Tag Archives: Arabic music

Artist Profiles: Sawt El Atlas

Sawt El Atlas

Sawt El Atlas (Voices of the Atlas) was fronted by the warm voices of singers Kamel and Mounir. The ten-piece band combined Middle Eastern, rai, reggae, funk and Latin beats. The musicians were genuine party animals and had a gift for sweeping audiences off their feet.

Sawt El Atlas’ album Donia drew increasingly deeply on their multicultural inspiration. As Sawt El Atlas liked to say: “In Morocco, they look on us as French people, and in France, as Moroccans. Although we have two cultures, we don’t belong to either country specifically.”

The original line-up of Sawt El Atlas consisted of three brothers from each of two families, the Mirghanis (originally from Southern Morocco) and the El Habchis (from Casablanca). They were later joined by four other musicians. Lead singers Kamel and Mounir and their brothers grew up in the suburbs of Blois in the center of France.

Sawt El Atlas started to hit the road in the 1990s when they were just 12, and played at many festivals in France, Holland and Germany and supported a number of major artists on tour. In 1996, after more than 200 gigs, they released their first CD, titled Généraliser (Generalising), produced by Daniel Jamet former member of Mano Negra. It was a lively album swept along by its Arabic-French lyrics, which were deliberately positive even when they attacked the precarious nature of everyday social integration:

Whether you’re on the dole, a street sweeper or an engineer,
Whether you’re white, black, or Arab,
Remember there’s no difference, no preference: here, we dance…

In 1999, Sawt El Atlas signed to Sony’s Small label and they released a firmly mature album titled Donia, mainly sung in Arabic, but with some French too. They began to record Donia in Paris, in the studio of Sodi, the producer of Les Negresses Vertes, Femi Kuti and IAM, but it was completed in Cairo, the crossroads of modern Arabic music where a true oriental sound can be obtained using local instruments such as the Kawala flute, ud, qanun, Egyptian percussion and Egypt’s legendary string formations.

Donia was mixed by Carmen Rizzo who has worked with Prince, Khaled and Zebda among others. The generous nature of singer-songwriters Kamel and Mounir, combined with their brothers’ talent and the background of the other musicians to produce a perfect blend of Middle Eastern roots and modern groove. This time, the album’s lyrics focused on the world’s most universal theme: love. Donia’s twelve songs are a hymn to love, respectively devoted to mothers, couples, people in general, life and God. All were written as original pop songs: the radio-friendly first single Ne Me Jugez-Pas (Don’t judge me), the Middle Eastern jungle of Ness featuring Natacha Atlas, a long-time friend of the band, the flamenco leanings of Andalucia, the groove-reggae of Datna and the eponymous track, Donia.

Sawt El Atlas said: “The album is dedicated to people who are short of exoticism and warmth.”

Discography:

Generaliser (Rue Bleue, 1996)
Donia (Sony, 1999/Tinder Records, 2001)

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Rise of the Shamstep

47Soul – Balfron Promise (Cooking Vinyl, 2018)

Balfron Promise is an album by 47Soul, a shamstep band that has been getting a lot of attention in the British press. Although currently based in London, the four musicians have Palestinian and Jordanian roots.

Shamstep is a genre created by 47Soul in which Palestinian traditional music such as dabke is combined with cutting edge electronic music and vocals in Arabic.

The synthesizer player produces some of most fascinating elements in the band, injecting high energy Middle Eastern melodies using distorted synthesizer sounds. The rhythm section is formidable, mixing electronic beats and acoustic percussion such as darbuka.

The lyrics focus on social injustice in London (Balfron Promise refers to residents of Balfron Tower being evicted due to gentrification) and sociopolitical problems in the Middle East.
The lineup includes Z the People on vocals and synthesizers; El Far3i (Tareq Abu Kwaik) on darbuka and vocals; Walaa Sbeit on percussion and vocals; and El Jehaz on guitar and vocals.

