Tag Archives: Middle Eastern music

Impeccable and Spellbinding Performances by Omar Faruk Tekbilek

Omar Faruk Tekbilek – Love Is My Religion (Alif Records, 2017)

Love Is My Religion out on the Alif Records label, the latest offering by Turkish composer and multi-instrumentalist Omar Faruk Tekbilek is stylishly dramatic and sleekly passionate and a worthy addition to Mr. Tekbilek’s impressive discography that includes the recordings The Sultans Middle Eastern Band Vol 1 and 2, Suleyman the Magnificent, Beyond the Sky, Whirling, Mystical Gardens, Alif, and Kelebek. Pulling at threads from the past and present, from the traditional and contemporary, Love Is My Religion cleverly weaves a spell that is both beguiling and deliciously exotic.

Opening with “Araf,” listeners delve deep into the warm riches of Mr. Tekbilek’s mastery of ney, oud, davul, bendir and darbuka, as well as the flavors offered up by accompanying artists Alex Alessandroni Jr. on piano, Bahadir Sener on kanun, Yossi Fine on acoustic bss and Chris Wabich on drums. If that weren’t enough to tempt listeners “Vivir” is utterly spectacular with the song’s composer and vocalist Yasmin Levy taking center stage with her heartbreaking vocals. Joined by Mr. Tekbilek on vocals and various instruments, keyboardist and guitarist Amotz Plessner and Hamid Saeidi on santour, “Vivir” shimmers.

Love Is My Religion adds icing to the cake with Ismet Siral’s “Barefoot Dervish” in all its piano, synthesizer, brass and woodwind goodness, as well as A. Ekber Cicek’s “Haydar” and the delicately delightful “Mara” composed by Amotz Plessner, Alex Alessandroni Jr. and Idan Raiche who also his own piano work to the recording, but the real outstanding performance on this track has to be Lili Haydn’s spectacular violin lines. Standout tracks like deeply exotic “Memories,” the jazzy slant found on “Steepe” and closing track “Adam, Love Is My Religion & Tende Canim,” composed by Mr. Tekbilek and using a traditional Sufi melody are sure to please any music fan.

 

 

The performances on Love Is My Religion aren’t just impeccable there’s hypnotic, graceful and fiercely good, so my only advice is to listen up, load up and disappearing into some delicious music.

 

 

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Enthralling Tenbur and Zaza Music

Cemîl Qoçgîrî – Zalâl (Ahenk, 2016)

Zalâl is the fifth album by German multi-instrumentalist and composer Cemîl Qoçgîrî. Cemîl is one of the finest performers of the tenbur (tenbûr), a Kurdish long-necked lute that is related to the saz.

On Zalâl, Cemîl Qoçgîrî combines ancient Anatolian musical influences with western chamber musical forms. He also uses rare Zazaki vocals. Zazaki (also known as Zaza, Kirmanjki and Dimli) is used by the Zaza Kurds in eastern Turkey and is one of the oldest languages in Mesopotamia. The Zazaki language has been classified by UNESCO as a “language threatened with extinction“.

When language, music, art and culture are lost, the understanding and communication between peoples are lost as well,” says Cemîl Qoçgîrî.

The lineup on Zalâl includes Cemîl Qoçgîrî on tenbur, guitar, and percussion; Mikaîl Aslan on qirnata; Susanne Hirsch on cello; Manuel Lohnes on bass; Eser Baki on tenbur; Nure Dovlanî on violin; Ben Neubrech on guitar; Andre Nendza on bass; Kadir Doğan on percussion; Elif Gökdemir on flute; and Tolga Keleşm on zirne.

The CD booklet contains lyrics in Zazaki with English-language translations as well as biographical information about Cemîl Qoçgîrî.

Zalâl is a beautifully-crafted album that contains mesmerizing performances on the tenbur and the warm vocals of Cemîl Qoçgîrî.

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Srdjan Beronja’s World Music Gallery

Srdjan Beronja – Sounds of the East Music from the Balkans, India & the Middle East (ARC Music EUCD2696, 2017)

When music listeners and explorers gather formally to further their fascination, there are always two or three performers too intense for most ears. One hears whispers in the listening space as those who recognize the act about to begin caution those around them that this may be a time to visit the lobby or concession stand, to go outside to smoke or check messages. “Oh God, this guy will put you to sleep,” or “They’re saying something, but I don’t know what,” one hears from the row ahead or behind. These are the acts that are overwhelming for many.

