Revisit this one of a kind musical journey exploring the traditions and sounds of seafaring cultures from the Gulf and North Africa to Cuba.

Presented in partnership with the Ministry of Culture and Knowledge Development

Were you there? Led by pianist, composer, and director Arturo O’Farrill, the Cuban-Khaleeji Project was a world premiere collaboration commissioned by The Arts Center, weaving together the music of the Khaleeji people, the Middle East, Spain, Morocco, and Cuba.

For one time only, revisit this highlight from The Arts Center’s archives, filmed in The Red Theater to a sold-out crowd on February 20, 2019. Bridge the social distance, join the community online.

Brought to you by six time Grammy-award winner Arturo O’Farrill and the 18 piece Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra. The special guests include:

  • Yazz Ahmed (Bahrain / UK)
  • Boom.Diwan (Kuwait / UAE)
  • Ali Obaid (UAE)
  • Malika Zarra (Morocco / France)

“Mr. O’Farrill has honed the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra to handle dizzyingly complex music with earthy joy.” – The New York Times

“The music of the Khaleeji people, the Middle East, Spain, and Morocco is embedded in the DNA of Northern and Western Africa, which is the source of nutrition for all the music we call Afro Latin. The very roots of jazz, and the roots of all the music of the Americas, is inexorably intertwined with the peoples of the desert. Explore with us as we collaborate on an evening that is part mad scientist and part inspired music making, all set to the heartbeat and pulse of cultures that defy their geographies to join in that journey to find the central role of music as the unifier of mankind.” – Arturo O’Farrill

Afro-Latin jazz innovator Arturo O’Farrill leads a musical exploration of the Arab, Moorish, and North African roots of Afro Latin and Afro Cuban music and the seafaring music of the Arabian Gulf, featuring the Grammy-winning Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra, and a broad range of khaleeji special guests. Inspired by Ned Sublette’s work tracing this connection between the Arabic and the Afro Cuban music as it travels via the Strait of Gibraltar and Andalucia. The usage of microtonal variation in Middle Eastern song and similar practice in the Blues and Afro folkloric chants is created with the invited guests, as they also explore the relationship of khaleeji and Cuban music with seafaring culture.

Listen to the artists.

Arturo O’Farrill and the Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra

Yazz Ahmed


Malika Zarra

Ali Obaid

[Yazz Ahmed’s La Saboteuse is ] genuinely transcultural music, rooted in Middle Eastern and jazz traditions yet also resolutely futuristic.” – All About Jazz

Abdulaziz and his percussion ensemble, Boom.Diwan are really the living archive of Kuwaiti Bahri music. The music has been passed down to them orally and corporeally and within the space of a Diwaniya, generationally. They are like the keepers of this past.” – al-Mulaifi in Bazaar.


The Grammy-award winning Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra (ALJO), led by pianist, composer, and director Arturo O’Farrill, brings together the drama of big band jazz, the culture of Latin music, and the virtuosity of eighteen of the world’s most accomplished solo musicians. Twelve years of critically acclaimed performances internationally, have firmly established the ALJO as the standard-bearer for creative interpretation of Latin jazz greats such as Tito Puente, Frank “Machito” Grillo, and Chico O’Farrill, as well as the driving force behind new commissions from Latin music’s most talented composers and arrangers. Presenting programs that range from the very best in dance music sure to bring audiences to their feet, to repertoire that pushes the genre forward, the ALJO commissions and performs innovative compositions and big band arrangements by Vijay Iyer, Miguel Zenón, Dafnis Prieto, Guillermo Klein, Pablo Mayor, Arturo O’Farrill, Michele Rosewoman, Emilio Solla, Papo Vazquez, and many others.

Arturo O’Farrill, pianist, composer, and educator, was born in Mexico and grew up in New York City. He received his formal musical education at the Manhattan School of Music, Brooklyn College Conservatory, and the Aaron Copland School of Music at Queens College. His professional career began with the Carla Bley Band and continued as a solo performer with a wide spectrum of artists including Dizzy Gillespie, Lester Bowie, Wynton Marsalis, and Harry Belafonte.
In 2007, he founded the Afro Latin Jazz Alliance as a not-for-profit organization dedicated to the performance, education, and preservation of Afro Latin music.

