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  • Writer's pictureSouth West Silents

Sumurun (One Arabian Night; 1920) Live Score by Amira Kheir

Updated: Aug 10, 2020

A few months ago we celebrated the work of the great Polish star, Pola Negri and last month we celebrated the work of the great Ernst Lubitsch with a screening of The Loves of Pharaoh (1922). And so, by chance, this April will see Bristol celebrate both their work in one particular film, Sumurun (One Arabian Night; 1920).

Running up to the screening, Amira Kheir, a contemporary jazz singer, musician and songwriter of Sudanese Origin, has given written down her thoughts about the new challenge of creating a live film score for Lubitsch’s‘One Arabian Night’, and learning to think of herself as a ‘composer’.

“When Rachel Millward – the Director of the Birds Eye View Film Festival – called me up and asked if I’d compose the score to a silent film based on the ‘Arabian Nights’, my first reaction was ‘Of course!’ – without really thinking about it! Later, when I thought it through, I wondered if I was actually the right person for the project. I’ve never thought of myself as a ‘composer’ – at least not in this sense . I write my own songs and have been performing in the UK and internationally for the past few years, but up until then had always thought of myself more as a singer-songwriter and musician than a ‘composer’. How would my style of music translate to this setting?

Embarking on this commission has been a transformative and eye-opening experience for exactly that reason. It has allowed me find new significance in my work as a musician and re-learn the meaning of music as a form of expression that manifests itself not as a result of defined roles but in spite of them.  When I write music independently, the driving force is always what I want to express. When scoring a film, the driving force shifts to trying to best interpret what someone else tried to express and lending my own relationship with music to that.

It’s been an amazing new way to interact with sound and with an ensemble, but actually rather than changing my approach I’m most excited about how it can be adapted and re-applied to the new challenge. My work has always been largely based on improvisation, and I think it’s going to be fascinating to keep that approach in developing the score with the band – I’ve already got some great musicians on board, including Nadir Ramzy on oud, Ben Hazleton on double bass, Elizabeth Nott on percussions, and Kalia Baklitzanaki on Nay.

It’s truly exciting to be entrusted with creating the soundtrack to such an aesthetically and dramatically beautiful film and add my interpretation to the story, and be part of such challenging and exciting Festivals as Filmic and Birds Eye View, both of which have pushed my work in new directions.

While I’m not quite there yet, I am enjoying the new feeling of calling myself a ‘composer’, and seeing how that will affect my work in future.

Meanwhile, bring on Bristol!

Our thanks to Amira and everyone at Birds Eye View Film Festival. Amira’s live score for One Arabian Night (Sumurun) comes to Bristol on Sunday 14 April at 6pm as part of Filmic Festival, commissioned by the 2013 Birds Eye View Film Festival: Celebrating Arab Women Filmmakers, at the Watershed.

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