Mazen Kerbaj was born in 1975 in Beirut, Lebanon during the outbreak of the Civil War. Generally speaking, Kerbaj’s came into public awareness came after he posted an excerpt from his minimalist improvisation Starry Night on his blog, which was recorded on Kerbaj’s balcony in July of 2006 during the Israeli bombing of Beirut. Before this, he had also posted a series of war-themed drawings to the blog. His mother, the well-known artist Laure Ghorayeb, was responsible for Kerbaj wanting to draw and it was with her that, at the age of 35, he began to create his cartoon drawings.
Kerbaj studied graphic design at the Lebanese Academy of Fine Arts, focusing on illustration. He is the author of 15 books, as well as countless illustrations for magazines and newspapers. At the age of 18, Kerbaj became seriously interested in avant-garde music, inspired by the guitarist Sharif Sehnaoui. It was Sehnaoui who gave Kerbaj his first trumpet. To this day, they continue to collaborate.
In 2001, together with Sehnaoui, Kerbaj organized the first edition of Irtjal, an international festival of free improvisation, in his hometown. This festival has since become a platform for bringing together experimental musicians from all over the world. In 2004, also with Sehnaoui, Kerbaj founded the label Al Maslakh. Today it covers the non-conformist scene both locally and abroad. Kerbaj continues to work tirelessly, broadening his technique for playing the trumpet. His sound is solely acoustic, without the use of any electronic effects. As one of his role models, Kerbaj cites the British saxophonist Evan Parker, thanks to whom he discovered circular breathing.
Rouba3i, one of Kerbaj’s main projects, appeared in its first variation in 2002. At this time, Lê Quan Ninh, a Franco-Vietnamese percussionist, joined the group’s three central members: Kerbaj, Sehnaoui, and the saxophonist Christine Sehnaoui. In its fifth mutation, the Norwegian Ingar Zach (recorded on the CD Rouba3i5) joined the group. The American drummer Michael Zerang has also performed with them, as well as the Australian globetrotter Tony Buck, who appeared at the 2016 vs. Interpretation festival. In addition to solo performances, Kerbaj regularly performs with the “A” Trio (with Sharif Sehnaoui and the double bassist Raedem Yassine) and collaborates with the Austrian trumpeter Franz Hautzinger (most recently in the Ariha Brass Quartet which also includes the trumpeter Axel Dörner and tubist Carl Ludwig Hübsch). The multination formation Karkhana (Kerbaj, Sehnaoui, Zerang, Umut Caglar, Sam Shalabi, Maurice Louca, Tony Elieh), with members from Lebanon, Turkey, Egypt and the U.S., is a recent collaboration with Kerbaj. As of last year, Kerbaj lives in Berlin, where he performs in the B Quartet along with Tony Buck, Magda Mayas, and Mike Majkowski, among others.