Tag Archives: Lebanon

Artist Profiles: Wadih Al-Safi

Wadih Al-Safi

Wadih Al-Safi was one of the most prominent Lebanese and Arabic composer-singers of his time. He was often described as the “Voice of Lebanon” and was responsible for the mark of distinction and popularity of Lebanese music. Al-Safi’s name was synonymous with traditional Lebanese folklore.

Born in Lebanon in 1921, in the village of Niha, in the Shouf Valley, Sali grew up listening to the traditional Arabic folklore of the village people. Consequently, he inherited a natural gift for singing the rural sound. Later, in 1938, he moved to Beirut to pursue formal vocal studies at the Lebanese National Conservatory of Music. In the same year, Al-Safi entered a vocal competition sponsored by the Lebanese Broadcasting Network, where he won first place, launching his career in the country and gaining national fame. He then began composing and performing music based on his folklore roots incorporating a new urban sound, which would later be described as the historical urbanization of Lebanese folk music.

Performing this new style throughout the Middle East at festivals, plays and concerts, Wadih Al-Safi soon became a household name in the Arab world, being described as “the pure voice of Lebanon.” His tenor voice commanded a unique beauty, especially when he sang about Lebanon, a country so loved throughout the Arab world. He was known to bring tears of joy as his popular songs invoked the beauty of the land and the old country.

Al-Safi wrote and composed over 3000 songs, most of which symbolize the goodness of Lebanon and the Middle East. He performed throughout the Americas, Australia, Europe and the Middle East.

Wadi’ Al-Safi died on October 11, 2013 in Mansourieh, Lebanon.

He released numerous albums and compilations.


Artist Profiles: Souhail Kaspar

Souhail Kaspar

Master percussionist Souhail Kaspar is known for his brilliant technique, scintillating performances and impeccable teaching skills. His musical sensitivity and ability to improvise and embellish the basic rhythmic patterns familiar to Arabic Music, as well as his extensive knowledge of ethnic musical history have made him unique.

Mr. Kaspar was born in Lebanon, and trained at Nadi al-Fonun al-Arabia (conservatory of Arabic Traditional Music) in Aleppo, Syria, where he became proficient in both classical and ethnic rhythmic patterns and techniques and received a Degree in Classical Arabic Performance. In his career, he has traveled extensively throughout the world. His expertise has found him performing with Arabic superstars such as Feiruz, Faiza Ahmed, and working with legendary Egyptian composers such as Farid El Atrash, Sayyed Makowi and Hanni Mehanna, and playing in front of many celebrities and dignitaries as Pope John Paul II, as well as Ronald Reagan.

Additionally, he has an extensive body of recorded work, including credits on the soundtracks for the movies The Prince Of Egypt, The Siege, Sinbad and as a guest percussionist with the cutting edge Kronos Quartet.

Though his primary instrument is the Egyptian drum known as tablah [also spelled tabla]or dumbek, he is also proficient on tar (a large frame drum), large and small tambourines known as mashar and riqq, respectively, as well being an expert in various Persian and Turkish instruments. His skillful presentation and comprehensive teaching technique has led to him performing and conducting master seminars at prestigious institutions such as The Brooklyn Academy of Music, UCLA, as well as a yearly stint at Mendocino Middle Eastern Music Camp, an intensive week-long series of workshops held in Northern California. He often performs (and teaches ) with peers such as renowned oudist John Bilezikjian, multi-faceted musician Simone Shaheen, and prominent ethnomusicologist Dr. Ali Jihad Racy, Professor of Ethnomusicology at UCLA.

As a teacher, Mr. Kaspar is gifted, passing on not only skills but academic knowledge of Middle Eastern music to his students, many of them Westerners not previously familiar with the complex patterns of Arabic music.

Currently, Souhail Kaspar lives in Los Angeles and is performing, recording, and teaching both nationally and internationally.


