the front. There you also need someone who has the potential to sacrifice their life. Everyone who jumps into the hostile ditch at the first moment is basically a suicide. Well, he has a theoretical chance, but when I listen to interviews where mothers and wives of fallen GIs think it is right that their husband has died - there is no difference. Our families also believe that they die for justice, peace and whatever.

Back to traffic accidents in Cairo, Vienna and Stuttgart. Where do you think our aggression comes from?

It must somehow be connected with the thoughts of possession. The other thing is: The more regulation there is, the more constricted the people become, and they become all the more intolerant when someone disregards these regulations. In these countries, there are far fewer regulations. Everything happens chaotically. You become more tolerant. But when you are forced in yourself - you have to be in the office at 8 o'clock, you must get the train in three minutes...

In three minutes?

We are on it at 16.01 (grabs his rucksack, shakes the hand of his interview partner and disappears).

Rhythm leads everyone together

Blanko Musik February 2003 | Photo: © Alex Schütz

Culture as a two way street:
why Hubert von Goisern and the Egyptian pop star Mohamed Mounir are going on tour together

A lot is said about the dialogue of cultures. Nevertheless, one does not lose the feeling that some people do their own thing and clichés boom. Or is it not so bad with the thought of one world?

"That must probably be a mistake," though Hubert von Goisern, when last year the Goethe Institute asked him whether he wanted to do something with Egyptian musicians. It was no mistake. There is still the cultural dialogue and whether someone comes from Austria or Germany plays no role. Because HvG was tinkering away at a journey to Africa with his band anyway, it was rather convenient. Making journeys and music interests him. And who knows what comes out of it...

What came out was what not many would have expected. The celebrated Arabic pop star Mohamed Mounir and the Austrian world musician did not just give one joint concert in Upper Egyptian Assiut, a former fundamentalist stronghold. A friendship arose, which went over and above the musical and will to lead HvG to Cairo again - and will lead Mohamed Mounir to Europe this year. But in turn.

It is three hours before the start of the concert, as on 13th March 2002 the Austrian world musician and the Nubian pop star meet in an Assiut hotel room. And one would probably be lying if one said that they had understand each other perfectly from the first moment. One spoke no Arabic, the other only moderate English. Not the best conditions for a conversation. Then the clock was still breathing down their necks: in 180 minutes they were to go on stage.

And suddenly he beamed

Somewhat tense and a little timidly, the two begin to improvise with their music. Ten minutes have not gone by and Mohamed Mounir's and Hubert von Goisern's faces relax: their very different music finds common ground with rhythm, suddenly one beams all over his face as he sees what sounds you can make with a Styrian accordion. And the other is inspired how the whole thing harmonises with the oud, the Arabic short-necked lute.

Mohammed Mounir and Hubert von GoisernAnd then the concert. Already in the afternoon thousands of students and young people are crowding into the campus of the university of Assiut, in order to later command the best place in the enormous square. The stewards and police try to restrict the more than 17,000 people in their euphoria, but again and again cordons and barriers are broken through. Despite everything: it remains peaceful and as Hubert von Goisern steps onto the stage, the audience cheers. They are curious about the person, whom they quickly name "the man with the saffron trousers". However, it confuses the Austrian that the people barely clap after a song. Later, during Mohamed Mounir's appearance, he then notices that that is probably normal. Enthusiasm is not articulated here in the form of applause. As he is fetched onto the stage again by the native pop star during Mohamed Mounir's appearance, the people shriek and cheer. There it is again: the rhythm, the singing, the movement - it knows no bounds. After the concert HvG and his musicians have to shake hundreds of hands, give autographs and are showered with questions and compliments. Has one already experienced that in Europe, that the people are so curious and eager to learn after a concert?

But there is still a little more than the fascination and the interest for foreign, unfamiliar music. After three joint song at the concert and after a long evening at Mohamed Mounir's house, the two discover that "they must simply do something together". Mounir is not only considered as a pop star in Egypt, with his lyrics referring without exception to society and politics, he is considered by many in his homeland as a mouthpiece. The musician from Nubia sees himself as a mediator between the Orient and Occident. Both musicians see the fact that the Euro-Arabic dialogue is especially important in these times as a self-evident truth - also because since the attacks on 11th September, the world is littered with clichés. And perhaps the fruits of these dialogues can be offered a still much larger audience.

Now, a year after their first meeting, the cultural meeting in Europe will be put into action. As Mounir used his popularity in Egypt to present HvG, Hubert von Goisern will use his fame to offer the Arabic star a forum in Germany and Austria.

A giving and taking

But that is naturally not all, because collaboration means more than standing together on the same stage. In the meantime, the two musicians have rehearsed various songs which they will play together on their tour. With the help of the internet, for months they have been sending sound files here and there, exchanging, working on new songs. If everything goes as they currently imagine, they will release a single together.

Perhaps then a few people will see again that cultural dialogue is not just a occupation for aesthetes, but a central aspect of international relationships - and indeed not just as embellished details which accompany the foreign policy. As the former Federal President, Theodor Heuss, once said of cultural politics: they should be a peaceful giving and taking. No one-sided German culture export, no German leading culture for abroad, but a living exchange of experiences and ideas in a globalised world, in which not only the economy can be globalised.

The meeting of Mohamed Mounir and Hubert von Goisern has shown how little it actually needs for two such different cultures to come closer together.