The truly musically curious, however, remain in the concert space and pay all the more attention, both to the stage and to the other attendees who have remained in their seats. The acts that elicit this preliminary response in the audience are those who separate the fans from the ethnomusicologists. Meet Serbian composer Srdjan Beronja. His label’s press release explains that he “travel[s] to remote locations and records unusual local sounds from desert townships, coastal villages and the dawn chorus high up in trees.” On this CD, these field recordings “from the geographical triangle between India, the Middle East and the Balkans” are used to introduce and provide audio beds for some of the cuts, thus merging the artist’s fascination with natural sounds and his musicianship.

He works with a number of renowned players of instruments typifying tour stops along the way from the Balkans through the Middle East to India and back, with expressive results. This is not a consistent album to be played as background music at a cocktail party or curry house, but more akin to a visit to a good art gallery where a broad spectrum of visual artists is on display.

“Sounds of the East Music from The Balkans, India & The Middle East” is a beautiful collection for collectors.

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Ismail Lumanovski, Tamer Pinarbasi & Ara Dinkjian to Perform at Roulette

The Secret Trio - Photo by Onur Gunay
The Secret Trio – Photo by Onur Gunay

The Secret Trio is set to perform at Roulette on Saturday, December 3, 2016. The Secret Trio is an ensemble featuring three remarkable musicians rooted in Turkish, Balkan Roma (Gypsy) and Armenian music. The three artists came together to create a new form of chamber music. Not bound by a single tradition, they perform original pieces and traditional melodies that incorporate the microtonal modes and improvisation of the Middle East, dance rhythms of the Balkans, and elements of jazz, rock, and classical music.

The trio includes Ismail Lumanovski, a virtuoso clarinetist and member of the New York Gypsy All-Stars; Tamer Pinarbasi, a master kanun (zither) player and a member of the New York Gypsy All-Stars; and Ara Dinkjian, one of the world’s finest ud (fretless lute) players, who is best known as the founder of the highly influential and groundbreaking instrumental group Night Ark.

The Secret Trio was formed in 2010 and has two albums on the Traditional Crossroads label: Soundscapes (2012) and Three of Us (2015).

Roulette, 509 Atlantic Ave at 3rd Ave near BAM & Barclays Center, Brooklyn
Tickets at robertbrowningassociates.com
Tickets: $30; seniors, students $26

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Middle Eastern and Pop Intersections

Brothers of the Baladi - Gravity of Love
Brothers of the Baladi – Gravity of Love

Brothers of the Baladi – Gravity of Love (Baladi Productions BLD12, 2016)

World music with a Middle Eastern edge, rock and pop intersect in the new album by American band Brothers of the Baladi. The group is celebrating its 40th anniversary with this new recording featuring rock instrumentation such as electric guitar, bass and drum kit along with a wide-range of world music instruments from the Middle East, South America, and Europe.

While many world fusion ensembles lean towards instrumental music, the Oregon-based Brothers of the Baladi features English-language vocals that bring the songs closer to a pop and rock audience. One of the songs has a Spanish language title, ¿Dónde están ahora? (where are they now?) and the group is known for also using other languages like Arabic, Turkish, Farsi, French, and Armenian.

Gravity of Love is the first album where Brothers of the Baladi has used electronic sounds and programming. The intention this time is to appeal to a pop audience, adding pop hooks and rhythms.

The lineup includes Michael Beach on lead vocals, dumbek, zarb, Eddie Kirkjan dumbeg, mizmar, zurna, midjwiz, nay, riq, tar, davul, and percussion; J. Michael Kearsey on vocals, Fender Jazz bass, percussion, and islik sesi; Clark Salisbury on vocals, oud, saz, guitar, dobro, charango, fretless bass, electronics and programming; Charles Pike on vocals, percussion, and drum kit. The guests are: Daniel Eshoo on kanoon (qanun) and Paul Beck on cymbalon.

Gravity of Love contains well-crafted instrumental performances within songs that will appeal to the mainstream.

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Mehmet Polat Trio Play Songs of Connection

Lincoln Center’s David Rubenstein Atrium is a cool and welcome relief from the 85F heat of Manhattan. The room is crowded with more than a hundred people waiting for the Mehmet Polat Trio to take the stage. It is a packed house with a line out the door of 30 people waiting to get in, a turn-away crowd. Their performance is part of a weekly free concert series coordinated by Lincoln Center that runs year long.