Mystical Legacies, with Ali Jihad Racy (Lyrichord, 1997)
Awzan – Arab Rhythmic Modes (Near East music, 2005)
When The Soul Is Settled: Music Of Iraq (Smithsonian Folkways, 2006)


Artist Profiles: Ragheb Alama

Ragheb Alama

For many years, Ragheb Alama has been the biggest name in Lebanese pop music. His albums have gone gold or platinum throughout the Arab world, and his tours around the globe become instant sell-outs, whether he’s performing in Beirut, Cairo, Sydney or New York. He is, quite simply, a phenomenon.

Born June 7, 1962, in Ghoubeiri, a suburb of Lebanon, Ragheb came from a large family, with seven brothers and sisters. Almost from the moment he could talk, music was a part of him. By the time he was two, he’d sing songs he’d heard on the radio, even though he couldn’t pronounce the words. In school he was the first to volunteer to sing, and his remarkable voice made him the star attraction.

But it wasn’t until he was twelve, when his father took him to the taping of a music show for Lebanese radio, that Ragheb understood he’d been put on earth to sing. The following year he became a student at the Lebanese School for Music, where vocal training helped him develop his special talent.

Still, his parents hoped he might take a more traditional path by going to the university and becoming an engineer. But this was something bigger than desire; Ragheb was born to sing. His big break came on the day he finished his final high school exams. As soon as he’d completed his paper, Ragheb hurried to the television studio to sing on Star Search, a nationally broadcast show that helped new talent. He won. By the next day all of Lebanon was buzzing about him and his voice, an instrument that could handle anything, from big ballads to up-tempo dance pop. Having created such a sensation with a single TV appearance, the next inevitable step was an album.

Within a year, that album was breaking record sales throughout the Middle East. Written and produced by Ihssan Al-Mounzer, it was a perfect slice of Lebanese pop music, and gave Ragheb his first taste of success. Since then, Ragheb’s golden voice has brought him fame throughout the Arab world and beyond. But musically he hasn’t been content to rest on his laurels. Each album has brought something new and different. Ragheb continues to push the envelope.

Along with emotional ballads, he’s also introduced the upbeat debka rhythm with its searing beat and lyrics that’s become his trademark. His concerts are events. To Ragheb, music has no bordersit’s a way to bring people together, to enjoy and celebrate life. And that’s what he’s done, making him a household name in the Arab communities around the world.

Across the U.S. his shows are standing room only, from Los Angeles to Chicago to Washington, D.C. and New York. In Detroit, he proved so popular he was given the key to the city. In 1997, Ragheb was voted the most popular singer in the Middle East and awarded the Gold Lion, the seal on a career that had seen him grow into his superstar status.

But fame can bring problems. Just a year later he was shot in the leg following a concert in Jordan, and assassination attempt by a crazed fan who managed to escape. However, that hasn’t slowed Ragheb down. Recovered, he resumed his touring and recording schedule, and continues to work tirelessly.


Ya Reyt (Relax-In, 1986)
Al Hadiya (Relax-In, 1986)
Rahal (Relax-In, 1988)
Dawa el Leil (1988)
Ma Y’gooz (1989)
Alby Eshekha (Relax-In, 1991)
Ya Hayaty (Relax-In, 1993)
Taw’am Ruhy (1995)
Pump up the Jam (1996)
Live Recording (Relax-In, 1996)
Farek Khebir (CEMI Music Arabia, 1996)
Bravo Alayki!… Gloria (Relax-In , 1997)
ab Leh (Alam El Phan 2002)
El Hob El Kebir (Alam El Phan, 2004)
Ba’sha’ak (Daxar Music, 2008)
Seneen Rayha (2010)
Starz V.1 (2010)
Habeeb Dehkati (2014)


Artist Profiles: Marcel Khalife

Marcel Khalife

Marcel Khalife was born in 1950 in Amchit, Mount-Lebanon. He studied the ud (the Arabic lute, also known as oud and l’ud) at the Beirut National conservatory, and, ever since, has been injecting a new life into the ud. “My grandfather was a fisherman and he used to sing songs of the sea,” Khalife recalls. “Then I used to go to church and listen to Christian music, and also to Islamic recitations of the Koran. In Lebanon we have a marriage of Islamic and Christian culture. That really helped to form my musical awareness.”

