Ancient Sufi Invocations & Forgotten Songs from Aleppo (Electric Cowbell Records, 2014)
Jason Hamacher of Lost Origin Productions is on a mission – to collect as much fading religious music as possible. In 2010, Mr. Hamacher in the midst of Aleppo, Syria attempting to continue his documentation of Jewish sites for a project started in 2008, only to find his access denied due to security problems and the situation in Syria increasingly precarious. Fortunately, Mr. Hamacher’s access to the Islamic community was still viable. There he set out to record and document the more mysterious Sufi practices. This is the dawn of Ancient Sufi Invocations & Forgotten Songs from Aleppo by the group Nawa on the Electric Cowbell Records.
In the courtyard of a 500 year-old house in the 8,000 year-old city of Aleppo the sacred Sufi chant of Nawa’s Muhammed Amino, Fawaz Baker, Khaled Al Hafez, Mouhammed Hlouhi, Ibrahim Jaber, Ibrahim Muslimani, Mouhammed Muslimani, Bashar Al Sayed, Tarek Al Sayed Yehya drift out in deeply moving strains older than the walls that contain them.
Singular vocals against a deep wall of chant, Nawa moves through a series of six chants that include ancestral devotionals like “Fasel Al Jalal,” “Fasel Kesmet Al Sawi” and “Fasel Al Sawi” from Aleppo. Mowashahs, a form of Arabic poetry to music, “Moswashah Dhabya Wadi Al Naqah,” “Mowashah Al Refku Be Maftoon” and “Mowashah Habbatha Al Dugah” round out Ancient Sufi Invocations. Marked by poignant, plaintive leading vocals, deep, rich backing chant or flowing choruses, this music revels in its spare beauty, occasionally decorated with oud and percussion.
I suppose at this point it’s anyone’s guess if the house and courtyard in Aleppo where this music was recorded is still standing. I suppose the same could be said of the members of Nawa, as the members of the group scattered to the winds after just a few times in public before the vicious claws of Syria’s civil war dug deep into the people and the landscape.
For the most part we are all just distant observers, but we can be the listeners and keepers of the music of Aleppo’s Sufi traditions with Ancient Sufi Invocations & Forgotten Songs from Aleppo. We are indeed fortunate that Mr. Hamacher had the foresight to capture these voices before they disappeared.