In a place (or world) saturated by modern culture, music and lifestyle, one would wonder if there is space for recognizing or even appreciating the traditional — in our context, music. The west, predominantly the US, is teeming with pop-culture originations we can aptly consider the source of synchronous modern music permeating to the east.
Unlike typical aspiring young talents, Aliya Cycon was set on a path to pursue a career of the ordinary until she got introduced to Arabic music. Suddenly the flow of influence from west to east took a reversal. It's a breath of fresh air, to say the least. Read on to learn more about Aliya's strum to a musical journey.
Please introduce yourself.
I started playing the piano at age 4 and studied with a classical teacher until high school. That's when I discovered how much I loved Jazz, so I started studying jazz improvisation and harmony, as well as singing Jazz standards. At the same time, I was part of a high school choir that won state-wide competitions, so that helped my love for singing, as well as my technique. During all of this time in my youth, I was actually pursuing to be a professional classical ballet dancer and I ended up in NYC at age 17. It wasn't until I was 18 years old that I started to study the Oud, which ultimately led me away from ballet into full-time music.
Was oud your first choice in terms of playing a musical instrument?
Once I got into Arabic music, I never considered playing another instrument from the culture (eg nay or qanun.) Oud was an immediate and lasting decision. But I still play piano and sing often in my music and for my creative process.
Oud...led me away from ballet
Why the keen interest in Middle-Eastern music?
It's hard to explain exactly why love what we love. When I first heard Middle Eastern music it was during my ballet days, when an amazing choreographer Sueann Townsend introduced me to Turkish traditional music as well as the album "Ana Moush Kafer" by Lebanon's Ziad Rahbani, and both albums stole my heart. As she choreographed a Middle-Eastern-Ballet fusion dance piece for me, I fell in love with the sound of the Oud, and the overall sonorities I heard in the music, and the musician side of me wanted to learn more. As I've delved into Middle Eastern music, namely Arabic music, I have fallen in love with the unique language, the poetry of the lyrics, the use of beautiful traditional instruments, and learning taqasim and maqamat.
What do you think is the influence of culture in music? Or is it the other way around?
Going back to the Ziad Rahbani album, which was released in 1985, I now understand what a fresh, new and non-traditional-sounding album it was for its time and culture. Coming from a US background, I didn't know that, and I didn't pick it up from listening. All I heard was singing in Arabic, the riqqs and the bouzuks...I didn't understand that the album reflects a sharp and often satirical political commentary about the current events in Lebanon at the time. For me, that's an example of how culture influences music from the creator's and the listener's side as well. I once heard someone say that music is a "snapshot of a specific place and a specific moment in history." For my own personal music-making, I would say it's a snapshot of a specific point along a never-ending journey of learning.
What is your biggest dream as a musician?
When I think of my music dreams, I think about songs, artists and live music events that changed my life for the better. I still reference them today when I share my story. If I can produce music or a musical event — particularly with a full-fledged orchestra playing my compositions with me — that impacts someone's life that way, then I will be overjoyed. I was created by a Creator, so to contribute positively to His great creation, in the way I am meant to, is my biggest dream.
I was created by a Creator
Most memorable performance?
There are many that come to mind, but as I answered the previous question, it immediately evoked the memory of my tour in Kuwait last spring (2019). It was a full week of rehearsals and leading up to a beautiful outdoor concert. Such a beautiful blur of working with the talented and welcoming musicians who played in my "Aliya Cycon Project meets Kuwait" orchestra and choir. There's nothing quite as thrilling and rewarding for me as hearing my own compositions and songs come to life, and watching a room full of musicians you just met morph into a room full of laughter, creativity and new friendship. That experience truly was a dream come true, from rehearsal to stage.
Aliya finds herself mostly writing songs about the state of the world, peace, identity, God, and humanity. "There are enough love and breakup songs in the world as it is," she concludes.Follow Aliya Cycon: