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09 Jun 2016


Mythra Ensemble: where the East meets the West

Formally trained at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, Ms McDonald developed an appetite for Middle Eastern music and the mesmerising sound of the oud – a traditional stringed instrument – and she couldn’t resist the desire to embark on a new project incorporating world music.

After meeting Kurdish refugee Mustafa Karami five years ago, the project slowly started taking shape in the form of the Mythra Ensemble, a band which combines eastern modes and rhythms with western influences..

“We met and we got together to play some duos, which worked really well,” Ms McDonald said. “We started talking about the type of group that we envisaged and we both wanted to do something that brought East and West together.”

Mr Karimi, who had been awarded Iran’s best daf player consecutively from 2005 to 2007, arrived in Australia in 2009 determined to continue with his music.

“I was an avid singer since the age of 12 and I soon started playing the daf, a Persian type of drum, and the oud” Mr Karimi said. “All my life has been about music.”

By then, the Mythra Ensemble was already on track, but it would still take a couple of years to gather the final line-up.

Today, the Mythra Ensemble is completed by Metin and Adem Yilmaz – two Kurdish brothers from Turkey who play the kaval and the darbouka respectively – Armenian pianist Zela Margossian and Australian Elsen Price, who plays the double bass.

“We combine traditional Middle Eastern instruments like the daf, kaval, kemancheh, darboukah and the bendir, with Western classical instruments such as piano and violin,” Ms McDonald said.

“We play music from traditional roots of Iran, Armenia, Turkay and Kurdish origin, arranged in original ways, as well as new works composed by our members.”

The Mythra Ensemble explores concepts such as inclusivity, unity and joyful conversation through the language of music, Ms McDonald added.

“We want to symbolise the power of music to unite people regardless of their background, language or religion,” said pianist Zela Margossian.

In fact, the name of their band comes from a search for a common bond, which resulted in the mythological god Mithras, present in the collective imagination of countries where some of the members are from. They decided to adopt it to symbolise the friendship between cultures that they represent.

“At The Mythra Ensemble we are the living proof that it doesn’t matter where you come from, we are all humans and we use music to find this common ground that you need to connect when you arrive in a new place, as it is the case of people with refugee background.”

“This is why we want to participate at New Beginnings festival, to show how music can bring people together.”

The New Beginnings: Refugee Arts & Culture Festival is a free, family friendly event that will be held at a number of locations throughout Sydney as part of Refugee Week. Starting with a one-day festival at Tumbalong Park in Darling Harbour on June 18, New Beginnings will also feature an art exhibition at Chrissie Cotter Gallery in Marrickville from June 17–26.

For more information about New Beginnings, visit the festival website

New Beginnings 2016 is produced by SSI and supported by Marrickville Council, Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority, Multicultural NSW and Allianz

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