From 1970 to 1975, Marcel Khalife taught at the conservatory and other local institutions. During that same period, he toured the Middle East, North Africa, Europe and the United States giving solo performances on the ud.

Ud playing was traditionally constrained by the strict techniques that governed its playing. Highly talented and skillful musicians such as Marcel Khalife were, however, able to free the instrument from those constraints and thus greatly expanding its possibilities.

In 1972, Marcel Khalife created a musical group in his native village with the goal of reviving its musical heritage and the Arabic chorale. The first performances took place in Lebanon. 1976 saw the birth of Al Mayadeen Ensemble. Enriched by the previous ensemble’s musical experiences, Al Mayadeen’s notoriety went well beyond Lebanon. Accompanied by his musical ensemble, Marcel Khalife began a lifelong far-reaching musical journey, performing in Arab countries, Europe, the United States, Canada, South America, Australia, and Japan.

During Lebanon’s civil war, he risked his life performing in bombed out concert halls, bringing his music and the great poetry of the Arab world to his war-ravished country. “Since I was born,” he says, “I’ve felt I had a rebel’s soul within me. I rejected things that might be inherited, but that were wrong.”

In 2002, European television networks broadcast a documentary on Marcel Khalife. A DVD, entitled Voyageur, expands the original 90-minute program into a three-hour feature with additional performances filmed at concerts and in studios. In all, the DVD presents 33 selections from Khalife’s repertoire, which ranges from compositions for solo ud and vocal settings of Arabic poetry to orchestral compositions, films cores and ballets.

In 2003, the San Francisco International Arts Festival (SFIAF) and The San Francisco World Music Festival announced a commissioned project for the creation of a new evening length orchestral work with libretto by Marcel Khalife, in collaboration with the San Francisco Chamber Orchestra (music director, Benjamin Simon) and women’s vocal ensemble, KITKA (artistic director, Shira Cion) and soloists Omayma Al-kalil (vocals), Rahman Asadollahi (garmon: Azerbajani accordion), Hai Pu (Chinese percussion) and Zhang Xiao-Feng (erhu: Chinese fiddle). The theme of the new work was “Embracing Global Peace.”

About his CD Caress Khalife says, “This work attempts to elevate Arabic music to a level that allows it to express profound human emotions, not by mere performance, but by empowering the music to mature and develop into a universal language of expression.”

His composition is noted for being deeply attached to lyrical text. Through his association with great contemporary Arab poets, most notably Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish, he seeks to renew the character of Arab song, breaking its stereotypes and advancing the culture of the society that surrounds it.

“I do not fit in a cultural box, nor do I want to,” says Khalife, who now lives in Paris. “I have strived all my life to break free of old traditional constraints, to let music speak for itself unshackled by predetermined traditional rules. I have defied identities and categorizations, which only serve to blind us to the vastness and complexity of humanity. There are no set lenses with which I should be looked at. My music, it all comes together for the sake of humanity.”

The second trait has been a consistent message of peace and justice. In 2004, during his US tour, he said: “More than ever, we all have to work much harder for peace…Peace cannot be imposed upon a people by a certain political power or agenda. Peace is achieved through respect, understanding of others and their culture; it is achieved by giving up fear of others; it is achieved through dialogue.”


Promesses De La Tempête – Promises of the Storm (Le Chant Du Monde, 1976)
Ghinä’iyat Ahmad Al Arabi (1984)
Dreamy Sunrise ‎(Nagam Records, 1990)
Peace Be With You ‎(Nagam Records, 1990)
Ode To A Homeland (Nagam Records, 1990)
Summer Night’s Dream (Nagam Records, 1992)
Of All The Beautiful Mothers (Nagam Records, 1994)
Arabic Coffeepot (Nagam Records, 1995)
Jadal (Nagam Records, 1995)
Magic Carpet ‎(Nagam Records, 1998)
The Bridge ‎ (Nagam Records, 2001)
Concerto Al Andalus (Nagam Records, 2002)
Stripped Bare (Nagam Records, 2002)
At The Border ‎(Nagam Records, 2003)
Happiness ‎(Nagam Records, 2003)
Caress (Nagam Records, 2004)
Taqasim ‎(Connecting Cultures, 2007)
Sharq (‎Connecting Cultures, 2007)
Fall Of The Moon (Nagam Records, 2012)


