Tag Archives: Middle Eastern music

Alluring Musical Journey to the Middle East

Various Artists – Journey to the Middle East

Various Artists – Journey to the Middle East (ARC Music, 2019)

Everyone knows that the tin with an assortment of cookies is just so much better than the tins with just a single kind of cookie. It’s just so much better to sample one’s way through dark chocolate covered cookies, white chocolate wafers, shortbread squares, bites of buttery Madeleine cookies or milk chocolate covered cookies with tiny pictures pressed into the chocolate than a beaten up bag of plain old snicker-doodles. That’s just fact.

Interestingly enough it can be the same way with music and our friends at ARC Music know this and have put a wonderful collection for listeners to nibble their way through on Journey to the Middle East. This compilation works its way through the music of Syria, Egypt, Persia, Israel, Cyprus, Lebanon and Turkey. This glorious collection would delight the most seasoned listener or the newbie listener dipping an ear into the musical mysteries of the Middle East.

Listener get a dose of the dramatic right up front with the traditional song and dance from Cyprus titled “Cifdetelli” by the folk ensemble Yeksad. Journey to the Middle East turns hip with Hossam Ramzy and Phil Thornton’s “Planet Egypt” replete with hypnotic percussion and call-and-response interplay between mizmar, argul and kawala from the ARC release Planet Egypt.

Up next is “Aziz Jun” by Zohreh Jooya, originally from the ARC release Persian Nights. Fans will simply not want to miss “Midnight Sun” by Dastan Trio. This track is just simply impressive as Dastan musicians Pejman Hadadi, Hossein Behroozi-Nia, and Hamid Motebassem weave a web of improvisational mastery on barbat, setar and tombak that includes some spectacular percussion.

If that weren’t enough to lure listeners to Journey to the Middle East, there’s the sly and sassy “Iraqi Jazz” by Ahmed Mukhtar, the sweetly soulful “Mi Yitneni Of” by The Burning Bush, originally from the ARC release Folksongs from Israel. There’s also “Amaken” by Andre Hajj & Ensemble, the sultry vocals on the Syrian song “Hayyamatni” by Zein Al-Jundi and Armenian dance song “Karoun, Karoun/Nooneh” by Alan Shavarsh Bardezbanian.

The Iranian percussionists of Zarbang have on offer “Cycling Feast” and it is a powerful Sufi trance, ancient Iranian call to the wild and percussion extravaganza all rolled into one. Journey to the Middle East keeps up the wild ride all the way to the end with a final track from Ensemble Huseyin Turkmenler called “Rumeli Karsilamisi.”

Journey to the Middle East is a whole assortment treats and everyone knows that’s the best.

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Refugees for Refugees, Pooling Global Musical Talent

Refugees for Refugees – Amina (Muziekpublique, 2019)

It’s become fairly standard to sum up a person’s life in a single moment. We catch a glimpse of the face as some person crosses a border, disembarks from a ship or jockeys for space in a refugee camp and we sum up that life.

There are some who would chalk up the refugee story by making it part and parcel to tragedy, war or desperate circumstances, while the less sympathetic would see an unwanted burden. But that’s never the whole story. We don’t see bread bakers, engineers, nurses or store owners where the family’s store has successfully existed and operated for and by generation after generation of the same family. We certainly don’t see the keepers of traditional craft work like carving or needlework or artists or musicians. We dismiss the back story of the refugee, that life before being uprooted, and perhaps the most precious of that life. It is with some sadness that I think we might be truly missing out.

It’s somewhere in here that Muziekpubique, a non-profit organization in Belgium, has seen this missed opportunity. Running a program promoting folk and world music by way of concerts, music lessons and a record label. This clever organization and label has teamed up musicians from Pakistan, Tibet, Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and Belgium to create Refugees for Refugees, resulting in a second release of the recording called Amina, in support of Muziekpublique and Cinemaximiliaan, a kind of cross cultural crossroads for refugees in a Brussels park where refugees can get information, find friends and even watch a movie or find a creative project.

