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Gilbert Mansour has bounced around a lot in his career, but it’s not because he lacks direction. The Lebanese percussionist has travelled the world—a journey that’s taken him everywhere from Paris and Beirut to Berklee’s campuses in Boston and Valencia and beyond—honing an ever-evolving sound and skill set, never afraid to explore where inspiration might lead him next. We recently spoke with Mansour, who’s now based in New York City, about his experience at Berklee, his Arabic fusion project Rootes Music, and how he’s staying active during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Tell us about your journey to music as a career.
I began my musical studies at the Lebanese National Conservatory of Music at the age of 10, focusing on Middle Eastern and classical percussion instruments. At the age of 16, I started touring with most of the famous artists in the Middle East. Meanwhile, I started developing an interest in Western and Latin percussion instruments, and I went to Paris to study with acclaimed Venezuelan percussionist Orlando Poleo. Upon my return to Beirut, I started incorporating Latin percussion instruments into Arabic music, bringing a new sound to this style of music. I was granted a scholarship and graduated magna cum laude from Berklee College of Music in Boston, where I received my performance undergraduate degree, and my master’s degree in contemporary performance and production from Berklee’s campus in Valencia.
What was the experience at Berklee Valencia like for you?
It was an incredible experience. Berklee Valencia offers so many resources and so much access to great faculty and facilities. The opportunity to work with amazing faculty and so many great musicians is unique. Also, Valencia is a great city with beautiful people and definitely an interesting place to live in.
How has that experience and knowledge informed your career?
Being part of the Berklee family in Boston and Valencia has enriched me in so many different ways. Career-wise, it has given me new opportunities through building connections with other artists and music cultures from all around the world. This experience has enriched and touched me as a person and as a musician. For example, when I was at Berklee in Boston, I got the opportunity to learn from and play with renowned flamenco visiting artists thanks to the MMI [Mediterranean Music Institute]. That experience triggered my journey into the flamenco world. Going to Valencia later, I had the opportunity to expand my skills and deepen my knowledge about flamenco. I also got to develop another aspect of my creativity by getting deep into production. I eventually got to produce, record, mix, and master my own music. And these are just a few examples of how Berklee has affected my career.
How did you get interested in the work you are doing now with Rootes Music?
Rootes Music is a project conceived back in 2017 as a way to introduce traditional Arabic instruments and the Arabic music traditions through a creative fusion with other world music genres. Our first album, Uncommon Ground, was released in 2018. It has been a fascinating experience collaborating with musicians from Spain, India, Lebanon, the U.S., and more—a truly breathtaking experience.
What projects are you most proud of so far?
My seven-month-old twins, Nicolas and Leila! But in terms of music, Uncommon Ground was a big milestone in my career, and it’s a door-opener for my upcoming albums. I’ve toured and performed in many countries, including the U.S., France, Germany, Italy, Sweden, Monaco, Egypt, Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Jordan, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman, UAE, Bahrain, and Kuwait. I can be seen on many television programs, including The Voice on MBC TV, Taratata on Dubai TV, and Arab Idol on MBC TV. I have played with a variety of international artists and groups, including Luis Enrique, Simon Shaheen, Susana Bacca, Antonio Serrano, Magos Herrera, Javier Limón, Pepe de Lucía, Gian Marco, David Broza, the Jazz Composers Alliance Orchestra, Oussama Rahbani, Marcel Khalifé, the Lebanese National Symphony Orchestra, Damian Draghici, and Tania Saleh, among others.
What are some of your current projects?
A few months ago, I was still touring and performing in many places around the world. One of the highlights of my tour was the Berklee Abu Dhabi opening concert, which featured an all-star lineup of Berklee alumni such as Steve Vai. Since then, life has changed for all of us due to the COVID-19 pandemic. At the moment, I am working on a few remote recording projects and devoting more time to online teaching. Hopefully, we will all stay healthy and safe during these hard times and we will get through the pandemic much stronger.