Artist Profiles: Georges Barbar

Georges Barbar

Georges Barbar was born in Lebanon, where he started developing his artistic skills at a very young age. At the age of 10, he was already a confirmed percussionist.

He studied Musicology at the University of the Holy Spirit Kaslik, where he also graduated in two instrumental fields: classic guitar and Middle Eastern percussion.

At the same period, he started working and exploring technical and artistic techniques related to the programming of sampling and recording software such as Logic Audio and Protools. Thus, he acquired a strong experience as a studio musician and technician. During this period, he performed on samplers and synthesizers.

Later on, he focused his research on studying percussion instruments from all over the world: Brazil, Cuba, Africa, India and the Middle East. Recently he took a master classes with the famous Cuban percussionist Jose Luis Quintana ” Changuito” and with Yaroldy Abreu considered as a number one percussionist of Latin Jazz in Cuba today. As a percussionist, Georges Barbar has a unique blend and a special style inspired by cultures, music and techniques from different continents.

Georges Barbar

To many, Georges Barbar is also a prominent researcher devoted to developing new percussion instruments. His work as a researcher was awarded by The Guinness World Records (2006), as he designed and built the largest Bar Chimes in the world. Georges Barbar’s Bar Chimes won him a great interest from magazines and media. This instrument finds many applications and is very suitable for different artistic purposes, ranging from contemporary dance performances to movie soundtracks.

In recent years, Georges Barbar has become an extremely dynamic musician. He performed in various festivals, composed and recorded with many musicians from Cuba, France, Bulgaria, Japan, and Lebanon. He is now one of the leading percussionists of Fusion and Afro-Cuban Jazz in Lebanon.

Georges Barbar


Blue Spark, with Emeline Chatelin


Artist Profiles: Bassam Saba

Bassam Saba

Bassam Saba is a native of Lebanon, where he studied ‘ud, violin, and nay (Arab flute) at the Lebanese National Conservatory. In 1976, he moved to France where he received a Bachelor’s Degree in Western Classical music and Flute Performance from the Conservatoire Municipals des Gobelins in Paris. During this time, Mr. Saba was an essential member of Marcel Khalife’s ensemble, Al-Mayadeen, playing nay, violin, and flute.

He moved to Moscow in 1985 and received a Master’s Degree in Flute Performance and Music Education at the Gnessin Musical Pedagogical Institute. After a period as Musical Director of the Beirut Symphonic Band, he moved to New York, and began performing with Simon Shaheen’s various musical ensembles, and becoming one of the premiere members of Shaheen’s Qantara group and the Near Eastern Music Ensemble, among many other musical activities.

Throughout his extensive career, Bassam Saba has been performing various styles of music ranging from Western Classical music, popular and traditional Arab music, as well as Arab fusion music. Considered one of the most outstanding nay players (end blown reed flute) and ‘ud players (Middle Eastern lute) in the United States, he has toured throughout the Middle East, Europe, Canada, South America, Australia, Africa and Japan.

In 2007 he was recognized by the National Arab American Museum as one of the 10 most outstanding artist of the last decade to make a significant difference in bringing the beauty and rich cultural history of Middle East through music to American Audiences.

His accomplishments include recording and performing with the top International, Middle Eastern and American celebrity artists including composers/musicians Ziad Rahbani, Yo Yo Ma, Marcel Khalife, Wu Man, Simon Shaheen, Toufic Farroukh (in The Absolute Orchestra) and International acclaimed vocalists Fairuz, Kadim (Kazem) Al Sahir, Majida al-Roumi, Wadi al-Safi, Khaled, Santana, Souad Massi, just to name a few.