In December 2010 Arturo traveled with the original Chico O’Farrill Afro Cuban Jazz Orchestra to Cuba, returning his father’s musicians to his homeland. He continues to travel to Cuba regularly as an informal Cultural Ambassador, working with Cuban musicians, dancers, and students, bringing local musicians from Cuba to the US and American musicians to Cuba. Concurrently, Arturo is the Director of Jazz Studies at CUNY Brooklyn College.

An avid supporter of all the Arts, Arturo has performed with Ballet Hispanico and the Malpaso Dance Company, for whom he has written two ballets. The Alvin Ailey Dance Company is touring a ballet entitled Open Door, choreographed by Ron Brown to several of Arturo’s compositions and recordings.

Arturo has received commissions from Meet the Composer, Jazz at Lincoln Center, The Philadelphia Music Project, Symphony Space, the Bronx Museum of the Arts, and the New York State Council on the Arts.
Arturo’s well-reviewed and highly praised “Afro-Latin Jazz Suite” from Cuba: The Conversation Continues took the 2016 Grammy Award (his fourth) for Best Instrumental Composition.

Yazz Ahmed is a British-Bahraini trumpet player and composer.
Her music, through which she seeks to blur the lines between jazz, electronic sound design and the music of her mixed heritage, has been described as ‘psychedelic Arabic jazz, intoxicating and compelling’.
In recent years she has lead her ensembles in concerts in London, around the UK and abroad, including New York, Kuwait, Ukraine, Algeria, Berlin, Paris, Istanbul, Tunisia and Amsterdam.
Yazz has also recorded and performed with Radiohead, Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, ABC, Swing Out Sister, Joan as Police Woman, Tarek Yamani, Amel Zen and has toured the world with art-rock band, These New Puritans.
In 2012, Yazz represented Bahrain in London’s Cultural Olympiad, joining renowned musicians from the Arabian Gulf in collaboration with Transglobal Underground. This project, In Transit, was supported by the British Council and was performed in Dubai and London.

Yazz was awarded a jazz fellowship from Birmingham Jazzlines in 2014, who supported her during the course of a year in writing a major new suite, Alhaan al Siduri, premiered in October 2015 at the CBSO Centre, Birmingham. One year later the second performance marked Yazz’s debut in her paternal homeland at the Bahrain International Music Festival.
In 2015, she was commissioned by Tomorrow’s Warriors, with the support of PRS Women Make Music, to write a suite inspired by courageous and influential female role models. Polyhymnia was premiered at the Purcell Room by a special all female line-up of the Nu Civilisation Orchestra at the WOW! Festival in March 2015.
During her recent year as an LSO Soundhub composer, she explored writing music for her newly developed quarter-tone flugelhorn, which enables her to get closer to the spiritual nature of the blue notes in Arabic music.
Her first album, Finding My Way Home, 2011, marked the beginning of her exploration of fusing jazz and Arabic music. This was followed in 2017 by her critically acclaimed album, La Saboteuse (Naim), which has brought her to the attention of a global audience.

Moroccan singer/composer/producer, Malika Zarra is a multicultural shapeshifter, an enchantress who leaps effortlessly between seemingly unconnected languages and traditions, uniting them while utilizing each to further enrich the others. The exotically beautiful artist with the velvety, sinuous mezzo-soprano voice has demonstrated a rare ability to communicate both powerful and subtle ideas and feelings in Berber, Moroccan Arabic, French and English now a much-in-demand headliner at concert halls and festivals the world over.

Boom.Diwan dialog Kuwaiti bahri (sea) rhythms with world improvisational traditions for the purpose of creating a new alternative Kuwaiti music. Ghazi Al-Mulaifi, whose roots lie in Kuwaiti pearl diving music, world-jazz, and heritage production, is joined by seven skillful percussionists to form ensemble. Dr. Mulaifi is currently teaching guitar and Khaleeji Music at NYU Abu Dhabi.

Emirati oudist Ali Obaid presents a musical dialogue rich in Emirati heritage and character. Having reached international success, his music showcases an authentic history of his home town Fujairah, UAE. He was the first to join and graduate from the Arabic Oud House in Abu Dhabi, under the supervision of a group of Oud teachers headed by Mr. Nasir Shamma. After graduating he launched an Emirati band “Takht Al Emarat”, which was the first identified Emirati band that has played local and international festivals.