A Sonic Journey through Memory, Migration and Melodies: Meet our 2023 Music Grantees
6 / 11 / 2023

A podcast that tells the story of Yemeni and Arabic songs. A sound art festival in a trail of natural landscapes around Bethlehem. An experimental music album from Syria that explores the poignant aspect of sound, focusing on grief and loss.

The 2023 selection of 22 projects under our Music grants program offers a sonic journey through various themes, ranging from heritage and folklore, to migration and exile, archives and memory, identity and belonging.

The projects were selected among 262 applications by the 2023 Music jury committee, composed of Bahraini musician Hasan Hujairi, Moroccan songwriter and performer Widad Mjama and Lebanese critic and writer Fadi El Abdallah. The jurors convened in Beirut for two days to review and evaluate the applications. At the end of their deliberations, they issued the below jury statement:

    The diverse projects that were submitted to AFAC’s Music Grant has allowed us to take a thorough look at the state of non-commercial music in the Arab world. This look is far from comprehensive due to significant geographical disparity in applications. There is almost a complete absence of projects from certain countries for various reasons: perhaps war or a habituated inward focus, perhaps a lack of clear mechanisms for more regional exposure or an absence of local institutions that support the diversity of music scenes in their local countries and work to disseminate them beyond.

    When we looked more in depth, we found a number of prominent issues worth noting:

    A) There is interest in experimentation and in using non-musical instruments or spaces for musical purposes.
    B) There is an interest in documenting and revitalizing heritage, which sometimes can pose ethical questions on the permissibility of combining heritage songs with different styles that may remove them from their original context or questions as to who owns this music, especially in countries with wars and societal rifts, as well as questions about self-orientalizing attitudes toward chaabi singers who carry this musical heritage.
    C) A desire to participate and learn through workshops, podcast projects and other types of encounters.
    D) A general direction toward multimedia performances that include a visual aspect that exceeds the aural and is sometimes produced in several languages and can be “immersive.” Performance spaces as well tend to be increasingly diverse and performances increasingly tend to explore the relationship of sound to space and geography.
    E) There is burgeoning interest in recording improvisation as raw material that can be used in composition later.

    Unfortunately, some projects contained gaps when it came to their written proposals, as they did not clarify the reasons and desire for a specific engagement or a fusion between disparate musical styles. We also noticed that many artists continued to focus on producing an album in a big studio, whereas current technology allows for the downsizing of recording costs, even though the music economy today depends much more on concerts and festivals than studio albums.

    Finally, despite risking looking to the future, we can see a continuation of this variety in non-commercial music, despite little available funding in the area for it and increased attention to the visual and technical elements (perhaps because of the necessity of big festivals). This continuation would be furthered by the effect of recognition in other countries, in the West and in the region, which would increase cooperation between artists in both areas. Perhaps this will produce more avenues for creativity and more advanced technologies in composition, writing code, virtual reality, etc., which would add to this musical scene and not necessarily come at the cost of traditional music and its survival.

Here is the full list of Music 2023 projects. To dive into the specifics of each selected artist or collective/institution and their projects, click through to their separate dedicated pages.