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Fascinating Ud and Santur Encounters

Rahim AlHaj Trio – One Sky (Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, 2018)

Ud virtuoso Rahim AlHaj presents a new set of works in trio format. His colleagues include Iranian santur master Sourena Sefati and Palestinian-American percussionist Issa Malluf.

The majority of the musical are compositions by Rahim AlHaj inspired by folk and classical Arabic music plus one from Sourena Sefati. The CD booklet in English and Arabic provides extensive details about each piece.

On One Sky, Rahim AlHaj and Sourena Sefati showcase their talent with dazzling solos and fascinating ud-santur interplay, supported by Issa Malluf’s reliable hand percussion.

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Deeply Mesmerizing Ud

Smadj – Solotronic (Whirling Wolf, 2017)

Solotronic is the new solo album by Smadj (Jean-Pierre Smadja), a French-Tunisian artist who has taken the ud (Arabic lute) to new realms. On Solotronic, Smadja delivers solo ud pieces where the lute appears in a calm acoustic form and fiery electric format as well. Smadj enhances the ud via electronic effects, using reverb, loops, and adding cutting edge electronic beats and ambient sounds at times.

Smadj’s Solotronica features a shape-shifting ud that is deeply mesmerizing, forward-looking and satisfying.

Buy the digital version of Solotronic

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Artist Profiles: Waed Bouhassoune

Waed Bouhassoune

Syrian singer and ‘ud player Waed Bouhassoune was born in 1979. She has a voice of such quality that is rarely encountered one of the most famous voices of Arab song of the last thirty years. Her voice immediately brings to mind that of Umm Kalthum or Asmahan but even though she was born in the same town as the latter it can only be Waed’s voice.

Ever since her first audition in Aleppo the specialists (sammaines) immediately recognized her talent: she was symbolically authorized to perform in public in Paris at the Maison des Cultures du Monde and at the Institut du Monde Arabe. Her success was immediate and she was hailed by the press as a revelation.

Returning to Syria, Waed gave a series of concerts notably at the Damascus Opera. In 2006 she was invited to the Festival of Assilah and the Madinah Festival in Tunis before touring France.
In 2010 Waed Bouhassoun moved to Paris.

Discography:

La voix de l’amour (Institut du Monde Arabe, 2009)
L’âme du luth (Buda Musique, 2014)
La Voix de la passion, with Moslem Rahal (Buda Musique, 2016)

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Syrian Kanun Dreams

Maya Youssef ‎- Syrian Dreams (Harmonia Mundi, 2017)

Syrian Dreams brings together Arabic and western classical music traditions as well as other influences like jazz and flamenco. Maya Youssef is a London-based Syrian musician and composer specialized in the kanun, the ancient plucked zither used in Arabic music.

On Syrian Dreams, Maya’s virtuosic kanun is joined by Barney Morse-Brown’s cello, Attab Haddad’s ud and Sebastian Flaig’s percussion. Flaig uses a wide range of percussion instruments from the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa.

The album includes solo recitals by Maya Youssef as well as duets and ensemble pieces. While Maya Youssef and Attab Haddad contribute performances based on maqam and modern influences, Barney Morse-Brown adds the western chamber music tradition. Meanwhile, Sebastian Flaig’s percussion cuts across traditions, bridging various genres.

The CD booklet includes liner notes in English, French and Arabic.

Personnel: Maya Youssef on kanun; Barney Morse-Brown on cello; Attab Haddad on ‘ud; and Sebastian Flaig on dobolla, bells, riq, frame drums, tasmburiq, cymbal and pitched udu.

 

 

Syrian Dreams is a set of mesmerizing and beautifully-crafted interpretations by one of the finest kanun players in the current contemporary Arabic music scene.

Buy Syrian Dreams

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Artist Profiles: Sabah Fakhri

Sabah Fakhri

Sabah Fakhri is one of the foremost master vocalists of the Arab world. He was born in Aleppo, Syria in 1933. His talent was recognized early: he was barely ten when he began performing at event concerts with leading professionals of the time.

