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Saudi quartet Garwasha to deliver fresh sounds at first Riyadh International Jazz Festival

RIYADH: A Saudi jazz band is hoping to take their sound mainstream, capitalizing on a musical renaissance in the Kingdom.

Garwasha, a quartet, will take to the stage at the Riyadh International Jazz Festival on Friday.

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“We want to show that in this region there’s an underground alternative sound,” bassist Abdulrahman “Koosh” Alkhawashki told Arab News.

“There are so many artists other than ourselves that have been doing it before us, that have been trying to offer this sound or show it, but it’s just that there’s not much awareness.”

The festival runs from Feb. 7-9 at Mayadeen Theater in Diriyah, and features such heavyweights of the genre as Chaka Khan, Kokoroko, and Hiatus Kaiyote.

For the local four-piece, introducing Kaiyote on Friday night will be a particular highlight.

“There’s one point that our minds still are in disbelief about — that we’re opening for Hiatus Kaiyote,” drummer Hassan Alkhedher said.

Garwasha got together in the days when public performances were restricted, and played their first public gig in 2017 at the Cultural Tunes festival at King Fahd Cultural Center.

At the time, they were fresh graduates embarking on their careers, but as more opportunities to perform arose, they started to see music as a viable path in life.

In February 2018, Riyadh hosted the Groovz festival, which featured the Delfeayo Marsalis Sextet, along with the British fusion band Incognito. A month later, the KAEC Jazz International Festival was held featuring McCoy Tyner, Kenny Garrett, Charbel Rouhana and others.

“That was the moment, for me at least, where it was like, ‘OK, this is going to be my career,’” said Koosh.

The band, including guitarist Mazen Lawand and keyboard player Rami Elamine, were originally self-taught, but Mazen went on to study at Berklee College of Music in Boston, and Koosh is now studying at the Los Angeles College of Music.

Garwasha’s music is a blend of smooth, synthesizer-laden jazz mixed with a strong Arabic flavor.

Describing the influence of Saudi music on their sound, Mazen said: “They have their own kind of thing, their own beautiful swing, their own beautiful beats.

“The way you learn these rhythms is through your uncle or your dad; there’s no notation, it’s literally word of mouth. Once it becomes standardized, I think it’s going to become just as important as Latin American music.”

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