In our interview, Hasan Nakhleh keeps raving about Bern. About its beauty and the tranquillity he found here. Nakhleh has been living in the Swiss capital since 2014 – love brought him to Switzerland. He has had a Swiss passport since 2021. This is not insignificant for someone who grew up in the Golan Heights. The Arab population is de facto stateless in the territory annexed by Israel. “Golan,” says Nakhleh, “is a homeland that is not a true home, whereas Bern is a place that is far from my own homeland.”
The 35-year-old draws the creativity for his music from this field of tension. Together with his brother Rami, he has been making music since childhood. When they formed a band to perform in local clubs, they called themselves TootArd. Hasan laughs because the name means “strawberry” in English. “We did not want to be suspected of spreading political messages in our texts, and strawberry seemed like a harmless enough name to us.”
The duo has already released three albums. They called their second work “Laisser passer” – that is the name of the document they received instead of a passport. “This allowed us to leave the Golan Heights, but if we wanted to travel abroad, this always required tedious visa applications.”
As a Swiss national, he can now travel wherever he wants without any difficulty. While Hasan appreciates Bern’s tranquillity for his work, his brother Rami has remained in his home village. “This does not prevent us from working together,” he explains. While Rami is responsible for the beats, Hasan is responsible for the rest – including the vocals. And as “Migrant Birds”, the title of their most recent album, suggests they want to spread their infectious dance music with hypnotic beats, Arabic and oriental-inspired melodies and socially critical texts with a poetic touch like migratory birds around the world.
“I now want to perfect what we started on our last album,” he explains, by which he means he wants to create global dance music that is understood everywhere, but at the same time does not deny its origins. Thanks to the “Get Going!” grant, he now has the time, among other things, to retune his analogue and digital synthesisers so that he can play quarter tones with them. “These quarter tones are an integral part of the Arab tone system, but they are not playable on keyboard instruments. I therefore use tuning boxes that communicate with the instruments via “MIDI”. This allows the mood on the keyboards to be changed.” As a composer, on the other hand, the challenge is to strike the right balance between East and West, between his cultural home and the world in which he now lives and works.
Hasan Nakhleh describes the experiences he and his brother regularly have at the concerts, whether in Switzerland, London, Toronto, Tokyo or Cairo. “At our performances, people of the most varied origins come together to dance. This promotes tolerance because music generally has a unifying effect. In addition, we also thus help to reduce certain stereotypes, because we integrate Arab cultural heritage into contemporary musical robes.”
The “Get Going!” grant is “the best form of support you can get,” he emphasises. “If you enable artists to have financial freedom, there will always be a result.” He also considers the fact that no concrete result is associated with the grant as a source of motivation: “There is no external compulsion. So I don’t have to, which gives rise to the question: Do I want that?” With “Get Going!” – he emphasizes at the end of the interview – he is trusted as an artist. That is something utterly extraordinary. “This aspect alone gives me enough of a sense of personal duty to create something good.”