Refugees for Refugees – Amina

While the good deeds of Refugees for Refugees might be incentive enough to support this project, the better bet is to support this wonderful music. Amina is full of delightful surprises and lush pleasures. Composing and arranging most of the music on Amina by members of Refugees for Refugees, this collaboration where one musical tradition is seamlessly enfolded in another, sometimes in improbable combinations, comes across as wholly organic.

Pooling the talents of Pakistan’s Asad Qizilbash on sarod, Tibet’s Dolma Renqingi on vocals, Syria’s Fakher Madallal on vocals and percussion, Tibet’s Kelsang Hula on dramyen and vocals, Afghanistan’s Mohammad Aman Yusufi on dambura and vocals, Belgium’s Simon Leleux on oriental percussion, Iraq’s Souhad Najem on qanun, Syria’s Tamman Al Ramadan on ney, Syria’s Tareq Alsayed Yahua on ud and Belgium’s Tristan Driessens on ud Amina flows free in that otherworldly space where musicians, regardless of their country or tradition, meet and commune, that place where all the good things in music happen.

Hooking listeners from the opening strains of “Perahan,” Amina dazzles with a heady mix of vocals, ud and ney. And, the tracks just get better with “Semki Molem” with its rich combination of deep male chorus against the soaring vocals of Aren Dolma. The ud laced “Qad Hijaz” is just as powerfully stunning as “Kesaro Sarko.”

Other goodies include the sarod and quanun rich “Punarjanm,” “Tonshak” with its scratchy throat singing against Tibetan vocals by Ms. Dolma and musical combination of sarod, dramyen, ud, ney and bendir and all the glorious quanum riches of “Shuq.” “Tales of the Mountain” will raise the hairs on the back of your neck it’s that good, just as simple pleasures of sarod and dholla will delight on “After the Dust.” And still the goodies just keep coming with “Rose Gate,” “Wasla Qudud Bayati” “Lhasa” and closing track “Chaman Chaman.”

With Amina, supporting a good cause never sounded so good.

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Artist Profiles: Smadj

Smadj

Tunisian born, Parisian musician Jean-Pierre Smadja (Smadj) grew up listening to Middle Eastern, Brazilian, funk, soul, and folk music. Entering a jazz school at age 15 due to his intense interest in the guitar, Smadj’s musical development came to be characterized by transforming traditional jazz styles into eclectic sounds. This interest in the mechanics of making music led Smadj to pursue a degree in sound engineering, which led to a fruitful career as a recording & sound engineer for famous classical and folk musicians.

Releasing his first album in 1994, it was not until 2000 that Smadj became recognized on an international scale for his signature blending of acoustic and electronic sounds on Equilibriste, which would ascend on the European World Music Charts to the number 4 position. In 2002, Smadj joined fellow ud magician, French musician Mehdi Haddab, for a special project that would transport the oud to the 21st century in DuOuD. Supporting their triumph of an album with a 2 year world tour, the album also received 2nd place in the Best Album category at the prestigious BBC World Music Awards.

In 2003, Smadj joined master percussionist Burhan Ocal for and the Trakya All Stars featuring Smadj, and in 2005 he stepped behind the scenes to serve as artistic director for Burhan Ocal’s New Dream. Smadj continues making music in the city where east meets west, Istanbul.

Discography:

Equilibriste ‎(M.E.L.T. 2000, 1999)
New Deal ‎(Electric M.E.L.T., 2000)
Kırklareli İl Sınırı (Doublemoon, 2003)
Take It and Drive (Most Records, 2004)
Smadj Presents SOS (Doublemoon, 2005)
Trakya Dance Party (Doublemoon, 2006)
Selin ‎(MVS Records, 2009)
Hü (MVS Records, 2010)
Fuck The DJ (Smadj Records, 2012)
Spleen ‎(Jazz Village, 2015)
Solotronic ‎(Whirling Wolf, 2017)

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Vardan Hovanissian & Emre Gültekin at the Top of the January 2019 Transglobal World Music Chart


Vardan Hovanissian and Emre Gültek – Karin

The album Karin (Muziekpublique) by duduk player Vardan Hovanissian (Armenia) and saz virtuoso Emre Gültek (Belgium, with roots in Turkey) is the number one recording in January 2019 on the Transglobal World Music Chart.

