Fellow-to-Fellow: Youmna Saba x Kyla-Rose Smith

Youmna Saba (OneBeat 2012) is a Beirut-based oud player, vocalist and scholar. Kyla-Rose Smith (OneBeat 2015) is a Brooklyn/Cape Town-based violinist and organizer. Fellow-to-Fellow is an ongoing interview series featuring in-depth discussions between OneBeat alumni.


Kyla-Rose Smith: What were some of your strongest musical experiences collaborating with musicians from other cultures?

Youmna Saba: I was able to ask Kyungso Park from South Korea, ‘what mode are you playing in, let me try this on my oud’, or listen to Sayak Barua‘s ornamentation on the Indian sarode and try to incorporate them in my musical phrases. I had the opportunity to recite spoken rhythmic patterns with Aditi Bhagwat (stumbling upon the syllables when the tempo got too fast). I discussed conceptual compositions with electronic producer Wei Wei from Beijing and turned my old Nokia into an instrument. I got to try Piotr Kurek‘s weird machines and have an impromptu performance using a pseudo-toy keyboard.

KRS: What drives your own music-making? Why or how is collaboration important for you art?

YS: My music-making is always driven by a question of “what if?” and that opens the way to all sorts of experiments: sonic, compositional, underlying concepts and narratives. Collaboration is primordial in what I do, triggering those those “what if’s” and broadening the spectrum of experiments; two or more people coming up with ideas is always a fertile ground for innovation.

KRS: What is your favorite or most meaningful memory from OneBeat?

YS: I have so many beautiful memories, but one funny “recurrent” memory was the “modern dance performances” Piotr, Aditi and myself used to do to kill time while waiting backstage, looking for our ride back to the Atlantic Center for the Arts or packing up our instruments after a concert.

1B Fellow Interviews

KRS: How did OneBeat affect your outlook and approach as a musician and artist?

YS: It triggered a need to always connect with musicians from different cultures, learn from them and educate myself about their culture; which, as mentioned above, triggers creativity and gives me ideas. Any collaboration is a learning opportunity. It also raised a quest for universals in music, whether they exist or not. If yes, how are they expressed across cultures?

KRS: You were recently selected, out of 400 applications, to take part in the travelling residency Sound Development City. This residency is described as an expedition from Madrid to Casablanca. Can you tell me what your motivation and interest in this type of exploratory residency is and what you hope to discover and develop artistically and musically on the journey?

YS: My master’s research and my experience in South Korea raised a major question that tackles the impact of the environment on a musician’s art. Being on the road is a way to actually test the hypothesis that music (and any art production) is shaped by an extra-musical factor, directly linked to the perception of space and time.

From a very personal point of view, to quote my application: “Being on the road with the aim to discover and interact with people is a humbling experience, where the ‘I’, takes a backseat, putting her control-freakiness aside, and allowing experiences, people and spontaneous events to shape her music directly, engaging it in a perpetual cycle of molding, shaping and transforming.”