The trio has an oud player Mehmet Polat, a ngoni player Victor Sams, and a ney player Pelin Başar. They are here at the outset of an almost month long tour across America. Mehmet introduces himself and the trio, he invites the audience to listen, “I am looking for a musical connection from heart to heart. I invite you to open your heart and let the music come through you.”

The performance starts with Polat’s gentle and languorous solo on the oud – a pear-shaped wooden instrument with strings that sounds like a lute. Mehmet is from Turkey, his family are from an Alevi Sufi musical tradition. But he has studied various musical styles, including traditional African, Indian, Persian music, and modern jazz. His sound is spare, folk-like, meditative. There are no electronic keyboards here or drum fills.

A silence opens up in the audience. People are rapt in attention, entranced. Mehmet seated center is joined in play by the ney player. The ney is a long and ancient flute. The ngoni, a long-stringed instrument, joins in. And the flute melody weaves in an out the accompanying strings of the other two instruments. There is a grace about this trio, nothing is rushed, time slows down. The audience is invited to relax and to contemplate.

The ngoni player initiates the second song, using his fingers in staccato taps at the base of his instrument. Victor Sams has a beautiful smile that radiates out to the audience. There is a happiness and versatility in his playing: the ngoni is magically transformed into a drum, then back to a stringed instrument, then again to a drum.

Mehmet Polat Trio
Mehmet Polat Trio

The ngoni and oud begin a conversation, shadowing each other’s sound. The two performers nod to each other as they sit side by side. The notes move round and round one another in call and response. One leads with a few notes and the other answers with a few more. Indeed, Mehmet has confirmed that this dialogue is vital for him, “The conversation is intended. I am interested in creating connections between different cultures and continents. I want to explore the common language, but also to look at how two different musical languages may correlate or vibrate together.”

The music is not afraid to breathe, to pause, and to create space in this large atrium. This sense of spaciousness is perhaps one of the trio’s greatest strengths. As the performance continues, Mehmet begins to sing. With his eyes closed, you sense his earnestness, his sincerity. He is humble, yet assured in his musicianship. The song includes some words of Fuzuli, who was a Sufi poet from Azerbaijan. The ney shadows the vocal notes. There is a cyclical sense to the melody, reminiscent of an Indian raga. The audience is pulled in, caught up in the compelling, lulling sound. The audience is transported on a journey of wonder and longing.

For more information about Mehmet Polat Trio’s tour, please visit: http://mehmetpolat.net

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Shai Tsabari & the Middle East Groove All Stars to Perform at Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles

Shai Tsabari
Shai Tsabari

Shai Tsabari & the Middle East Groove All Stars are set to perform on Thursday, August 25, at 8:00 PM at Skirball Cultural Center’s Sunset Concerts.

Born in Jaffa to a family of Yemeni Jews, Israeli singer-songwriter Shai Tsabari accompanied by the Middle East Groove All Stars creates a mix of Middle Eastern music and contemporary rock.

Drawing from the diverse musical influences of Tsabari’s upbringing-his father was a cantor, his grandmother introduced him to Yemenite percussion instruments, and his older brother collected 1960s and 1970s American rock albums – Tsabari’s music combines Middle Eastern instrumentation such as the oud, dumbek, and tar with guitar, bass, drums, trombone, and electronics.

While part of Israel’s recent Arabic-influenced music revival, Tsabari takes this style into a new direction by incorporating traditional Jewish liturgy into his lyrics.

Skirball Cultural Center
2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90049
(310) 440-4500

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Al Andalus Ensemble to Perform at Trinity Cathedral in Portland

Al Andalus Ensemble
Al Andalus Ensemble

The award winning Al Andalus Ensemble is set to perform on August 14, 2016 at 7:00 p.m at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Portland, Oregon.

The quintet combines the musics of the East and the West and features ud, ney, violin, flamenco guitar and multi-lingual vocals.

Tickets are Free. The event is generously underwritten by the Trinity Cathedral Arts Commission.

Love is the bridge between you and everything” ~ Rumi (1207-1273, poet, theologian)

The ensemble’s recordings include 21 Strings, Andalusian Love Songs, and Vision.

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A Beautiful Musical Experience in East Jerusalem

East Jerusalem West Jerusalem
East Jerusalem West Jerusalem

East Jerusalem West Jerusalem, featuring David Broza, Steve Earle, Muhammad Mughrabi and Mira Awad (Film Movement, 2016)

The film East Jerusalem West Jerusalem is a documentary about the 8 day creative experience envisioned by celebrated Israeli singer-songwriter David Broza in East Jerusalem.