“Karin” is the ancient Armenian name for the town of Erzurum, situated in what is now Turkey. It is the birthplace of Vardan Hovanissian’s grandfather, who was one of 200 survivors following the deportation of around 40,000 residents during the Armenian genocide. The recording is a tribute to the cosmopolitan period in Karin, which was a crossroads for the different cultures that existed along the Silk Road.

The top 10:

  1. Vardan Hovanissian and Emre Gültek – Karin – Muziekpublique
  2. Gaye Su Akyol – İstikrarlı Hayal Hakikattir – Glitterbeat
  3. Afro Celt Sound System – Flight – ECC
  4. Dhafer Youssef – Sounds of Mirrors – Anteprima
  5. SANS – Kulku – Cloud Valley
  6. Moonlight Benjamin – Siltane – Ma Case
  7. Urna Chahar-Tugchi featuring Kroke – Ser – Urna Chahar-Tugchi / UCT
  8. Ukandanz – Yeketelale – Buda Musique
  9. Vigüela – A Tiempo Real – ARC Music
  10. Bixiga 70 – Quebra-Cabeça – Glitterbeat
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Artist Profiles: Oriental Music Ensemble (OME)

The Oriental Music Ensemble (OME) was established by the National Conservatory of Music in Palestine in 1996. It has participated in numerous musical and cultural events locally and abroad.

The music pieces chosen by the group are selected for their artistic meaning and expression. Some of the pieces are so old that their composer is unknown and some are modern, composed by contemporary composers. Other pieces belong to the gypsy and folklore genres.

Every music genre has its own texture and Arabic music has its own texture as well. What characterizes Arabic Music is the Hetrophonic Texture, which is the essence and the soul of Arabic Music and its source of strength. Hetrophonic Texture is the ratio and the interrelationship between the “voices” of the instruments. Western classical musical ensembles play the same note in a direct manner whereas in Arabic music there is musical embellishment which comes down to a discrepancy in the speed of playing music between the different musical instruments. Each musician plays on his own, which contributes to speed differences on one side and to musical intertwining and harmony on the other. Here lies the strength of Arabic Music.

The instruments used by the OME are the same instruments used since hundreds of years. No change whatsoever occurred on them, meaning that no technological change was imposed on them, which make them authentic Arabic music instruments. Therefore, the buzuq is the same buzuq the great Arab musician – Al Farabi – from the 11th century described. No changes have been added to it. The same applies to the nay (Arabic Flute) and the oud (Arabic lute). The instruments are pure oriental instruments and they are locally hand-made by Palestinian music instrument makers.

Musicians:

Khaled Jubran: ud and buzuq
Suhail Khoury: nay and clarinet
Ibrahim Attari: qanun
Habib Shehadeh: ud
Ramzi Bisharaton: percussion

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Artist Profiles: Ozan Aksoy

Ozan Aksoy

 

Multi-instrumentalist, composer, vocalist, author and ethnomusicologist Ozan Aksoy was born in Turkey and currently lives in New York. As a young boy, growing up in Turkey, he first learned to play the saz (lute) from his father, and soon established an extraordinary scope as a multi-instrumentalist. He became proficient in many of the string, woodwind, and percussive instruments of the region, including saz, oud, ney, and various drums.

Ozan acquired a passion for the music of ethnic and religious minorities in his country including the Kurds, Armenians, Laz, and Alevi, among others.

