March 09, 2023

Broken Branches: A New Conceptual Album by Karim Sulayman & Sean Shibe

Pentatone releases Broken Branches, together with tenor Karim Sulayman and guitarist Sean Shibe, in May 2023.

Musical Exploration of Dynamic, In-Between Identities

Tenor Karim Sulayman and guitarist Sean Shibe present Broken Branches, a conceptual album with music ranging from Dowland, Monteverdi, Britten, Rodrigo, Takemitsu, Harvey, and Chaker to traditional songs from the Middle East, scrutinizing the close cultural and musical ties between East and West. This musical exploration ties in with the artists’ personal experience of a dynamic, in-between identity, as they grew up in the West having ethnic roots in the East (Lebanon and Japan respectively). Broken Branches explores the wood of the guitar and its relatives, as well as the splintering of history known as diaspora.

Broken Branches grew from a discomfort at aspects of repertoire generally explored through art song with the guitar; or perhaps more accurately a desire to present certain repertoire in a way that makes uncomfortable aspects of it clearer.

How to ‘remember’ a new context which bridges the very different genres presented on this album? Settings of problematic poetry need to be examined with good context (satisfying placement of the works), but ideally also a binding idiom with compelling alternative performance practice. I have deliberately muddied the waters of – among others – Monteverdi and Fairuz to create a fictional yet autobiographical origin point, a vaguely poppy folk mashup of a style which pleasingly bastardises stylistic norms and infuriates my lute playing friends. In combination with the pieces on the programme that are necessarily classically performed, I hope that a better understanding of the historical narratives around these pieces leads to an improved understanding of what makes them, in some cases, difficult to grapple with – but that puts forward the case that radical interventions can be a part of a potential solutions package.

Sean Shibe

I met and started working with Sean a decade ago at the Marlboro Music Festival, the storied chamber music Mecca in southern Vermont. Ever since those days in the confines of a most traditional classical music space, Sean and I frequently discussed making an album together. I am so pleased the time has come to offer Broken Branches to our listeners.

Over the years, I have often strayed from the well worn footpaths of a career in classical music. It’s in these wanderings where so much can be learned about one’s roots and the idea of a home base. For me, music (regardless of genre) will always be my home. I want my storytelling-throughsong to resonate with the times we’re living in and how I experience them as an individual artist.

On the road less traveled I’ve found lots of wood to build a home held together by the glue that is music. A heartfelt thank you to my buddy and collaborator, the great oak, Sean; to flowering trees of discovery, Nell Snaidas, Ronnie Malley, Lisa Kaplan and Matthew Duvall; and to my Ma and dearly departed Pop, two uprooted Cedars of Lebanon, for teaching me about resilience and home beyond domiciles, and giving me the courage to leave it only to find that I always have a place to go to feel safe.”

Karim Sulayman

Digital Release Date: 5 MAY 2023

Physical Release: MAY 2023

Released as 1 CD and in digital formats for streaming and high-resolution downloads.