Ambassadress of Arabic Music

loading Relishing in the musical moment.

Music, health, and spirituality are all intertwined. People have this misconception that music is a separate and dismissible option, but the best medicine for the soul is sometimes music.

April Centrone is a drummer, percussionist, teacher and music therapist based in New York and New Jersey in the US, who enjoys an international reputation as well. She recently released her solo album, New Moon, and was in Penang for the Malaysian leg of her tour. That trip was organised by the Crescent Collective, a collective of individuals with the common interest of spreading knowledge about traditional Islam by creative and artistic means, in partnership with the US Embassy.

Centrone began her first music therapy programme at a prominent New York children’s psychiatric hospital. The inmates there were labelled as problematic, bad and damaged. Centrone saw the potential of music as a means of healing for the children: “There was a music room that was not being used at the hospital; I was told that they could not find teachers who stayed long enough to teach the children music. It was a waste to have a fully equipped music room that was unused, so I told the hospital that I would do it.” Her most gratifying reward was when the children who took her classes learned how to play the drums. When they channelled their angst and frustrations to create music, she felt that she had made a difference in their lives.

 April Centrone, spiritual musician and music therapist.

“Music, health, and spirituality are all intertwined. People have this misconception that music is a separate and dismissible option, but the best medicine for the soul is sometimes music,” she says.

Centrone also taught music at refugee camps and in underprivileged zones in Beirut, Lebanon from 2013 to 2016, helping refugees cope with their losses. “The music they learn can offset intense feelings of loss with aspects of their lives that cannot be lost and that have lived and survived through the ages. It reminds them that they are a part of the rich, ancient, wise and profound (Arabic) culture. Likewise, expressing oneself in art is essential to the soul, body and mind, and reduces suffering and prevents post-traumatic stress from developing,” says Centrone.

The time she spent in Beirut inspired New Moon, which is a compilation of her performances on the drum set, riq (Arabic tambourine), bendir (North African wooden frame drum), oud (Turkish lute), gambus (Arabic short-neck lute), buzuq (Arabic long-neck lute), guitar and piano, as well as voice and spoken word. New Moon tells a story of trauma and war, love and sex, as well as death and rebirth. Centrone performed most of the instruments on the album.

Centrone’s late grandmother, who was a feminist playwright and civil rights activist, also served as a source of inspiration. She grew up listening to the music of her grandmother’s plays. Emotionally charged, it was raw, honest and ahead of its time, in fighting for the rights of women, African-Americans and war-torn families. After her grandmother’s death, Centrone was driven to carry on her good work through music.

Channelling Culture Through Music

Centrone co-founded the New York Arabic Orchestra (NYAO), a non-profit organisation, in 2007. Serving as the lead percussionist and executive director, Centrone’s goal is to preserve and promote classical and traditional Arabic music, along with its culture, through the NYAO’s concerts, compositions and educational programmes.

Comprising 40 musicians who hail from different cultural, musical and educational backgrounds united by their love of Arabic music and culture, NYAO has played in esteemed venues such as Carnegie Hall, Symphony Space, Columbia University's Miller Theatre, Merkin Hall and Detroit Symphony Hall. NYAO has  also been invited around the world to host lectures and workshops at universities, public schools, cultural centres and refugee camps.

In 2001 NYAO was invited to play at one of the city’s biggest outdoor festivals, Lincoln Center Out of Doors. Thousands came to watch a presentation of Arabic music. There was no political or capitalist agenda, just culture. “That summer’s day, NYAO achieved something great in America. People got past the image of Arabs and Arabic culture as portrayed in the media. The walls came down. All people saw was the beauty of a rich culture, and a music that was little known before.”

Centrone has toured with Arabic icons such as Ziad Rahbani, Bassam Saba and Marcel Khalife. Her music has indeed allowed her to tour throughout Europe, the Americas, the Middle East and Asia. She has also held lectures at universities around the world, including Taipei National University of the Arts and the Lebanese American University, in addition to public schools throughout New York City.

Soloing on the drums at Tempatan Fest in Ipoh.

“Part of the joy I derive from playing music in public places is the exchange I feel with the audience, when they too are in the zone as much as I am. My most spellbinding moments are when I use music as a channel to express how I feel, and the audience receives and connects with the emotions I am projecting,” she says.

During her residence in Lebanon, she founded Project Juthoor, an Arabic music and language initiative for refugee and underprivileged youths. She holds weekly classes for women in percussions, oud and drum meditation, and strongly advocates female empowerment in her teaching and compositions. “My personal creative process is through channelling overwhelming emotion – whether it is sadness, love, fear, bewilderment, frustration or discouragement – and allowing it space on a paper,” says Centrone. “The poetry and motifs of music come forth naturally as if already written.”

April Centrone’s debut solo album, New Moon, is available on iTunes, Spotify and SoundCloud. Stay updated on her latest gigs and upcoming projects on www.aprildrums.com.

When she is not writing, Tho Mun Yi moonlights as a Tarot card reader and makes a living helping her clients live more in the present. During her sessions with her clients, she uses Tarot as a guide to gain a higher sense of mindfulness and enlightenment.



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