Suad Bushnaq – Fascinating Music and Film Score Composer

Suad Bushnaq – Fascinating Music and Film Score Composer

Couple of months ago we made an interview with Canadian/Palestinian/Syrian academic musician. She was especially interesting to us because her origins are Bosnian aslo. Immediately, when we contacted her, she was eager to answer our questions. Previously, we published translation of this interview in Bosnian, now you have opportunity to read it in original form. Inspirative, ambitious, genius. In short – Suad Bushnaq (You can follow her work on her FB page: Suad Bushnaq FB )

We have been really honored when You decided to give an interview for our Portal. First of all we want to thank You. What did you first think when we contacted you from Bosnia-Herzegovina?

First of all, it is my honour to be featured in a Bosnian magazine, so I have to thank you! I was actually very excited when I was contacted from Bosnia-Herzegovina because although I always carry Bosnia in my heart and am proud to belong to Bosnia, I never thought Bosnia would really care about that! So, to have this recognition means a lot. It also reassures me that Bosnians are people who love the arts and culture, which is what I always believed about them.

1483715_470435133062187_771062038_o-1024x758You are  the only Arab woman to receive an entrance scholarship fro the world-renowned music composition program at McGill University. Not a lot of parents would encourage his/her child to be an artist – it is prefferable to be an engineer. How come you decided to start you career and what did people around you tell about that?

You know, when one of my dad’s customers at his pharmacy in Amman learned that I had decided to pursue my music studies professionally after high school, she leaned slowly toward him, and said in a comforting and apologetic tone, “You know what, it’s better than sitting at home doing nothing!” This was the attitude of many people where I lived. Others would raise their eyebrows in disbelief and exclaim, “Music?? Like that needs four years in university to be mastered?!” And then there was my high school math teacher, who asked the entire classroom what they wanted to pursue after school, only to fall off her chair laughing when she heard my choice. Mind you, I was one of the top students in school, but I was a musician at heart since the age of four when I started taking piano lessons. My dad had one of the largest classical music collections in Amman and my aunt played the piano, so I grew up around music. No one was going to change my mind about becoming a professional music composer. I was lucky to have extremely supportive parents who not only allowed me, but rather pushed me to do what I want because of their belief in the importance of doing what I love and loving what I do. The defining moment for me came when I started improvising music on the piano, and liked playing it more than playing music of other composers. Constantly hearing new music in my head, sometimes orchestrated, in addition to the inexplicable feeling of gratification once I’ve completed composing a piece, made me certain that I was born to do this.

OK, on the one hand we have opinion of Arab countries about a woman playing a piano, composing, travelling a lot, independent, and on the other hand opinion of West of hijabi girl that is artist – for which side it was more schocking?

This is a very interesting question actually. I think it still is more shocking to the Arab world just because the idea of studying music professionally is still new, let alone when it’s a woman who pursues it. However, as of a few years, there has been some change in the region and I feel that people are becoming more accepting, although there are some people, especially a minority of religious Muslims, who consider being a musician a taboo. On the other hand, there are some secular Arabs who think I should remove my hijab if I want to be a real musician, or cannot imagine how I am a practicing Muslim who’s also a practicing composer! So prejudice also comes from the Arab world, not just from the West.  I used to assume that people in the West would be shocked to know that I am a composer, but no one has expressed this shock to my face, so I wouldn’t be able to tell. Maybe for some of them seeing a Muslim musician breaks the stereotype. One of my main motivators to continue on my path of music composition after deciding to wear hijab was watching the Bosnian female choirs on YouTube. I just loved how they were dressed beautifully while making beautiful music, so that played a huge part in pushing me to continue doing what I love to do while remaining true to my Muslim faith at the same time.

What’s happening with women in Arab countries? Have they started to raise their voice? Is influence of western democracy and western role models bad?

I think women have always had a loud voice in the Arab World, but now we are hearing that voice more thanks to social media. I wouldn’t like to think that we are imitating the West as I feel that many of these Arab women are very Arab, and feminists in their own Arab way, which is great. I personally have been living in the West for more than a decade now so I’m used to a certain lifestyle now that might not be possible in the Arab world, but it makes me happy to see so many Arab women filmmakers coming to the spotlight for example…Arab women writers and painters….we have so much talent and it’s about time women were heard, and women need to write their own history in order for their names to be remembered.

suad1Where you find inspiration for those wonderful pieces? We read that your pieces are devoted to your mother?