Afterwards, in college, as an early member of the critically-acclaimed ensemble Kardeş Türküler (meaning Ballads of Solidarity), Ozan and his colleagues performed the songs of these unrecognized and suppressed peoples, pushing the boundaries of inclusion in Turkey.

 

Ozan Aksoy

 

During his time with Kardeş Türküler, the group released four albums and toured extensively throughout Europe, spreading their message of diversity and acceptance.

Ozan subsequently relocated to the United States to complete a doctorate in ethnomusicology and further develop his multicultural repertoire.

In 2018 he released his long-awaited first solo album, Ozan, with lyrics in Turkish, Kurdish, and Armenian. Ozan performed most of the instruments and vocals on the album himself, although Ozan also features collaborations with acclaimed musicians, including Jeremy Brown, Ani Kalayjian, Richard Miller, and Shyam Nepali among others.

Ozan Aksoy has performed with various ensembles, including Columbia Middle Eastern Music Ensemble, CUNY Middle Eastern Music Ensemble, Ozan Aksoy Trio, Nour and Kardeş Türküler.

Discography:

With Kardeş Türküler:

Kardeş Türküler (Kalan Müzik, 1997)
Doğu – The East (Kalan Müzik, 1999)
Roj û Heyv (Kalan Müzik, 2000)
Hemâvâz (Kalan Müzik, 2002)

Solo:

Ozan (2018)

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Artist Profiles: Claude Chalhoub

Claude Chalhoub – Photo by Jorg Brodstedt

Born in 1974 in Lebanon into a family of musicians, Claude Chalhoub was introduced to the violin by his father who played the rebec. At the age of eight his brother gave him his first violin, and he started to play at home with the family, mostly improvising Arab music. He soon entered the conservatory, but as the war took hold of Lebanon, the conservatory was closed and Claude was forced to continue his studies on his own, discovering most of the technique of the violin by himself. A teacher later told him that he didn’t want to change that technique but refine it, because music is about the sounds and the colors of these sounds, and not about theoretical discussions about harmonies and techniques.

Obviously his self styled technique was good enough to meet high academic standards, because at the age of 18 he was offered the prestigious Queen Elizabeth scholarship which allowed him to continue his studies at the Royal College of Music in London. He studied with professor Grigory Zhisling and Rodney Friend and was introduced to a large repertoire of classical music, not only during his studying hours, but mainly by listening to all the symphonic orchestras he could watch.

Classical music was not the only repertoire he absorbed. In London he was exposed to many different culture. Claude listened to Indian music, African music, and Chinese music. He searched for his own sound. In his 4th year of studies this search led to the first recording session of his own music, Red Desert, combining the sounds of an Indian tabla with those of Arabic improvisation and a string octet.

For his final recital at the conservatory he chose a composition of his own, “Oriental Images”, which turned out to be a huge success. In 1997 he received an award for excellence. His public debut on the stage of St. John?s in London?s Smith Square led to a series of successful European concerts.

In 1999 Claude was invited to Weimar to participate in the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra conducted by Daniel Barenboim. The aim of this West Eastern Divan was to give young musicians from Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon, the Middle East and Germany the opportunity to study and play music together. Barenboim selected Claude to be the musical director of the orchestra. During one of the chamber concerts, Claude attracted so much attention for his improvisational music that he was signed to record his first album. In the summer of 2000 he started to work with producer and guitarist Michael Brook in the Sound Factory in Los Angeles. At he same time he was invited to participate in Yo Yo Ma’s Silk Road project in Tanglewood (USA). The self-titled album, Claude Chalhoub features Pakistani singer Forroukh Fateh Ali Khan, the brother of the legendary Nusrat. It was released in the spring of 2001 in the USA and Germany, England, France, Italy and other territories followed in 2002/2003.

