Tag Archives: Middle Eastern music

Artist Profiles: Andreas Kapsalis Trio

Andreas Kapsalis

Andreas Kapsalis is a Greek American born in Illinois. The Andreas Kapsalis Trio represents the perfect alliance of eight-fingered guitar virtuosity, outstanding melodic themes and rhythmic variations on percussion. Kapsalis’s solo guitar orchestra (his guitar playing often sounds like three guitarists not one) and the pulse of African and Middle Eastern drums, played by versatile percussionists Jamie Gallagher and Darren Garvey, define their previously unexplored style, often described as Tribal Mediterranean.

Elements of Americana, flamenco, Greek, African and Arabic music are part of the mix, each receiving equal time. Recently, Kapsalis scored his first film, the documentary Black Gold, which premiered at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival.

Discography

The Andreas Kapsalis Trio (2004)
Original Scores (2008)
Guitar Duo, with Goran Ivanovic (2010)
Blackmail, with Goran Ivanovic (2013)
Anastasi (2016)

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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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Artist Profiles: Keyvan Chemirani

Keyvan Chemirani – Photo by Jasmin Toccata

Born in Paris in 1968, Keyvan Chemirani started learning the zarb at the age of 13. Taught by his father, he soon assimilated the traditional technique. Keyvan studied for his masters in mathematics until 1989, when he launched an international career as soloist and accompanist. He also plays the udu, an earthenware jug used in the East and in Africa, as well as the bendir and the riqq, two percussion instruments from the Mediterranean area. Keyvan has given many concerts with various traditional groups.

Keyvan is part of the famed Chemirani ensemble.

Discography:

Zarb Duo et Solo (1997)
Vents d’Est. Ballade pour une mer qui chante (1997)
Trio de Zarb (1999)
Alazar (2000)
Qalam Kar (2002)
Falak (2003)
Messatge (2003)
Le Rhythme de la Parole I (2004)
Urna: Amilal, with Mongolian singer Urna) (2005)
Le Rhythme de la Parole II (2006)
Battements Au Cœur De l’Orient – Heartbeat of the Orient (2007)
Thrace – Sunday Morning Sessions (2016)

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Spellbinding Taos

Efrén López – Stelios Petrakis – Bijan Chemirani – Taos (Buda Musique, 2017)

Taos brings together three outstanding instrumentalists representing various Mediterranean cultures. Efrén López (Spain) and Stelios Petrakis (Crete, Greece) are skilled multi-instrumentalists specialized in a wide-range of plucked and bowed string instruments. Bijan Chemirani (France) plays all sorts of percussion from the Middle East and is especially effective with the zarb and mesmerizing frame drums.

Taos is a masterfully-constructed instrumental album that combines Greek music, Medieval European and Middle Eastern influences featuring dazzling virtuosity and creativity.

Lineup: Efrén López on hurdy gurdy, saz, guitar, Cretan lauto, qobuz, ud, rabab, and percussion; Stelios Petrakis on Cretan lyras and Cretan lauto; and Bijan Chemirani on zarb,daf, bendir, dolra, riq, and calabass.

Taos is a superb album showcasing the beauty and entrancing sounds performed by Efrén López, Stelios Petrakis and Bijan Chemirani.

Buy the digital version of Taos

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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.

 

 

Buy Love is My Religion in Europe

Buy Love Is My Religion in the rest of the world

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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.

Buy Sounds of the East Music from the Balkans, India & the Middle East in the Americas

Buy Sounds of the East Music from the Balkans, India & the Middle East in Europe

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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.

Buy Gravity of Love

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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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