In addition to his extensive work with Simon Shaheen, Saba composes and performs with his own musical ensemble Myriad, and is directing the Middle Eastern Ensemble at Harvard University.


Little Secrets, with Toufic Farroukh (Silex, 1998)
Blue Flame, with Simon Shaheen (2001)
Myriades Soukoun (2001)
Drab Zeen, with Toufic Farroukh (Le Chant Du Monde, 2002)
Off the Map, with Silk Road Ensemble (2009)
Wonderful Land (2009)
Jerusalem Trilogy, with Matt Herskowitz (2010)
Provenance, with Maya Beiser (Innova, 2010)


Artist Profiles: Charbel Rouhana

Charbel Rouhana

Charbel Rouhana, one of the finest ud players in Lebanon. Born in 1965 in Aamchit (a town north of Beirut), Charbel pursued his music education at the Holy-Spirit University in Kaslib and obtained his Diploma in ud instrumentation in 1986 and his M.A. in Musicology in 1987.

One of his major achievements is establishing a new methodology in playing the ud. This method was published and adopted by the National Conservatory of Music and the Faculty of Music in the Holy Spirit University-where he has been teaching ud courses since 1986 till present.

Charbel Rouhana has been performing live events since 1984, touring several countries, venues, and festivals. He also collaborated in composing musicals for choreographer Abdul Haleem Caracall’s shows: “Elissa-The Queen of Carthage” (1995), “Andalusia-Lost Glory” (1997), and “Bleilit Kamar” (1999). Winner of several national awards, Charbel also won the first prize at the Hirayama Competition in 1995 in Japan, for Best Composition entitled “Hymn of Peace”.

Charbel Rouhana

According to Charbel, Oriental-Arabic music is facing a renaissance period incarnated by traditional instruments especially the ud which is ancient and always related to traditional singing and classical instrumental Arabic music. Charbel’s musical writings succeeded in transforming this Arabic traditional instrument into a multinational, modern instrument able to communicate with other cultures and music, with an emphasis on the Oriental-Arabic style.


Salamat (Voix De L’Orient, 1997)
Mada (Voix De L’Orient, 1998)
Alani (Voix De L’Orient, 2000)
Vice Versa (2003)
Sourat- Trait D’Union (Forward Music, 2004)
The Art Of The Middle Eastern Oud (ARC Music, 2004)
Dangerous (Forward Music, 2006)
Handmade (Forward Music, 2008)
Oud Fusionista (CIA, 2008)


Artist Profiles: Fairuz


Born and raised in Beirut, Lebanon in 1935, Nouhad Haddad, beter known as Fairuz is an Arabic music superstar. She began her musical career as a teenager. From chorus girl at the Lebanese radio station in the late 1940s, to critical and popular acclaim from the 1950s to today, Fairuz is acknowledged not only for her musical talent and contribution, but also as a cultural and political icon. A symbol of a people, a heritage, a quest for peace, and of humanity.

During most of her career, Fairuz reflected two other great artists, Assi and Mansour Rahbani. They wrote the lyrics and composed her tunes. Today, many of her songs reflect the composing talent of Ziad Rahbani who is Fairuz’s son. Her songs testify to the Rahbani musical genius, as well as to Fairuz’s broad musical background.

Referred to as “The Soul of Lebanon” in the 1970s, Fairuz became a pre-eminent figure, a superstar of current music in the Arab world. Together, the Rahbani family is both a school of music and a cultural phenomenon.

For the girl who loved to sing to her friends and neighbors in the little village, it was an overwhelming experience when, in 1957, Lebanon’s President Chamoun presented Fairuz with the “Cavalier”, the highest medal ever conferred on a Lebanese Artist.

In 1969 a memorial Lebanese stamp was issued in her name. Meeting royalty, once an experience she had expected to encounter only in the fairy tales of her childhood, has become a reality for her.

