Musical Artists at Work: Naïssam Jalal, Fazil Say & Azu Tiwaline

17 July, 2023
Reading Time :7 minutes
TMR talks to three artistic innovators before their late July concerts in the classic Radio France Festival concert series around Montpellier — Turkish jazz & classical pianist-composer Fazil Say, Syrian flautist Naïssam Jalal, and the Saharan electronica wiz, Azu Tiwaline.


Sarah Naili


Everyone knows or should that the south of France is a culture lover’s paradise, especially during the summer, when you can take in — to name but a few of thousands of annual events — Avignon’s theatre festival, the photography festival in Arles, or the Radio France Festival of concerts in Montpellier, which has taken place every July since 1985 and should not be missed by music lovers — isn’t that everyone of us?

For the 2023 edition, July 17-28, organizers say the festival is betting on openness and musical diversity, oriented towards youth, transmission and the future, with over 100 concerts, from classical extravaganzas with the great orchestras to jazz, world music and electronic music live sets. To quote Radio France, “Music is the great resonator of the world, translating in its aesthetic ruptures the upheavals of the society from which it emanates.”[1]

The Markaz Review has interviewed three of the festival’s artists, ahead of their concerts: Fazil Say (jazz/classical), Naïssam Jalal (chamber music) and Azu Tiwaline (electronica). (Their replies to our questions are combined to avoid repetition.)

TMR’s favorite deal:

Azu Tiwaline — Sun, July 23, 2023 – 18:00  Azu Tiwaline presents a two-hour mid-tempo mix far removed from the usual electro formats; free concert at Parc du Château d’Ô — Espace des Micocouliers II.

Azu Tiwaline is a Franco-Tunisian-Cambodian DJ and producer based in Tozeur in the sub-Saharan desert. Hers is a new name for a new spirit: that of a producer driven by the need to find a different sound in her origins rooted in the Sahara and the El Djerid region (southern Tunisia).

Fazil Say in concert at the Corum, Opéra Berlioz — Tues, July 25, 2023 – 20:00

Performer, composer, pianist Fazil Say is a man of freedom. Nourished by jazz, he plays Bach and Beethoven with a whimsy all his own.

Born in Ankara, where he studied piano and composition, Fazil Say completed his training in Germany. His knowledge of Turkish poetry, his curiosity and his musical choices, split between East and West, led him to practice jazz as both performer and composer.

Fazil Say is no stranger to Montpellier audiences, having first performed in France in 1995 as part of the festival, to which he has subsequently been invited on several occasions. Here, he offers us a program that is very much in his style: Bach’s prodigious Chaconne to begin with (but in Busoni’s transcription), then Haydn and Beethoven in the great Viennese classical tradition, and finally a few of his own works, of which he’ll surprise us.

Naïssam Jalal in concert at Théâtre de l’Agora — Wed, July 26, 2023 – 22:00

Flutist and composer for her show “Healing Rituals,” billed as “music that heals body and soul.” Born in Paris of Syrian parents, Naïssam Jalal has built her musical identity at the crossroads of multiple influences, studying classical music at the conservatoire, then the Arabic tradition in Damascus and Cairo, before moving on to African music, not forgetting of course jazz. [In 2011, Naïssam Jalal founded the cosmopolitan “Rhythms of Resistance” ensemble with four talented musicians, paying tribute to the Syrian revolution that put her on the map]. All these influences resonate in “Healing Rituals,” undoubtedly her most profound and personal project to date. Inspired by Naïsaam Jalal’s own experience of illness and her musical interventions in hospitals, these imaginary “healing rituals” draw on the power of the primordial elements (earth, moon, wind, sun) to reconnect with the essential values of silence, trance and beauty. Better than a journey: a spiritual journey that rejuvenates both body and soul.


  • How did you get into music?

Naïssam Jalal: My parents are big music lovers. They encouraged me to choose an instrument and study music.

Fazil Say: I started making music at a very early age with toy instruments. I composed and played what I heard on records and on the radio. At the age of five, I started studying with my first piano teacher, Mithat Fenmen, who studied in France and was a pupil of Alfred Cortot. Mithat Fenmen was a pianist, piano teacher and music writer of great value, who contributed significantly to the development of polyphonic music in Turkey.  He used to make me improvise during piano lessons. He also encouraged me to become a composer.

Azu Tiwaline: A bit by chance… After running a techno label in the early 2000s, in the south of France, I decided to go into track production and live performance and devote myself fully to it. It was a pure hobby that became a passion over time. As a self-taught musician, it took a long time for me to see myself as a producer and musician.

  • What inspires you most about your home country?

NJ: The hospitality of the people, their kindness, the honor they put into welcoming strangers. When the revolution began in Syria in 2011, the courage of the Syrian people gripped me, and I have boundless admiration for their courage, dignity and resilience in spite of everything.

