BABELMED’S HIGHLIGHT OF THE MONTH
ISRAEL, (committee) Putumayo
The excellent record label, Putumayo, renown for its great discoveries of music from around the world, by country or by theme, gives us a “greatest hits” album of Israel’s best productions today. As from Paris, Tunis, Algiers or Rome, what do we know of what goes on over there apart from the stamping of combat boots – or worse? This album reminds us that the music scene today is quite lively and intense in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem or Jaffa with Jewish and Palestinian artists who, like everywhere in the world, love music above all else – and more so than politics! Like all musicians, they celebrate love, friendship and happiness through music… though life! And, when they sing of hope, they are not so different from a Lavilliers or a Souad Massi – except for the war on their doorstep. Israel mixes people and cultures from hundreds of different countries and here we’ll find artists from Tunisian, Yemenite, Iraki or East-European origin… We like the voice of Hadas Dagul, who makes his guitar dance the bossa nova and who sings “the pink houses and the green mountains…” Or the Christian Palestianian Amal Murkus, who sings in Arabic and fights for Arabic music to have its place in Israel, as it is often marginalized. The album also features the star David Broza, who sings gentle folk songs in a Hebrew Paul Simon way, or the famous band Sheva, who mixes Jewish and Muslim artists, Middle-Eastern and Eastern-European melodies, Jewish humour and roots reggae, Sufi poetry and biblical phrases, like these: “Blessed be the one/ Who does not live by listening to the counsel of the villain/ But his happiness is in the pure truth of the being…”
IMDIWEN, “Le chauffeur est dans le pré” ( The driver is in the field ), Chaffeur production
“To cross the sea and move the mountains/ To catch a cold in the plane to suffocate in a choking heat/ To get covered in dust only to be cradled in a foreign language/ And to fall asleep under the stars/ It is in the desert/ In the middle of the Sahara, in Mali/ (…) Put all of this in music, to risk together a reunion in the dusty immensity of the desert/ And of our Mediterranean warmth/ A roundtrip musical story/ Of energy festive with poetic intimacy/ A story of life”: This is how Le Chauffeur presents his new album, a fusion with Tuareg music from Mali. Le Chauffeur is a band of six friends, based in Montpellier in the South of France who, with their sax, clarinet, accordion, trumpet, string bass, etc, play what they call “festive and Balkan music” (with hats on their heads during concerts, like musicians from Eastern-Europe!) and define themselves as “a lactic acid with a taste of Bulgarian libertarian and internationalist inspiration.” They went to Mali to record this fantastic album, that hooks you right with the first track: at the same time very roots and very professional! We are taken on by a trot rhythm, that animal trot of desert crossings that is so often portrayed in local music. Neither too quick nor too slow, just enough to be happy but not excited, calm but not drowsy. We liked this album from beginning to end and, magically, the saxophone, the accordion and even the swaying tango rhythm (listen to “Oumfas”!) mix perfectly with the cords of the Tuareg guitar, a tad nonchalant, a touch rebel, sometimes melancholic… Let it be known: Le Chauffeur is starting a tour, this November, which will lead them to Mali, but also to the South of France, to Switzerland, etc… More information on their website:
LIAT COHEN, Variations ladino, “Patrimoines musicaux des juifs de France” ( Musical heritage of French Jews ) Buda Music
Liat Cohen, recipient of several prestigious prizes (First Prize of the Conservatory of the City of Paris, the Fondation Internationale Nadia et Lili Boulanger prize…) was said to be “one of the best guitarists in the world” by the French magazine Guitare. She gives us songs, for one of two guitars (with the Argentinean guitar player Ricardo Moyano), or for several guitars and vocals (with the Israeli band Les Parvarim), inspired by Spanish Sephardic tradition. “Little almond trees which I planted/ For your green eyes/ My shoulders, my arms were filled/ With your braided hair/ Because for you/ I am dying…” The first love songs of the album put into music Andalusian poems, the coplas, where the rhymes are very short, but love always immense… There are also pieces inspired by this century-old repertoire, by the Argentinean Jorge Cardoso, who lives in France; by the young Brazilian Luiz de Aquino; by the Georgian Josef Bardanashvili; by the Spaniard Narcis Bonet; or by the Israelis Rafi Kadishon, Gil Shohat or Boaz Ben-Moshe. All in all, this album is suffused with gentleness and melancholy, which gives a music tinted at times with oriental rhythms, and sometimes in a Renaissance style, where the guitar sings like a soul…
