Wael Elhalaby, his artist name being “Wael Violin”, is a classical improv violinist who takes his violin to the streets of New Orleans, New York City, and across Europe. Wael’s music is enchanting, passionate, and raw. In current times, there is little that compares to his public passion for his instrument. Regularly broadcasting live performances of spontaneous street gigs and sessions conducted in a more intimate setting, sometimes his home, we get a glimpse into the magic of street performances. Describing himself, Wael is aware of being driven by action, unable to pause and rest. For the first edition of Art Squat Magazine, we asked the musician to offer us a deeper look into his stance towards music, art, future projects, and his relation towards public space as the setting for his musical performances.
Is music art? What makes a musician an artist? Elaborate.
Art is the expression of emotion, no matter in what form. The way I relate with music is through emotion. Music is a form that I use to channel feelings I have and through it, I can translate what I am feeling more efficiently than with words. Art can instantly bring someone to a moment of energy felt during its creation. Moments of highs, lows or sadness can all be expressed through art.
You are a full-time street musician, traveling between different states, and touring different countries with your violin. Where do you draw the inspiration for your unique classical improvisation from? What are the biggest challenges in the artistic process?
It is almost more difficult for me to not perform. There has always been a drive in me to play music, perform and heal with my music. As I get older I begin to listen more to that drive and call, closing my ears to all the things that don’t matter. My biggest challenges are that many people in the world do not see the importance of art the way I do, and because of that, there are many challenges in the path of one like my self pursuing art that isn’t mainstream or living an artistic life.
Most of your performances take place in outdoor spaces. In your opinion – how much does the space you play in influence the musical outcome? What is the ideal audience for your musical performance?
Playing outdoors does come with its pros and cons. For me, it is a much more real environment than a concert where there would only be a specific type of crowd. Playing on the streets allow any that come across me, no matter what race or background, to engage with me based on their immediate interests. But playing outdoors does come with the risks of possible cancelations, environmental conditions, or many other factors that can halt my playing.
I have always loved playing for an audience that is mesmerized enough by my playing to stay and listen for song after song. Be that outdoors or a mini concert in someone’s backyard, if the crowds full spirit and attention is on what I am creating, I bring out a deeper part of myself in those performances.
Please tell us a little bit about your upbringing. How did you get to where you are now? What has playing your violin on the streets taught you about life?
I grew up in Dubai as a kid and began playing violin in Ohio from ten years on. I took formal lessons and eventually branched out from the classical realm once I got to college. There I, experimented with improvisation, creating music from within, versus playing music that someone else has created. I joined the military, and after realizing that wasn’t what I wanted to do, I moved to New Orleans, putting all my hope into making it as a street musician.
If people need to to know what is going on in the world, they tend to pick up a newspaper or look at the latest news on their phone. For me, I can sense what is going on in the world by performing for crowds. My music is almost like energetic sensors that feels the city that I’m currently playing in. I learn the essence of the city while at the same time contributing to its healing.
Have there been any collaborations with other musicians/artists in the past that stood out to you? If yes, why?
My music has been shaped greatly by another violinist I met in New Orleans. She helped smooth out the feeling of my music. We spent countless days performing together, and eventually had a child together. Anna Roznowska and I have traveled the world performing together. And most of our daughter’s early years were spent on our backs while we performed. The peak of our creative influence was during these times.
What is planned for the future? Where are you planning to perform next?
I am beginning to see more now that music is a tool for inspiration, healing and knowledge. I wish to delve more into that form of creating. I am stepping away from only performing for money. Wherever the calling is, that is where I shall be.
Wael released his first solo album “New York Pandemic Live” in 2020. The description on his latest track “Quarantine Finally” (released November 11, 2020), published when the artist was stuck in quarantine, after coming back to New York City, NY from New Orleans, LA, offers a powerful message:
Well, come dive into my world, in my room, yet in another galaxy as I imagine it. Some far distant star, where anything you imagine comes true. We have all we need right inside of us. No need to look outward. Today marks a first day in a long time, that I am actually doing something for myself. […] Take care of yourself, use the abilities you have for you. Dance for you, play music for you, meditate for you. Give yourself your talents and abilities. Don't sell them in hopes of the American dream, to get rich or be loved. You have everything you need to give yourself in you. Why buy love when you have it in you already? Why go out and search for bonds when there are bonds waiting to be explored right in front of you. So take care of yourself today.
Wael Elhalaby’s music is available for download on Spotify Music.
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