She is routinely welcomed, greeted, received, and honored by today’s world leaders. In 1963, King Hussein of Jordan presented her with the Medal of Honor, followed by his Majesty’s Gold Medal in 1975. In Brazil, the crowds attempted to carry her with her limousine. In 1981, while touring in the U.S., Senators, Governors and Mayors of various cities honored her. A Harvard University scholar, Barry Hoberman, even wrote: “Quite simply, Fairuz is one of the world’s nonpareil musicians and outstanding Artists, an international treasure of the order of Rostropovich, Sills, Ravi Shankar, Miles Davis, Sutherland, Pavarotti and Dylan.”

Her discography is extensive. Compilations include Legend – The Best of Fairuz, The Very Best of Fairuz, Vol. 1, Lady & The Legend and The Legendary Fairuz: Lebanon.


Breaking the Ground a Little More

The very names of the CDs I’m reviewing here (some, anyway) indicate that they’re looking to go to places that haven’t yet been fully explored musically. Ever-eager to hear new trails mapped out in the world of world music, I couldn’t be happier.


The Band Beyond Borders – Fertile Paradoxes


Tunisian Amine Mraihi is a wizard of the oud (Arabic lute). His brother Hamza has equally mastered the kanun (Arabic zither). Together they head up an impressive ensemble called The Band Beyond Borders and are looking to demonstrate as much on Fertile Paradoxes (ARC Music, 2017). You might think you have cause for concern about an opening track entitled “Spleen,” but have no fear. It’s as perfect a mood-setter as you could hope for, with Amine’s pensive riffing joined in due time by Hamza’s complimentary swirl, plus tabla, violin and classical Indian vocals. A meditative air soon jumps headlong into a stops-out jam featuring a chamber orchestra, layered percussion and solos galore, including saxophone, before settling back into the establishing calm.



The remainder of the pieces (shortest among them sporting a seven-and-a-half-minute running time) similarly blend serenity and thunder, tossing in a zesty accordion at one turn and a klezmer-like clarinet, flamenco flair or an abrupt jazz fusion passage the next. It would sound like a mess were it not for how precisely all the players are attuned to every nuanced change and how expertly they execute them. Whether it’s the evocative side or the supercharged moments that grab you most (or maybe the bridges between them), the sheer “wow” factor of this music makes it a must.


Corky Siegel’s Chamber Blues – Different Voices


If the title doesn’t say it all, as in the case of Corky Siegel’s Chamber Blues’ album Different Voices (Dawnserly Records, 2016), it might be necessary to add an explanation like “Blues Harmonica and Classical String Quartet,” which this one does on the front cover. Siegel’s blues harp is certainly the first thing heard, in the form of a mournful wail that ushers in violins, viola, cello and the saxophone of guest Ernie Watts on the cheeky drag of “Missing Persons Blues.” That one’s a head-bobber, and nothing that follows breaks the flow, be it the vocal contributions of Matthew Santos (who also does some handy beatboxing), blues vet Sam Lay or Marcy Levy (reinvigorating that old warhorse “Lay Down Sally,” which she co-wrote with Eric Clapton).

High marks also for the aching gospel tinges of Chicago folk trio Sons of the Never Wrong on “I’ll Fly Away” and subtle counterpunch of the tabla that adds a groove dimension throughout. The interwoven tones of harmonica and strings bring forward the roots of their respective traditions while keeping the blues undertow intact and allowing for experimentation such as the Central Asian-flavored “Galloping Horses,” a track which ends too soon. It all wraps up beautifully with “The Sky Will Fall,” a most heed-worthy lament; although I think music of this caliber can keep both sky and earth intact.


Amelia Romano – New Perspectives


A different sort of blue and a different sort of harp (think stringed) lead the way on New Perspectives (independent release, 2017) by Amelia Romano. This San Franciscan gal has been playing the harp from a very young age, presently favoring the cobalt blue electric model. And yes, some of the delicately refined tones affiliated with the harp are heard on this disc. But Romano has an ear and a vision well beyond the expected (her time teaching music in a South African township is one reason for that) and she takes the harp in Latin, blues, flamenco, jazz and singer/songwriter directions without missing a pluck.

