Friday, December 28, 2007

Ten Best of 2007 from Beirut

This list is from Kaelen Wilson-Goldie, writing in the Daily Star (Beirut), on Dec. 29. The DJ Spooky mix is terrific, and you can download it for free here. In fact, it's mostly African music, with a bit of North African. The Jajouka-Abdel Nasser-Umm Kulthoum segment is particularly fun. I love Nass al-Ghiwane, but I've not heard their new one. I'm familiar with but not wild about Rabih Abu-Khalil, and I've seen Rami Khalife perform with his father Marcel, and heard a couple interesting cuts by him. As for Bikya, you can listen to four of their tracks on their myspace page, and if you've got a myspace account, you can download two of them. I've not listened enough to evaluate them. The other stuff, I've not heard of. Track it down and tell me about it!

DJ Spooky
"Ghost World: A Story in Sound"

Though he is best known for spinning records, DJ Spooky That Subliminal Kid started out in the art world and continues to create inventive, cross-disciplinary hybrids that find him wearing the hats of artist, writer and theorist as often as that of the DJ. For the first-ever African pavilion at this summer's Venice Biennale, organized around an exhibition entitled "Luanda Pop," DJ Spooky mined music from across the continent for a seamless, 1-hour, 19-minute and 19-second mix. Masterfully meshed and interlaced selections include Tunisian hip-hop outfit Lotfi Double Kanon and a mind-blowing transition that begins with Morocco's Master Musicians of Jajouka featuring Talvin Singh and mixed with Gamal Abdel-Nasser's "Independence Forever" speech, segues through Duke Ellington's "Afro-Eurasian Eclipse" and end up with a heavy, drum 'n' bass remix of Umm Kulthoum's "Hob Eih." A prodigious adherent of world music in its most contemporary, urban incarnations, DJ Spooky is closely tracking the development of hip hop in the region and has lined up a track featuring Palestinian rappers DAM for his next album.

Nass al-Ghiwane
"Ennehla Chama"

The third album from Moroccan heroes Nass al-Ghiwane since the death of founding member Larbi Batma, "Ennehla Chama" features Rachid Batma, Hamid Batma, Chifaa Abdelkrim and Omar Sayed. Nominated for a 2008 BBC World Music Award, it features the group's characteristic blend of traditional instruments, metaphorical lyrics, rousing rhythms and malhoun, gnawa and chaabi styles.


The independent record label 100 Copies in Cairo may be the single most exciting experimental musical outfit in the region, and it only got better in 2007 with the release of the first album from Bikya. The group consists of label founder Mahmoud Refat on drums and electronics, Mahmoud Waly on bass and electronics and Maurice Louca on guitar, keyboard and sampler. Their first, untitled album features eight tracks and the first, "Betrayal," is as masterful as Massive Attack circa "Blue Lines." The group performed in Beirut last month at Basement as part of the Meeting Points 5 contemporary arts festival.

Rabih Abou-Khalil
"Songs for Sad Women"

Lebanese oud player and composer Rabih Abou-Khalil released his 19th album this year, the mournful, seven-track sequence that is "Songs for Sad Women." Framing the haunting sound of Gevorg Dabaghyan's duduk, a 3,000-year-old Armenian instrument that sounds like an oboe and looks like a clarinet, Abou-Khalil's latest adds to his impressive eclecticism.

Rami Khalife
Piano Concertos"

Rami Khalife, 25, is nothing if not wonderfully precocious. His third album to date - after "Live in Beirut" and "Scene from Hellek" - is his first recording with an orchestra and features compositions by Prokofiev and Abdallah al-Masri."

"34 Days" and "Black Tuesday"

The first two albums in a trilogy, "34 Days" and "Black Tuesday" attest to the singular talent of Jawad Nawfal, aka Munma, a name that he refers to as his "resistance moniker." The sounds here are, by turns, beautiful, disturbing, enigmatic and abstract.

Joanna Andraos

She's an artist, actress and classically-trained pianist. Joanna Andraos is, piece-by-piece, constructing an entire creative universe around her multidisciplinary efforts. "Khimaira" takes some of the structures, movements and lines of classical music and pushes them into ghostly territory. The results are spare and lush at once.

Lena Chamamyan

Syrian-Armenian singer Lena Chamamyan's "Shamat" is an album of old folk songs salvaged from obscurity and rearranged with the help of Basel Rajoub, who plays saxophone and trumpet.

"Nine Days of Solitude: The Damascus Sessions"

This album, launched during the jazz festival in Syria over the summer, features Kinan Azmeh, Issam Rafea, Manfred Leuchter, Antoin Putz and Dima Orsho. The stunning first track, "Wedding," is grooving, nimble, playful and soulful.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

More Palestinian Rap

This is one of many articles on Palestinian rap, from 2005, but what really struck me was the photo, of one of the rappers from the Gaza rap group R.F.M., in performance.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Acrassicauda, "Iraq's Only Heavy Metal Band"--Now in Turkey

Here's the latest from the BBC on Iraqi heavy metal band Acrassicauda, until recently in exile in Syria, now in Turkey.

It's quite interesting how much coverage this band has received. No doubt it's largely the novelty factor.

Here's their myspace page (three songs to listen to--no downloads).

There is a new film about Acrassicauda, called Heavy Metal in Baghdad. Check out the preview (and more information) here. The film premiered at the Toronto Film Festival last month.

Go here to listen to an NPR report (June 5, 2007--fortieth anniversary of the June War!). The Wall Street Journal covered the band in August 2004--read an excerpt here.