Liberating Dialog

Wahid – Road Poem

Road Poem (Blouzo Music ADW12400, 2012)

The oud (Arabic lute) and various forms of percussion come together in an album of improvisatory music by California based duo Wahid. Dimitris Mahlis (oud) and Chris Wabich (frame drums, percussion) form Wahid. They are two well-known musicians in the Los Angeles music scene. They have experience in the areas of jazz, rock, and world music.

Road Poem, scheduled for release on September 25, 2012, presents a series of instrumental pieces inspired by the musics of the Eastern Mediterranean. “We’re drawing on Byzantine modes and the Turkish maqam (scale and melody) system in our compositions,” Mahlis explains. “I grew up hearing traditional Greek and Byzantine liturgical music, as my father was Greek Orthodox cantor. That tradition is all vocal, without instrumental accompaniment, but the melodic structures and intervals are the same as Turkish classical music.”

Don’t let the term improvisatory intimidate you. Dimitris Mahlis’ plays captivating melodies with the oud and Chris Wabich uses tuned frame drums, which are exquisite. Wabich makes his own drums. “The way frame drums are traditionally made and played is always out of tune,” Wabich says. “You can approximate the pitch, but as you bring the drum closer to the body, it goes flat, as much as a half-step off. The drums I made are really oversized for the note I need. You need to have more tension on the drum so that the harmonic is finally in tune and really close to a perfect octave. I don’t’ have to mute the sound to prevent that out-of-tune moment. The sound can naturally decay.”

Both musicians have an impressive resume. Mahlis is a student of Turkish oud master Ustad Necati Celik and has performed with renowned Bollywood composer A.R. Rahman, jazz trumpeter Freddy Hubbard as well as popular Greek performers like Dionyssios Savoppoulos, and Thanassis Papakonstantinou. Wabich has recorded with Leonard Cohen, Ludacris, and performed with a wide-range of international acts, like Turkish multi-instrumentalist and composer Omar Faruk and jazz vocalist Mark Murphy.

In my composing, I’m always looking for a melody that moves me,” says Mahlis. “In Eastern music, we have a richness of melody, whereas in Western composition, we have made great strides in harmony. I’m trying to bring those elements together, using the strength of the melody. I look at each string on the oud as a vocal cord. That changes the intonation and phrasing.”

With larger ensembles, you often face a density problem,” clarifies Wabich. “Traditionally, our instruments have a lot of nuance. You have to have enough space, enough stillness to really get at that.”

Wahid introduces the listener to the interactive magic of the oud and frame drums, creating new music that is emotive and outright beautiful.

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Author: Angel Romero

Angel Romero y Ruiz has been writing about world music music for many years. He founded the websites and Angel produced several TV specials for Metropolis (TVE) and co-produced “Musica NA”, a music show for Televisión Española (TVE) in Spain that featured an eclectic mix of world music, fusion, electronica, new age and contemporary classical music. Angel also produced and remastered world music albums, compilations and boxed sets for Alula Records, Ellipsis Arts, Music of the World.


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