Middle Eastern Music Blog, Podcasts

Aliya Cycon: Oud Player, Singer & Composer

Talented young Oud player and singer Aliya Cycon joins the podcast. She was born and raised in America, but her music suggests otherwise. Singing in Arabic, Spanish and English, while showing off her exciting and virtuosic Oud playing, Aliya shares her curiosity for the world through her original compositions and multi-cultural covers. She has performed at the Nobel Business For Peace Awards in Oslo, and toured internationally as a “Cultural Ambassador” for the US State Department, selling out a 1,000-seat amphitheater in Amman, and performing in three Tunisian summer music festivals. Notable collaborations include Jordanian music stars Tareq Jundi, Nasser Salameh and Yarub Smirat. Tunisian icon Zied Gharsa, and LA-based pop singer Naïka. Aliya is sponsored by Godin Guitars, La Bella Strings, and Avid Technology. Check out her new Spain-based project, Aliya and the New Andalus.

Topics include:

  • Aliya is originally Polish, and grew up with piano, which was her first love, and she applied to start in jazz at Berklee and was accepted
  • She went on a trip to Palestine with her father, and this left an impression on her – her father runs a coffee company with grassroots activities to assist and support underdeveloped communities
  • This introduced her to Arab style music, and she was enamored with the style and the oud especially, which was her first stringed instrument
  • This was her first experience with heterophonic performance and monophonic melodies
  • She embarked on a journey from jazz piano into Arab music on the oud which involved the study of makam, taqsim, etc.
  • Studied at Alwan for the Arts in Manhattan for an introduction to Arab music, which had just started to offer Arab music courses
  • Interesting story of Aliya‘s first experience with Rast (Arab mode similar to the major scale, but with particular quarter tones and rules of interpretation)
  • Came into contact with great records through her dance background, including Simon Shaheen’s Turath and Ziad Rahbani’s Ana Mush Kafr
  • Ziad Rahbani is one of her main influences, which was her main entry point into Arab music, and Shaheen’s compositions and tone as well, and Sharbell Rouhana (Lebanes oudplayer) and Marcel Khalifa
  • The Arabic Music Retreat played a big role in her musical development (week-long music conference in Western Massachusetts at Mt. Holyoke College)
  • Oud with vocals in the troubadour style embodied her art as far as how she progressed, and this was based in part due to certain artists she found inspirational
  • Not a purist, she listens to various styles of music and different artists
  • She is currently in Spain, and not surrounded by Arab taksim style music as much anymore, some more Spanish influences in her current environment
  • The oud is a part of her brand, as a female artist
  • Aliya also has some travel tips for oud players for soft-case and hard-case pros/cons
  • She started with instrumental ideas in jazz fusion for oud, not as much with vocals, but this progressed over time – a binary question she faced as an American interested in Arab Jazz fusion
  • Tigran Hamasyan was an influence, as an Armenian jazz pianist
  • Spent some time working on her arranging skills with her second album and orchestration, and even explored cinematic composition styles
  • She incorporated a second oud player for a time while she worked on her oud playing skills, and started to showcase her own oud playing
  • Eventually, she added some Spanish and French vocals and imbued her songs with more of a Mediterranean hue, and geared toward playing for audiences that can enjoy her performance, using some flamenco influence as well
  • She uses La Bella strings, and was able to spec her own strings, and received a Godin oud for her graduation gift from Berklee College of Music from her parents
  • Godin reached out to her and asked her to perform at NAMM, and endorsed her, and now she has two Godin ouds
  • Najib Shaheen restored her Syrian oud and she uses this for recording at times for her Prayer album, and she also uses her John Vergara oud for both live and recording and is on her Aliya and the Andalus album
  • Her favorite oud is made by Abu Alaa, the Palestinian oud luthier – this oud provide a deep voice and was used on her song “Jasmine”
  • Aliya conducted a tour in Kuwait in April 2019, and used her electric oud, but received help with finding an acoustic oud from a network of local oud players
  • Aliya uses a Syrian tuning (Syrian oud tuning C-F-A-D-G-C), and discusses her experience with another high F string, and how this is more characteristic of Iraqi Ouds (Nasir Shamma, etc.)
  • She is currently living in Valencia, Spain finishing her Masters degree and active with shows, songs, and videos, where she became inspired by Andalusian music and culture and exploring flamenco and fusion style with Arab music
  • Aliya began studying and jamming with Pedro Navarro for flamenco guitar but notes some challenges arise with different keys when guitars and ouds work together
  • Her time in Tunisia broadened her horizons with respect to understanding Andalusian and Ottoman influences amalgamated with North African motifs
  • Over time she wanted to feature her oud and vocals more given feedback from listeners
  • Aliya put a group together without a guitar to allow the oud to be more prominent, so the bass takes on a lot of responsibility with harmonic support (Miquel Alvarez), rounded out with a Balkan Gypsy trumpeter from Slovenia (Timote Kotnik) and a flamenco percussionist she knew from Berklee (Sergio Martinez)
  • Aliya used harmony instead of heterophony in her style, and uses arpeggios for voices instead of full chord strumming on the oud, and how the different styles of her band members are compatible
  • With live performance being so enjoyable, she made videos for her tracks to embody that spirit and as a marketing tool and brand building approach
  • If she could only do one concert with any artist in history, Aliya would want to perform with Yanni
  • Her playlist features some guilty pressures as Kenji Jiraq and a trio of Yemeni sisters called Aiwa with electro-pop and visuals, and Vicente Amigo as the “new Paco”
  • Listeners can find Aliya on Spotify, CD Baby, and most streaming services by searching for “Aliya Cycon Project”, and this will allow the listener to find all her albums including her new EP “Aliya and the New Andalus”
  • Aliya is also on YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook (search for “Aliya Cycon Music”)
  • Check out Aliya‘s new EP “Aliya and the New Andalus”

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One thought on “Aliya Cycon: Oud Player, Singer & Composer

  1. Claude Palmer says:

    so happy to find you!
    Very much enjoyed the interview with Aliya. She is a wonder!
    I have played ‘ud since 1989.

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