When Scott Ibex steps onto a stage, whether in Moab or elsewhere across North America, he owns it with a personal and unique style of playing guitar and singing. He’s been a staple in the music scene here for a number of years, but last month he took his minstrel ways to an even bigger stage — the Middle East.
For 21 days in December and January, Ibex toured in Jerusalem and areas outside the Jordanian capital of Amman, taking in not only the sights of the Holy Land, but also the sounds.
“I can’t tell you how incredible it was to hear two oud players perform in a traditional way, by players who grew up with that instrument, over there in Israel and Jordan,” Ibex said. “I wanted to go to the lands and hear the sounds of where King David, Jesus Christ and Muhammad convened in history.”
The oud is a lute-type stringed instrument played primarily in the Middle East, areas of the Mediterranean and North Africa.
Despite the region being a hotbed of political strife and war-torn turmoil, Ibex said he found that music is a penultimate language that he was able to use to communicate with the Israelis and Arabs on his trip.
“I actually debated whether or not to tell people I was from the United States, to maybe say I was from Canada,” Ibex said. “First off, I can’t lie anyway, but I was careful at first telling people where I was from, because of my safety. It took a leap of faith for me to go in the first place, but I got the ticket and said ‘now is the time’ because the season is slow and I’m not working as often as I would during the spring and summer.”
Ibex said he saved airline miles for more than a decade in order to get a free ticket for the trip. When he arrived in Israel on his first night overseas, he said he was frightened at first, but that the fear eventually subsided.
“I was afraid the first two nights because President Trump had just ordered the move of the Israeli embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem,” Ibex said. “It stirred the political cauldron over there and it took a couple of days for my excitement to rise over the idea of traveling and playing music." As to the music scene in the region, Ibex said he was “amazed” by the music of the region and that he did his best to play with as many musicians as he could.
“The music scene of both countries is awesome and I’m always seeking out new cultures through music,” Ibex said. “In Israel, I was amazed at the level of street performance and everyone that plays music is classically trained, it seems. Everyone was playing and there is this big, concrete piano on Jaffa Street that people play. A lot of pop music I heard there was based in old Jewish modes and traditions, with the crowd singing along. One of the most amazing things I heard was a violinist on the street who absolutely owned the instrument and was doing everything you can do with a violin. I honed my busking skills in Moab and I feel blessed I got the chance to do it in Jerusalem.”
Adding that he took his travel itinerary day by day, Ibex related a story about how he made the trip to Jordan, a Muslim-majority nation, just to the east of Israel. While the visit to Jordan was “mind-blowing” in Ibex’s words — and he made it a point to delve deep into Bedouin culture and music while there — the specter of international politics raised an ugly head on one occasion, preventing him from visiting Egypt, as he had originally planned.
“I had to have armed security travel across the border on the trip, because safety is a definite concern for Americans traveling in the area,” Ibex said. “We took these buses over the border to Jordan and then transferred to other vehicles and, I’ll never forget this, when I was in a shop the shopkeepers found out I was American and it began getting tense with questions about the American government and Trump.
“My heart was set on seeing the Great Pyramids, but the climate in Egypt is unsuitable to Americans now, so in Jordan these shopkeepers got together, three or four of them, and I had to defend myself as an American. They said they wanted to kill Trump and I had to teach them that all Americans are not like him or hate them and their country. I wanted them to know I traveled there to show love and learn.
“It turned out that I sang a song while they played drums and, afterward, they talked about how much they loved Obama and showed me pictures of him with one of their cousins. To be there and shake those hands, with good intentions, I hope I left them with the impression that not all Americans are bad.”
Now that he is back among red rocks and solid ground in Moab, Ibex is working on mixing and releasing his tenth album, which he said will feature Native American flute, drums and a full band that includes musician Glenn Sherrill. His ninth album, Live at the BluBar, was released in 2017.