Sight Up (Ancient Records, 2011)
One of the most interesting world fusion groups in the United States is Mawwal, a collective based in the Northeast. The musicians behind the project are composer Jim Matus on lutes and vocals; Joe O’Brien on fretless bass; Jill O’Brien on vocals; and Nur Habib on drums and percussion. The latest Mawwal album is titled Sight Up.
Mawwal performs primarily original material by Matus, who sets his musical imprint through his signature lute and vocal sound. The band draws its inspiration from various global traditions, such as the music of India, North America (including Jimi Hendrix!) and Eastern Europe and the rhythms of the Middle East and Africa. Matus is involved in numerous projects, many of which are instrumental. However, Mawwal celebrates the human voice with the participation of Matus, Jill O’Brien and guest vocalist Laila Salins singing in English and Latvian.
On Sight Up, Mawwal is joined by a large cast of instrumentalists, including percussionists Tony Vacca, Harshal Tole, Mike Keyes, and Shane Shanahan.
Jim Matus comments on the musical pieces:
1. ‘Bloom Forest.’ “The title of this song came to me in a dream after a trip to the remote hills of Jamaica.”
2. ‘Jajouka Between the Mountains’. “This is a song I learned from Bashir Attar, the leader of the Moroccan group Master Musicians of Jakouka.”
3. ‘Fuu Duu/Voodoo Chile’. “This song was arranged in the East African style and sung partly in English and partly in Arabic.”
Pieces 4, 5 and 6 all came in a dream.
7. ‘Early In The Morning. “This song was originally intended as an absurd rewrite of the traditional “Drunken Sailor.”
8. ‘Rag Yamen.’ “This is a song that I learned from master musician and teacher Stan Scott from Wesleyan U.
when I took some traditional Indian vocal lessons.”
Mawwal‘s Sight Up contains superb instrumental and vocal work. It is world fusion at its best.