I find inspiration in the blanks that surround my daily life. Just like any woman, I have a life outside my profession. I do the laundry, cook, clean, do the groceries, and all of this takes up a good chunk of time. I’m also a teacher. I am most inspired when my mind is working…and I love to get my mind to work through interesting conversations, good books, poetry, and one of my favourite ways to get inspired is to compose for film, because I’m always fascinated by how filmmakers can tell a story…so in that case, it’s the story, the characters, and the actual image on the screen that inspires my music. My mother, may God rest her soul in peace, was and remains to be my eternal driving force of inspiration because she always insisted that I follow my dreams and even insisted that I record my first CD. She had my best interest at heart and pushed me to be whatever I want to be. She was the most positive person I’ve ever encountered…a beautiful loving spirit and a feminist in every sense of the world who unfortunately left this world when she was only 53 years old. I am forever grateful to her, and to my dad of course, for never doubting me and for always being there for me. My mom used to also give her opinion about my pieces and even helped me compose the piece ‘Fantaisie’ by suggesting the middle section. She was sitting next to me at the piano and told me that I needed a rhythmic section for the middle and she played an example on the piano. By the way, my mother was not a musician and never took piano lessons, but she had an excellent musical ear.

Jordanian-Canadian composer of Palestinian, Syrian, and Bosnian roots – that’s called multiculturalism! Where you belong? How you define youself? What’s meaning of nation for a person like you?

Where I belong and how I define myself is probably the most difficult question anyone could ever ask me. I usually tell people, ‘How about I invite you for a coffee and show you a mini movie about the history of my family?!” I was born and raised in Amman to a Syrian mother, and a father who’s half Palestinian and half Bosnian, then moved to Canada. I never felt that I belonged anywhere because I’ve always felt that I’m a stranger no matter where I am. This is part of the reason why in my biography, I insist on mentioning my complex heritage as it is the only true definition of who I am ethnically. It’s actually confusing to belong to too many because it is the same as not belonging to any place… This is why I feel that a nation is carried in your heart wherever you are, and this multiculturalism is expressed in my music, and music transcends place and time and lasts forever…. so I feel that that is my true home: A dream world I create in these musical pieces that I compose. To add to the mix, my husband is half-Finnish half-Egyptian and grew up in Kuwait. So if we have kids one day, they will be CONFUSED!!!! Either that or I call them United Nations hehehe 🙂

339143_278222132283489_2003339157_oA lot of people didn’t know about Bushnaq families from Bosnia and Herzegovina, that migrated to Palestine after Austro-Hungarian empire came to rule to Bosnia. How familiar are you with the history of your family? What is your favourite thing about Bosnia? Why Mostar?

My father has always talked to us about the history of our family, and that we are Bosnians from Mostar. I always knew that our real family name was something along the lines of ‘lakshich’, but didn’t know how to spell it. Then in 2005 I joined Facebook and created a group for the Bushnaq family, knowing that many people spell it in different ways to I listed all the spellings I know in the title. We ended up having several hundred Bushanqs (Boushnak, Bouchnek, Bosnjak, etc.) join from all over the world, and one of these was a dentist named Hussein Bushnaq who happened to do a lot of research. He told me that my real family name is ‘Lakisic’ and that my family has a house in Mostar that was converted to a museum by the Aga Khan foundation. He also told me that my great great grandfather has a mosque in Mostar, his name is Hadji Ahmad Agha Lakisic. Unfortunately, and I’m embarrassed to say this, I’ve never been to Bosnia and it’s one of my dreams to come visit. My favourite thing about Bosnia is the people….I know it’s beautiful, but the way people practice the religion there is so classy and culturally rich, and I love how music is part of Islam and there isn’t this extremism that we sometimes see in the Arab world.


Can you compare situation, history, desitny of Palestine and Bosnia? Nations of never-ending sorrow.

All I can say is, with me being half Syrian in addition to being partly Palestinian and partly Bosnian, could the never-ending sorrow be any more intense? Haha…sometimes I tell myself, I wish I was Italian! At least I’d be able to live in peace….don’t get me wrong, I’m super proud of my heritage, but when I see what Bosnia went through, what Palestine has and continues to go through, and what Syria, one of the most safe, beautiful, and peaceful places on earth is currently going through…I tell myself I just hope that one day I can somehow have a home in each of Nazareth, Mostar, and Damascus…and live between the three in peace. That would be a dream come true!

And my team said that I have to ask you – when you are coming? Any concerts in plan?

My dream is to visit Bosnia, and it would be great to perform a concert there. Personally, though, my big Bosnian dream is to compose the music for a film by Aida Begic…and then come to the Sarajevo film festival and win an award for best film score……so let’s hope this happens real soon!


Thank you!!! Hvala 🙂 🙂

© Divithana, 2013