‘Connected to Nature’: Iraqi Man Leaves Heavy Metal to Play Didgeridoo

'Connected to Nature': Iraqi Man Leaves Heavy Metal to Play Didgeridoo

Mustafa Alyasiri first heard the sounds of the didgeridoo, one of the world’s oldest musical instruments, while playing a videogame in Baghdad when he was 10. The pulsating tones of the Australian aboriginal instrument felt, he says, like the call of the jungle. But it was not until almost two decades later, in 2015 at a music festival in Turkey, that Alyasiri was finally able to hold a real didgeridoo in his hands.

“I grew up listening to Western pop music and heavy metal, so the sound of the didgeridoo was entirely new and it touched something deep inside me. I felt connected to nature,” he tells Arab News. Haunted by its sound, Alyasiri —formerly the bassist and vocalist of disbanded Dubai-based metal band Tsvet Reptilia — set about teaching himself to play the didgeridoo via YouTube and online tutorials.

The Dubai-based musician has since taken the stage name Flash Didgeridoo, and has performed at several festivals, art fairs and clubs.

Alyasiri doesn’t just perform solo, either. “The didgeridoo fuses beautifully with several musical instruments. It sounds great with beat-boxing, pan drums, Djembe sounds and with meditation music,” he says. “(Even) during my solo performances, I try to play with back-end electronic music and the resulting effect is exhilarating.”

Alyasiri hopes that his attempts to mix the ancient didgeridoo with contemporary music will make more people in the region take notice of this unique instrument. Traditionally known as the Yidaki, the didgeridoo traces its origins back more than 1,500 years to the Yolngu people from the eastern Arnhem Land in northern Australia. They originally made their instruments — roughly one-to-three meters long — from termite-bored hollow eucalyptus tree trunks. Today, however, didgeridoos are shorter and lighter and are constructed from a variety of materials including solid timbre, fiber glass, plastic, ceramic and even leather. Alyasiri owns three of them.

“The one I carry around is made of plastic and very portable. The one I use for my performances is 300 centimeters long, and is custom-made in the UK from fiber glass with Mexican Day of the Dead inscriptions all over it,” he says.

The didgeridoo is easy to learn but difficult to perfect. Musicians need to learn a special ‘circular breathing’ technique which involves exhaling by using the muscles in their cheeks while breathing in through their nose. Different techniques can produce a range of sounds.

“As I had watched (so many) videos and tutorials, when I finally picked up the didgeridoo, I knew I could play it. I placed my lips on it and blew through them in a reverberating motion, letting my cheeks fill with air. But it took me several months of practice before I finally performed on stage,” he recollects.

For many of those in Alyasiri’s audiences, it is the first time they have heard a didgeridoo played live, and they often sit wide-eyed throughout.

“I have had a fairly good response from the audience at my events, they look intrigued and stay very calm, that shows that they are hooked to the music,” says Alyasiri, adding that he finds playing the didgeridoo soothing.

Alyasiri has traveled extensively in his quest to find and collaborate with other digeridoo players. He has played in Turkey, Sri Lanka, India and his native Iraq. One of his most memorable experiences took place on a trip to Rishikesh in India.

“I was playing the didgeridoo at a streetside location in this small town. Soon a small crowd started building around me, then out of nowhere a drummer joined in followed by a guitarist, and the ensemble music was electrifying and reaffirmed that music truly has no boundaries,” he says.

Next on his wish list is a trip to Australia — the land of the didgeridoo — where he hopes to truly immerse himself in the native tunes of an instrument that he has hopelessly fallen for.

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