The brainchild of composer/singer Hamza Abouabdelmajid and Annick Beauvais (oboe, bass, reita), Montreal's Ayrad (pronounced hi-e-rad) mines a myriad of musical styles, easily shifting from the Maghrebian, Arab-Andalusian and Moroccan-Jewish repertoires to Reggae, Raï and Latin grooves. The collective – comprised of six past masters of world music cross-pollination – is distinguished by its moving poetry, inspiring melodies and improvisatory skills. In addition to Hamza and Annick, the musicians are: Gabriel Brochu-Lajoie, backing vocals, bass, double bass and voice; Anit Ghost, violin, backing vocals; Kattam Laraki-Côté, percussion, backing vocals; and Bertil Schulrabe, drums. The whole project is supported by the poignant voice of Hamza, who sings in both Arabic and French.
Hamza (whose Berber name is Ayrad) was born in the Medina of Fes, the cultural and spiritual capital of Morocco and, as a child, learnt music from his father and the guests who would sing and play at family parties. He arrived in Montreal in 2005 to attend university and, along with his brother Khahil, formed the award-winning ensemble Bambara Trans. Then, Hamza decided to start his own band, first recruiting Annick – whom he had met at the local world music performance space Les Bobards – followed by the other members of his multi-genre instrumentalist 'family'.
Ayrad are winners of the 2012-13 Prix de la Diversité, and were 2015 JUNO nominees for Best World Music Album. The group's self-titled debut was recorded at Montreal's Fast Forward Studios with Rob Heaney (Cirque du Soleil) and exemplifies Ayrad's ground-breaking hybrid sound. A sophomore album is already in the works, which, says Hamza, "is going to be saxophone, trumpet, and more brass. And it is going to (incorporate) more blues, rock and funk. And (sound) less like a homage to the other music."