Raq Star Interview with Bob

Some people communicate with words-I prefer pictures and music. Playing the tabla lets me create an infinite number of sounds, and I love the interplay of melody and rhythm. Now when I really want to say something, I play the mizmar!"


Where were you born?

Washington, D.C.

Describe yourself in 3 words.

Adventurous, artistic, lucky.

What is your favorite song, movie, book, dessert?

Song:  Lama Bada Yata Sama by Hossam Shaker
Book:  Sea Legs
Movie:  Room with a View
Dessert:  I'd rather drink:  Cafe Macciato in the morning, Moroccan Mint tea during the day, and Sangria in the evening.

What's your favorite iPod app?

Evernote.  It helps me collect & organize recipes as well as my thoughts—when I can remember to use it.

How long have you been playing music?

Most of my 51 years.

What is your first inspiring musical experience?

I can't remember my first, but some of my greatest musical experiences have been informally playing our music in public places where it is least expected, like at a boarding gate in an airport, at a cafe in Morocco, and in a park in Turkey.  Music is a great ambassador.

What was your most embarrassing moment in performance?

Playing the mizmar/zourna is very troublesome for me.  I got the reed perfectly moist and tuned, but when we went out on stage to play among our peers (an audience of musicians & bellydancers), all I could get out of my mizmar were discordant squeaks.

Who are your 3 favorite performing artists?

Bob Marley, Dave Matthews, Mick Jagger

What inspires you to play music?

The love of the music and the experience of performing with my bride and family.

Why do you play Middle Eastern music?

I really love to travel.  Middle Eastern music has a transformative power over me.  When I play the music, I travel with my soul.


About Bob & Jensuya

After swapping engineering and graphic design careers in Washington, D.C., to spend nearly half a decade traveling the world by bicycle, Jensuya and Bob settled in what they affectionately call the "Middle Eastern Panhandle" of West Virginia.  Inspired by the local arts community and their worldwide travels, they pursue their love of the Near Eastern arts in Berkeley Springs, in spite of residing half a world away from the roots of the art.
    Bob and Jensuya first felt the sparks of interest in Middle Eastern music in Tunisia in 1994 during their 4-year global bicycle tour. While being hosted by a village family, Jensuya was adorned in traditional costume, then she and Bob were paraded by the family through the neighborhood.  They paused in front of a music shop, mesmerized by the mysterious sounds of Tunisian singer Amina blaring from the speakers.
    The intricacies of the melodies and the complexities of the rhythms lingered with Bob, who since childhood had wanted to be a drummer.  "I was in 3rd grade, and we had to pick an instrument to learn.  They didn't have drums, so at my dad's suggestion, I took up the trumpet."
    Bob went on to become a whiz kid on the horn, and turned semi-pro by the age of 16.  But adventuring and his budding career in design, lured him away from the nightlife of a musician, and it wasn't until 1998, that the musical spark was re-ignited.
    Recalling the rhythms of North Africa and Turkey on their world tour, and in particular, the ubiquitous drumming in Morocco, Bob got his hands on the goblet-shaped drum called the doumbek (tabla in Arabic, davul in Turkish).  By the time Bob and Jensuya's first son, oud player Dakota, was two, Bob had mastered the basic eastern rhythms.
    Shortly after bassist Lhasa's birth, Jensuya, took what would become a "life-altering" weekend workshop in belly dance.  "From the moment I first swirled the veil to that haunting melody, I knew this dance was my dance."  Jensuya pursued a self-guided study of belly dance (raqs sharqi in Arabic, oryantal in Turkish), music, languages, history and politics of the region with the same rigor she had applied to engineering…and to fulfilling the prophecy of her own neonatal pediatrician that she would become an athlete or a dancer.
   In 2004, Bob and Jensuya formed TarabRaqs with two other musicians whom Bob met at the renowned Arabic Music Retreat led by master musician Simon Shaheen in Massachusetts.  In the decade of performances and multiple trips to the Middle East and North Africa since then, the group has evolved organically, and continues to push the genre's boundaries.