In early 2013, David Broza fulfilled his dream to record songs in the Palestinian side of Jerusalem with musicians from Palestine and Israel. The8-day sessions took place in the studio of Palestinian band Sabreen. The idea was to create a space for peace and to listen to each other with the hope that this will have a ripple effect.

Broza invited award-winning American singer-songwriter and activist Steve Earle as producer. Even though Steve Earle wrote a song called “Jerusalem” in the 1990s, he had never visited Jerusalem before.

Other guests included Israeli Palestinian singer, actress and activist Mira Awad; Palestinian cinematographer Issa Freij; Muhammad Mughrabi, Palestinian hip hop artist from the Shuaafat refugee camp; Israeli musicians Jean Paul Zimbris, Alon Nadel and Gadi Seri, along with other American, Israeli and Palestinian participants.

At the beginning of the film, David Broza sets the context for the project, showing the two sides of Jerusalem, and fascinating interviews. Broza sits on a rooftop with Issa Freij where they discuss their different experiences. Broza greets Steve Earle at the airport and later talks, jams and rehearses with him. There is also an interview with American record producer David Greenberg and several segments with Broza himself.

Some of the most noteworthy footage includes the shots of the musicians (and the filmmaker) rehearsing and having fun in the studio as they prepare for the recording sessions.

Broza chose to record in English, as a universal language, and the two local languages, Hebrew and Arabic. Although I don’t have the album, it is evident that that album has a mix of American folk music influences along with the Middle Eastern nuances of the ud, darbuka and kanun. Broza also adds a little flamenco spice that he picked up in Spain.

The film follows David Broza as he takes a night drive to the impoverished Shuafat refugee camp, the home of the two Palestinian rappers who collaborate on the album. It’s surprising that despite all the security measures nearby, the camp itself is pretty much on its own, without police or emergency services.

There are additional interviews with the Israeli and Palestinians where they describe their experiences. Many of them had never visited each others neighborhoods.

Broza also brought the new generations into the project, recording the voices of young singers representing the various communities.
Sadly, near the end of the film, Broza and Freij encounter a demonstration of Israelis who trade insults with the Palestinians, demonstrating that it’s hard to get away from politics and there is much more work to do.

David Broza grew up in Israel, Spain, and England. His musical influences range from flamenco to rock and Americana. He is also recognized for his commitment and dedication to several humanitarian causes, mostly, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Since 1977, Broza has released over 30 albums in Hebrew, English and Spanish, many of which have become gold and platinum albums.

In the year 2006 David Broza received the “In Search for Common Ground” award along with Palestinian musician/composer Said Murad, and in 2009 the Spanish King, Juan Carlos I, decorated him with the Spanish Royal Medal of Honor for his longtime contribution to Israel-Spain relations, and his dedication to promotion of tolerance and conflict resolution.

In 2015 Broza recorded the album “Andalusian Love Song” with the Andalusian Orchestra of Ashkelon.

East Jerusalem West Jerusalem is a remarkable project that shows how we can all get along through the language of music.

Buy the East Jerusalem West Jerusalem DVD in the Americas

Buy the East Jerusalem West Jerusalem CD in the Americas

Buy the East Jerusalem West Jerusalem CD in Europe

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Melange’s Vision of World Jazz

Melange - Via Maris
Melange – Via Maris

Melange – Via Maris (Two Rivers Records)

Melange is a British multi-ethnic ensemble that combines jazz improvisation with the evocative sounds of North Africa, the Middle East and the Mediterranean. Their latest album Via Maris reflects this fascinating melting pot of musical influences with a fabulous mix of original pieces and recreations of traditional tunes and dances from Turkey, Greece and Iraq.

Cellist Shirley Smart founded Melange after spending 10 years in Jerusalem studying and playing the musics of the region. The ensemble includes musicians from Greece, Spain, Morocco, Iraq, Italy and the UK.

Album lineup: Shirley Smart on cello, Stefanos Tsourelis on oud, Peter Michaels on guitar, Maurizio Minardi on accordion, Joe Browne on saxophones, Jake Painter on trumpet, Michele Montolli on bass, and Demi Garcia Sabat on drums and percussion.

Via Maris is a splendid album where the cello and various other instruments explore the captivating worlds of jazz and global sounds.

Buy the Via Maris digital version

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