While the personal touch of the relationship tale “Smile” opens the album on an inviting note that shows Romano to be a fine singer as well, it’s her versatility on the harp that really makes the whole thing a gem. South-of-the-border familiarities abound with “Bésame Mucho” and “Joropo Ortiz” reminding us that the harp is as much a Latin folkloric instrument as anything else, and in her own compositions Romano works the harp strings like heartstrings, whether laying back for an emotionally ambient passage or skillfully jamming inventive arrangements including the title track. Joined by varying, mainly acoustic combinations of bass, percussion, curator, guitar, viola, cello and reeds, Romano never comes across indulgent or showy. Instead she wields her chosen instrument with a combination of finesse and fire that’s unbeatable.


Janka Nabay and the Bubu Gang – Build Music


Build Music (Luaka Bop, 2017) is the latest by Brooklyn-based Janka Nabay and the Bubu Gang, and the music they’ve built is based on the ancient sound of Sierra Leone’s bubu horns, bamboo instruments used to accompany Ramadan processions. The bubu tones are recreated on keyboards and applied to modern Afropop arrangements topped with Nabay’s dryly infectious vocals. Lively, catchy and danceable though the results are, the programmed instrumentation that dominates gets a bit annoying after a while. It’s good, but it could have and should have been better. Recommended for those who prefer electronic over organic by a wide margin.


The Nile Project – Jinja


The musician’s collective it represents is appreciably larger, but on Jinja (Zambaleta, 2016), The Nile Project is comprised of 13 players and singers from seven nations (Egypt, Ethiopia, Sudan, Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda) that are among those spanned by the world’s longest river. The project’s first album was a live set from their 2013 debut concert, and this, their second (named for the Ugandan city in which the collective most recently gathered), is an assemblage of recordings from both proper and impromptu studios. In the end it matters little whether the music was laid down on or off the fly, because it’s seamless and brilliant.



The basics are easily described: melodies provided by the oud, krar and adungu (Arabic, Ethiopian and Ugandan lutes respectively); ample support from bass, saxophone and qawala (Egyptian flute); vocals traded between countries and genders; galloping percussion from across the spectrum and once in a while a specific element like the ikebme (lamellaphone) arising prominently. Musically, it’s tougher to find descriptive words.

Anyone familiar with Egyptian raks sharki or the increasingly well-known strains of Ethio-jazz will find common ground goodness here, as will those who can appreciate combined Egyptian and Sudanese love song sentiments, the embellishing of an Ethiopian Christian hymn with sounds straight out of the Muslim world, multilingual singing with shared passion as an unbreakable link, the beauty of acoustic instruments bursting forth unencumbered by overproduction or the way the whole disc comes across as how you’d imagine the perfect soundtrack accompanying a visit to the Nile’s 4000-plus miles would sound. And I’m barely marring the surface in relating the many pleasures to be heard.


Marcel Khalife – Andalusia of Love


If combining oud and kanun (see above) with piano isn’t entirely new, it’s still not the sort of combination you hear every day. And what some might find truly radical about Andalusia of Love (Nagam Records, 2016) is the fact that Marcel Khalife, a Lebanese Christian, sets to music the poetry of Mahmoud Darwish (1941-2008), a Palestinian who championed the cause of peace between Palestine and Israel.



The elder Khalife (on oud and vocals) is joined by his sons Rami (piano) and Bachar (percussion) and Gilbert Yammine (kanun). The foursome work together with an energy that builds and separates much like the nuances of poetry: musical passages correspond to the rising and falling of sung stanzas supported by variations in tone, feel and speed to emphasize what I can only assume are changes in mood, intent and subject matter.

One need not understand the language to appreciate the unity-espousing feel of music that ranges from traditional to experimental. The savory concluding track “Achikain,” which tapers to a trickle after a flood of inspired group dynamics, is a fitting end to a wonderfully rendered cycle of music.

headline photo: The Band Beyond Borders