FZ: The fact that Turkey has a rich cultural structure between East and West is of course reflected in my music. In fact, I can say that I have created a natural bridge between East and West with my music throughout my life. I’ve played Beethoven, Mozart, Bach, Schopenhauer in many Turkish cities, even in remote places where no concerts are organized. I’ve tried to promote Western music. In many cities around the world, I have played works inspired by Turkish folklore, Turkish events, Turkish rhythms and melodies. Music has always been a natural bridge in my life.

AT: My country of origin… I have Tunisian and Cambodian roots, but I grew up in Côte d’Ivoire. This is my country of origin, it’s the country of my heart and the childhood memories that make us. I was rocked by the traditional percussion rhythms of West Africa, and that’s what inspires me most.

  • What role does music play in your life?

NJ: It’s everything. My music is my driving force, what keeps me on my feet and allows me to move forward, to dream, to desire. Music is a therapy that helps me deal with the violence of our world and the injustices of our society. My music lets me say what I can’t express in words.

FZ: For me, music is like oxygen and water. It’s perhaps my very life, a natural need… That’s why I’ve never considered music solely as a profession. For me, music was the art of self-expression.

AT: Music takes up all the space in my life. When I’m not producing, I’m always listening to it. And when I’m not listening to it, I’m always imagining it in my head. It’s food for my mind, essential for my equilibrium.

  • What are your sources of inspiration?

NJ: In my music, I talk about my life and the world I live in. In Montpellier, I’ll be presenting a repertoire of imaginary healing rituals that I’ve composed to heal, to do good, to myself and to others. Nature has played a very important role as a source of inspiration, and in each ritual I’ve tried to retranscribe the healing energy of each element that inspires me: the river, the forest, the moon, the sun, the mist, the hills, the wind or the earth, modal jazz, music from the Sahara, gnawa, classical Arabic, Hindustani, and so much more.

FZ: “My music feeds on crises, passions and frustrations. In a way, I’d almost say I’m lucky to live in a Middle East surrounded by so many problems, military, ethnic or religious, which are daily sources of inspiration.”[2]

AT: I’m very sensitive to the environment around me, especially when it comes to creating. Nature, wide open spaces, isolated places cut off from the world and time… I need that to find inspiration. And I draw inspiration from introspection, imagination, feelings and emotions.

  • Do you have any special memories of Montpellier?

NJ: Yes, the huge beaches and the mussel sellers.

FZ: The Montpellier music festival holds a special place in my life. In fact, it’s a festival where I’ve been playing since the very beginning of my career, that is, since I was 20 years old. It was in Montpellier that I gave my first concert in France and, of course, I’ve made many memories and friends there over the years. Since I gave my first concert some 30 years ago, I can say that I’ve grown up with the festival.  I love the city of Montpellier. It’s a place full of beautiful memories for me.

AT: I have a lot of memories of Montpellier, because I was there at the Lycée (Mermoz). The first raves of Les Pingouins, Stefanovitch, the Gluck family… The gardens of Peru, the thrift shops in the pedestrian streets… It was the end of the ‘90s… I loved that period.

  • What are your next musical projects?

NJ: A project based on the music of North India and the landscapes that inhabit it.

FZ: I have a song album project in which I compose works by women poets who occupy an important place in Turkish literature.  We’ve just finished recording the album, which comprises 11 songs. I’m also composing a new symphony, which will be my sixth symphony. The first performance of this work will take place in Istanbul. My other symphonies have been performed in many cities in France. I hope this new symphony will also be heard here after Istanbul.

AT: I’m currently releasing my second album, The Fifth Dream on I.O.T records. Two singles are already available, and the full album will be released in October. Other collaborations for EP’s are in the pipeline, but that’s a secret for now, so I won’t say more!

For more information, visit Radio France Occitanie Montpellier. Enjoy your musical summer.

—Sarah Naili


[1] See Radio France here.
[2] Fazil Say in Le Figaro.

Trained as a lawyer in European and international law, Sarah Naili continued her studies in Communications and Marketing. She has a 10-year international career in various sectors, from e-commerce to SSE (social & solidarity economy), via audiovisual and tourism, and most recently in cooperation with civil society in the MENA region. Her passions: nature, yoga and travelling alone; she’s crossed Central America from Costa Rica to Mexico in a backpack with her yoga mat. As a volunteer at various festivals, she loves the effervescence of the cultural scene and showcasing artists. A great listener, she questions her fellow human beings like a human explorer. A traveler and Mediterranean at heart, Sarah lived in Barcelona and Tunis before returning to her native Montpellier.

electronicajazzmusic festivalsSaharaSyriaTunisiaTurkeyworld music

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