In 2003 Claude also started touring with his own quartet and plays concerts in several German cities, France and Italy . The Traumzeitfestival in Duisburg, Germany commissioned him to write music for a group specially gathered for this festival. The premiere in Duisburg featuring the Indigo string octett, Trilok Gurtu on tabla , Gilad Atzmon on clarinet and saxophone plus Claude?s band was received with standing ovations.

For his performance at the prestigious WOMAD Festival in Rivermead, UK, Claude invited another outstanding musician to join his band: Indian flute virtuoso Ronu Majumdar.

Claude has composed soundtrack for several films: ?Hollywood Buddah?, ?Persona non grata? (Oliver Stone’s documentary on the Middle East conflict.) He also continues to teach at the conservatory in Beirut.

Discography:

Claude Chalhoub (Teldec Classics, 2001)
Diwan (Herzog Records, 2008)

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Artist Profiles: AndraLaMoussia

AndraLaMoussia

AndraLaMoussia is a world music group based in Jerusalem. “AndraLaMoussia means chaos in ancient Hebrew and, like our name, our music reflects the diverse cultural reality we live in.”

AndraLaMoussia’s members mix many different styles and traditions into their music, abstracting acoustic and universal truths. “By mixing, along with others, Jewish and Arabic, Turkish, Greek, Sufi and Gypsy music, our sound resonates with the tension and confusion prevalent in our Middle Eastern culture. In today’s world cultural differences often lead to violent clashes, but we don’t think that this need be the case. Our aim with AndraLaMoussia is to accentuate the many different traditions and by doing so to create a moment of true dialogue and unity in a modern tradition“.

Ittai Binnun: Wind instruments (clarinet, ney, saxophones), baglama, vocal.
Dani Dromi: Guitars (classical, acoustic and electric), vocal.
Victor Ezus: Bass guitar, vocal.
Moshe Nuri: Percussion (darbukah, frame drums)
Uriel Sverdin: drum set, cajon.
Special guest: Nizar Rohana – oud.

Discography:

Andralamoussia (2005)
Music From the Streets of Jerusalem (2010)

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Artist Profiles: Filfel Gourgy

Filfel Gourgy

Filfel Gourgy was born at the beginning of the 1930s in Baghdad, Iraq, and died in 1983 in the courtyard of his home in Israel.In the course of his life he managed to leave his imprint on Iraqi music, proving beyond all doubt that he was one of the great standard bearers of the modern revolution which took place in the field.He was born in Baghdad in “Suq al-Hanoon” to a prosperous family of merchants.

While still a child, he became known among those close to him as possessing a rare poetic ability and the voice of an angel.As a youngster, he was taken in hand by Hassan Habka, a Muslim Iraqi singer. His classical and musical Muslim education bestowed on him the privilege of reading the Koran to millions of Arab viewers, on the eve of Ramadan, on Israel Television.

On 1950, due to the undermining of the harmonious relations which had existed between Jews and Muslims in Iraq and the “Farhood pogroms”, Gourgy was no longer able to conceal his Jewish identity, hitherto kept secret. He was smuggled into Iran in the dead of night. Thus manifestations of hostility effectively cut short the young musician’s career in Iraq.

After spending some six months in Iran, he immigrated to Israel. In no time at all he became famous, gaining a following among Jews from Iraq. His name also became known among the Muslims in Iraq and Jordan who listened to the Voice of Israel in Arabic.

Filfel Gourgy wrote the words and composed the melody for most of his songs, the majority of them universal songs, in both literary and spoken Arabic, even updating ancient folk songs.

Without a doubt, Filfel Gourgy occupies a place in the pantheon of Arab song and music, as an outstanding artist: his exceptional vocal talent and musical achievements assure him of an undisputed position among the greats.

To this day, Filfel Gourgy is considered as one of the inheritors of the Arab classical singers such as Farid el Atrash, Umm Kulthum and Muhammad Abed el Waheb.

The World Is Happy is the first collection of his songs released by a reputable commercial company.

Discography:

The World Is Happy (Magda)

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