AZAM ALI, Elysium for the Brave, Six degrees/Universal
Azam Ali is an Iranian artist, who lives in Los Angeles and who you may have heard of with Niyaz, a 3-man band. She is part of several bands and gives us her second solo album. “Eternal reverie”, the title of the first track, could have been the title of the album. As other Iranian artists, Azam takes us on a dreamlike voyage of images, atmospheres, sounds, in which we let ourselves be taken and surrounded, as if under the spell of soft substances appreciated around Persia… Born in Teheran, Azam spent her childhood and teenage years in India, before moving to the US after the Iranian revolution. She studied singing and the santour, the Iranian cithara, for years and this is how the songwriter defines her music: “I want to defy cultural specificity in terms of music and I refuse to settle in just one musical expression.” She mixes electronic samples, the desert ney flute, violin played in an Iranian fashion and English lyrics. Azam also covered, because her mother often listened to it, a piece by the famous Iranian singer Hayedeh, song of a nostalgic exile for her country lost. This album will take you far away, neither towards Iran, nor towards the pacific, but in the air, in dreams… which sometimes is more real than reality, or more pleasant…
GAGUIK MOURADIAN ENSEMBLE, Goussam-Bardes d'Arménie, Accords croisés
The publishers Accords croisés give us another of their “book-albums”, featuring rare music and a booklet which is both well documented and nicely illustrated with ancient engravings. Gaguik Mouradian played in every town of the former USSR, before it collapsed. He played the kamantche, a small, four-cord Armenian violin with a cylinder-shaped case, which is played while resting on your lap, just like violinists from the Maghreb today play the classic violin. With other musicians, for the most part alumni or teachers of the Erevan National Conservatory, he pays tribute to the art of the “Goussam” – these troubadours, poet-musicians who travelled around Armenia in the olden days and who sang love, gave small philosophy lessons or told epic tales. We’ll find here the art of singing of Middle-Eastern Christian communities – monodic songs in which vocal and instrumental melodies are set on each other, like in a dialogue. The kanone (cithara – kanoun in Arabic), the saz (lute with a long fingerboard), the ney (flute made of reed) or the doudouk (Armenian oboe), accompany the chanting whose music was passed on orally, from master to pupil, but who the Goussam signed – We will also find poems from the most famous of them, Sayat Nova, who lived in the 17th century. The love songs are surprisingly close to the images of the Canticle of Canticles, born not far away: “You are a partridge of the mountains/ Your eyes are suns/ You blossomed like a rose/ For you I am a nightingale.” Some are coded, as Armenia was often occupied. As in this Djivani melody: “O you my lovely/ flower of Eden/ Violet nourished with the earth of the ancestors (…)/ I wish you from all my heart/ To live without obstacles/ Free, independent.” Or this other song: “Like winter, days of unhappiness come and then go/ You must not despair, if they come and then go (..)/ The barbarians tribes of the invaders/ Come and then go.” As always, music, to let hope live – and future ensue…
MARCEL KHALIF, Sharq, DVD or CD, Choice Music
Marriage could be heaven or hell. This is also true of the marriage of cultures. And if your column “Muzzika!” more often tells you about happy marriages between different musical traditions – which shows when you listen to them – Marcel Khalif and Al Jazeera Television, sponsors of the mega production “Sharq”, probably wanted to give their acoustic interpretation of the ‘clash of civilisations’ – which every honest musician, which every honest man as they say, knows exists only in the minds of those who wish for it. Because it would be the Flemish painting of the 15th century without the Italian painting, the Roman sculpture without the Greek sculpture, pasta without tomato sauce (vegetable brought in from America), mussels and French fries without the potato (another vegetable from America).
Here, we have the most tacky “oratorios” that we had the chance to listen to: A gigantic orchestra, dozens of choir singers who sing in a non-language (marketing imperative: the show can thus be played anywhere!). This gives some “Oh oh ohs”, buzzed by the men for several long minutes, to which the women reply with higher pitched “Ah ah ahs”… Even the worst Egyptian musicals haven’t produced such impossible to hear mixes of oriental and western music. If this was a demonstration of how horrible the two merged together might sound, well done! It’s as if we were to spray tomato sauce… on a Flemish painting! The art of blending is, well, an art! Move along, there’s nothing to see here, well, nothing to hear!