For the Palestinian composer and pianist Faraj Suleiman, the past year has been one of intense activity and artistic growth.
Based in Paris, where he maintains an artist residency at the Cité Internationale des Arts, he has been touring the top festivals across Europe (the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland and, for the second year in a row, the EFG London Jazz Festival), as well as performing concerts in Jordan, Tunisia and elsewhere.
In between those gigs, he has released his sixth album, Second Verse, his first with his own vocals, and on which he pointedly sings in his own Palestinian dialect.
Such success is perhaps unexpected from someone who took a hiatus of approximately 12 years from the piano between childhood and university. Hailing from Al Rameh in Galilee, Suleiman initially was drawn to the piano as a child, playing for three years under the tutelage of his uncle. He came back to the instrument during his university years in Haifa.
After experimenting in other disciplines, including psychology and law, he turned to music full time with the intention of becoming an elementary schoolteacher.
“I didn’t have a piano in Haifa,” he says. “I was practicing long into the evening using the university’s practice room until the end of the night. Slowly, I started to discover that I could really play the piano and then become a composer.”
As a performer, Suleiman is among a select group of Arab musicians pushing artistic boundaries and gaining prominence throughout Europe and among other internationally known musicians, including the Palestinian singer Kamilya Jubran and the Lebanese trumpeter and composer Ibrahim Maalouf.