Farah Siraj, who will perform at Blue Frog on Saturday, April 20, sings in Spanish, English and Arabic and describes her music as “Arabian flamenco jazz”. “Over the years, between living in the Middle East, Spain and the United States, it became clear to me that my sound was a mixture of these influences,” says the Jordanian singer-songwriter who was born and raised in Amman, then moved to Madrid and is now based in New York but shuffles between the three countries. As a result, her musical identity is shaped by a range of influences that only the most ardent world music followers comes across in a lifetime. Siraj counts among her “all-time favorites” West Asian icons such as singer-songwriters Wadih Safi aka “the voice of Lebanon” and Egypt’s Um Kalthoum who is widely regarded as the “greatest Arabic female singer in history”; Tunisian ould-playing jazz-fusion star Dhafer Youssef; Spanish flamenco exponents Camaron de la Isla and Paco de Lucia; jazz and R&B singing legends Billie Holiday, Nina Simone, and Aretha Franklin; and even Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and A. R. Rahman.
In fact, Siraj’s interest in Indian music is what drew her to accept a stint at the Swarnabhoomi Academy of Music in Chennai where she currently teaches during the week. She uses the weekends to tour across the country with her band, which features fellow New Yorkers, guitarist Jake Hertzog and drummer Jovol Bell, and bassist Andres Rotmistrovsky, who is from Argentina. And while a lot of her material could be called romantic, the audience is free to interpret the songs in their own way. “I spend a lot of time away from my loved ones, and missing that someone special is a recurring theme, but that can also be applied to families who have been separated by war,” says Siraj who uses another term to tell people about her music: world music for world peace.
“Some songs have a very clear message, and some are about love and the experiences we go through in life, but it is always meant to instill peace and positivity.” For instance, she says, there’s a song that she will play during her hour-long set at Blue Frog, that speaks about not having a place to call home. “It’s dedicated to refugees around the world,” says Siraj. “I always ask the audience to remember how lucky we are to not have to worry about having a roof over their heads.” But Siraj also believes that multi-cultural bands like hers help send a subtle message just by being on stage. “I’m from the Middle East, and my band members are from Latin America, Europe and New York,” she says. “It’s a live representation of cultural tolerance and unity.”