PORTLAND (AP) – Zade Dirani has played his piano music for Nelson Mandela, Queen Elizabeth, and the king and queen of his home country, Jordan.

He also played for amateur pianist David Benton’s 48th birthday in Benton’s northern California living room.

“I found out this young, Jordanian musician would play for people who owned a grand piano and thought it sounded interesting,” Benton said. “It ended up he could come on my birthday, so it worked out well. … He played with a lot of emotion and power for me and my friends.”

Dirani, speaking before a recent performance at a Portland church, said he plays with the same intensity no matter what the occasion.

“I try to give my best, give all of me regardless of whether I’m performing in an arena or in someone’s living room,” he said.

Dirani, 22, lives in Lebanon, N.H., and began touring the country giving “house concerts” shortly after Sept. 11, 2001. He had been scheduled to give a performance the next day in Maine, but was grounded in Amman, Jordan, during what he called “a time of pain and hurt.”

When he finally played in a home by the Saco River, it ended up being about more than music.

“During that performance I felt my presence as an Arab – and as a Muslim for that matter – in the middle of the American home was very important because of the emotional interaction between myself and the people,” Dirani said.

He said the message was not meant to be political or directly about 9/11, but many in the audience cried.

“It was all about the human emotion and realizing that we are all the same,” Dirani said. “The emotions were overwhelming and the response was just phenomenal.”

Dirani has been touring the country ever since, playing his blend of Western classical and Middle Eastern music in living rooms, schools, churches and synagogues from Enfield, N.H. to Malibu, Calif.

“In a house concert you have the very intense setting where you have an almost one-on-one relationship with the audience,” he said. “After shows, we talk about our cultures and share our experiences.”

Dirani’s latest project is working with the founder of Vermont-based Windham Hill Records, Will Ackerman, on promoting his new album.

Ackerman met Dirani when he was studying at Berklee. He was prompted to help produce the musician’s album when he sat down at a piano with Dirani and listened to him improvise.

Dirani is also putting effort into his Jordanian Musician Fund, a program to help promote and support young musicians.

“I’m the happiest when I’m performing … and I want to see this happening for others that might not be encouraged to do it or might have fears or low self-esteem,” he said. “There is a lot of talent back home – they just need a little nudge to get them going.”



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Dirani said his compositions originate from improvisation and playing with melodies. He is trained in Western classical music, and his influences range from the pop group the Counting Crows to the Lebanese Rahbani Brothers and singer Fairuz. But his tastes, he said, are always changing.

“I’ve been listening to a lot of alternative rock lately,” Dirani said, citing the band Wilco as a particular favorite.

Dirani has been interested in blending musical forms since he started playing the piano at the age of 12. The son of an architect, he grew up around artwork and music. His father had spent time in America, and Dirani attended the Berklee College of Music in Boston before devoting himself to touring and recording full time in 2001.

The young Jordanian is no stranger to the limelight. He played his first concert in Amman at the age of 17 to a sold-out crowd of 400.

“No one had ever heard of me before,” Dirani said. “But I was 17 and composing my own music. People were curious.”

When he was 18, he performed his music with 100 musicians from Jordan’s national orchestra and choir. The concert was played before an audience of about 2,000 and broadcast on television.

“It was phenomenal for me to hear all of them playing the music that I wrote because I’d never heard it before,” he said. “It was all in my head or on paper, and to hear it being played by an orchestra was amazing.”

Two years after his stadium concert, Dirani joined King Abdullah and Queen Rania of Jordan in a trip to the United Kingdom, where he performed for Queen Elizabeth.

Shortly thereafter, he played an AIDS benefit in Washington, D.C. for former President of South Africa Nelson Mandela. Dirani wrote a tango for the elder statesman to express his admiration.

“You get so moved by someone by something that they’ve accomplished or done and my admiration comes out in music for me. That’s just how I express it,” he said.


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