Even sitting in front of your screen for an interview on Zoom, there is no mistaking the sheer passion of Karim Baggili. With various string instruments scattered around his living room, he exudes enthusiasm as he talks of his love for flamenco. This Belgian guitarist, oud player and composer of (film) music makes his debut performance at BOZAR during the Bruselas Flamenco Festival, which will be online for the first time this year.
It has now almost become the ‘new normal’, but how does it feel to play to an empty hall?
It remains a pleasure to be up there on stage with my friends and fellow musicians and to practice my art, but of course it is not the same as playing to a live audience. I am nevertheless fortunate in having had several opportunities to perform and that is something that I know a lot of young and talented artists have not had.
The atmosphere of an online concert is also special because you are only with musicians and technical staff. When we end a song there is no applause. We do not feel the energy you get from a live audience and can’t judge whether they are pleased or not. But I find the digital interaction fun. In the chats we can send people little smileys and hearts. We only get to see them later, of course, but it’s really heartwarming. Perhaps it could be an idea to install a giant screen so that we can see the reactions live (laughs).
Your mother has Yugoslavian roots and your father is of Arab origin. So one wouldn’t immediately expect a connection with flamenco. How did you come into contact with this culture?
I was 16 when I learned to play an electric guitar, but that was mainly rock. When I was 20 I heard Paco de Lucía. That really hit me, a very intense experience. I was so fascinated by this fast and controlled playing that I resolved to teach myself flamenco techniques.
It is not traditional flamenco that you play…
Flamenco is very important for me, but I do not limit myself to this genre. My father is Jordanian, so I quickly learned Arabic music and bought an oud. In my music I try to combine various genres, such as flamenco and Arabic music, but also funk, rock or jazz. My artistic creativity recognises no borders. Beauty, that is what always guide me: If I come across something that speaks to me, in classical music, jazz or world music, then I incorporate this in my songs, whether consciously or unconsciously. You will certainly find the techniques and flavour of flamenco, but not in any traditional sense.
What can we expect from your concert?
I looked back through all the music I have made, and chose songs for guitar that obviously have a connection with flamenco. I also play two compositions on the oud, but there is a connection with Spain. The percussionist Etienne will be playing the cajón, so that intensifies the Spanish flavour.
We are already looking forward to it!