Fakhri’s teachers at the Damascus Conservatory were well-known composers Shaykh Ali al-Darwish and Shaykh Umar al-Batsh who worked within the musical tradition of the Mevlevi Sufi order in Syria.

In 1950, Sabah Fakhri was invited to sing with the National Syrian Radio Orchestra where he quickly received critical acclaim for his superb vocal technique and unique silver tonal quality.

Fascinated with the history of Arabic music Fakhri researched diligently into the earliest recording of the major Arab artists. As a result, he has amassed a tremendous repertoire of classical songs. His firm grounding in Arabic poetry and literature has enabled him to document traditional Arabic music in a multi-part audiovisual series titled “Nagham al-Ams” (Tunes of the Past) consisting of numerous vocal compositions in traditional genres.

Known for his superb interpretations of the Andalus-based repertoire so popular in Aleppo. Fakhri’s name has been especially linked to the classical muwashshah. He also performs traditional vocal genres such as qasida, dawr, qadd and the improvisational mawwal. He has performed on hundreds of recordings and has toured North and South America, Western Europe, Russia and Australia. He has received numerous honors and medals in recognition of his artistry and achievements.

Partial discography:

The Legend: Live At Beiteddine Festival (Vol.1)
The Legend: Live At Beiteddine Festival (Vol.2)
Best of Sabah Fakhri Legend
Master of Andalusian Folklore

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Artist Profiles: Muhammad Qadri Dalal

Muhammad Qadri Dalal

Muhammad Qadri Dalal was born in Aleppo in 1946. He is a first-class master of the Arabic lute (ud) and is very well-known in his own country. He carries on the traditional Aleppian style for his instrument, a style emanating from the Turkish school aiming at a smooth rounded sound. He has an encyclopedic knowledge of the traditional repertory.

He is a member of Al-Kindî Ensemble.

Discography:

Unwonted Maqamat (Naive/Inedit)

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Extraordinarily Expressive Contemporary Maqams

Anouar Brahem – Blue Maqams (ECM Records, 2017)

Blue Maqams brings together Anouar Brahem, one of the great masters of the oud, and three of the finest jazz musicians. The music on Blue Maqams is an exquisite mix of Arabic modal music known as maqam, and jazz, classical, flamenco and Brazilian influences. Although there is jazz improvisation, all the pieces, composed by Brahem, have a clearly defined structure.

Anouar Brahem’s oud delights with impeccable performances and interplay with the bass, drums and piano. Dave Holland is one of the most open minded jazz bassists, who has collaborated with flamenco, Latin American and American roots music artists.

The lineup includes Anouar Brahem on oud; Dave Holland on double bass; Jack DeJohnette on drums; and Django Bates on piano.

Blue Maqams is an exceptionally expressive album by oud maestro Anouar Brahem and three dazzling improvisers.

Buy Blue Maqams in Europe

Buy Blue Maqams in the rest of the world

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Syriana’s Ipiros Remixes for a Great Cause

Syriana – Ipiros Remixes (Realworld Records, 2017)

This 5-track digital-only EP features several variations of Ipiros. This song was originally made for Syriana’s Road To Damascus album that came out in 2007. However, it never made it to the album and was only previously released as a remix on the vinyl A Life in Film.

All the profits from sales from The Ipiros Remixes will be donated to International Rescue: Greece, a charity that provides aid to Syrian refigees who arrived in Greece. All the musicians are giving their work free of charge.

The musicians behind the Syriana project are British musician Nick ‘Dubulah’ Page (Transglobal Underground and Temple of Sound) and Irish bassist Bernard O’Neill.

The cinematic Kithara Remix features Arabic violin, mesmerizing ambient sounds, Middle Eastern percussion and great guitar work.

Somo Arco Iris Remix highlights the Middle Eastern nay and has vocals in Portuguese by the talented Maria Joao Branco.

The Jazz Remix showcases a saxophone performance.

Liverpool live Remix brings together Middle Eastern and Greek influences, featuring superb Greek vocalist and nay player Kalia Lyraki.

On the S40 Remix the qanun gets the attention it deserves.

Buy Ipiros Remixes

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