This month we made a discovery: Antònio Zambujo, who sings heartbreaking Portuguese songs. An album by Belgian saxophonist of Sicilian origins Pierre Vaiana, “Al Funduq”, a homage to the merchants of the Mediterranean who not only transported goods from one shore to the other, but also carried musical and poetic traditions along… This album will be appreciated by ethnomusicologists: it is dedicated to the “carters’ songs” of Sicily, a musical genre that is perpetuated, whereas the trade has disappeared. Akim El Sikameya, came from Oran to Paris about ten years ago. He brings back to life the Algerian songs that were joyfully sung in cabarets, and cocks a snook at the kill joys who try to stifle our Oriental bards under the guise of morale. Kamilya Jubran, who for 20 years was the vocalist of the Palestinian protest group Sabreen, offers us a solo album where she sets free her passion for Arabic poetry accompanied by the ‘oud. Another lover of Arabic poetry, the Syrian Abed Azrié, as for many other Arab artists today, brings back to life a heritage – in this case, Sufi poetry that sings all forms of love and religious tolerance – as in a History lesson.
BABELMED’s HIGHLIGHT OF THE MONTH
ANTÓNIO ZAMBUJO, Outro Sentido, World Village/Distrib. Harmonia Mundi
We melted for Antònio Zambujo’s voice, who dares putting passion in his voice, like only Latin singers can. They sing with an overflowing heart and we like it, even – and especially! – if it’s a sad song… If you won’t feel like crying when you listen to “Fado menor”, you don’t like Portuguese music, which is possible I guess…A few words, a few chords, a silence between two phrases, the voice that dies away somewhere, or swells, or trembles, to then come back to life, sadness turns into power and sublime words:
Fado menor meu castigo (Fado in minor, my punishment)
Meu pecado original (My original sin)
Que trago sempre comigo (That I always take with me)
Sem ter feito nenhum mal (Though I didn’t do any wrong)
Velhinho levas a vida (Old man you spend your life)
A pedir por quem padece (Begging for those who suffer)
E quem a sente perdida (And those that feel lost)
Confia na tua prece (Trust in your prayer)
Saudade, tristeza, amor (Nostalgia, sadness, love)
Em cada nota dolente (In every melancholy note)
Sao preces do cantador (these are the prayers of the singer)
A rezar por toda a gente” (Who prays for everyone)
Nenhuma dor já sofrida (No pain already suffered)
Pode igualar o tormento (Can equal the torment)
De cantar a dor da vida (Of singing the pain of life)
E morrer de sofrimento (And dying of pain)
And the paradox is that, throughout the album, António Zambujo sings with an infinite sense of modesty, as if he couldn’t avoid, in each song, to be overcome by emotion. This is a wonderful album, It’s a love at first sight for an artist that I won’t let go of so soon, I can feel it…, António Zambujo was awarded the Amália Rodrigues Prize in 2006 for Best male interpreter of Fado and this third album was elected one of the best song albums of the year 2008, by the magazine
, the British equivalent of the world music magazine
. The good thing about internet is that in a click, you can listen to Fado Minor, or to the other titles of the album, because all the artist’s songs are generously put on line, on his site, with the wordings:
PIERRE VAIANA, Al Funduq - Porta del Vento, Igloomondo/Distr.Cristal Records
Pierre Vaiana is a saxophonist with many interests and talents. Professor at the Conservatory of Ghent in Belgium, he’s interested in jazz, contemporary music, Sicilian music as his father comes from there, and world music in general! Also a singer, you can see him playing in an opera by Luciano Berio, participate to the realisation of a record dedicated to the songs of Sicilian carters (see above), spend some years in New York for jazz, then some other in Ougadougou as a teacher for the Music and Dance School, or animate the workshops of young artists in Tunis, Kinshasa or Palermo… Al Funduq - Porta del Vento, already presented in several festivals and shows around Europe, in Tunisia and Algeria, is the project of a musical encounter on the theme of the merchants-voyagers that criss-crossed the Mediterranean, transporting goods from one country to the other… but also of music and rhythms! In this album Pierre Vaiana is accompanied by percussionist Carlo Rizzo, specialised in Sicilian and Neapolitan tambourine and who makes his own instruments that reach amazing tones; pianist Fabian Fiorini, whose touch is full of grace (listen to the very tender dialogue between sax and piano in “Al Jazaïr”...); jazz bass player Nicolas Thys; Burkinian djembé player Zoumana Dembele, whose rhythms perfectly integrate the frenzied rhythms of the Italian tarantellas for example; and the traditional Sicilian singers Giovanni and Melchiorre Di Salvo. Pierre Vaiana’s sax sometimes becomes a soft blow, sometimes a joyful clarinet that rhythms a dance. On the whole, this is a great album, full of touches, that takes you from Palermo to Ouagadougou by passing through Tunis, Antwerp, Naples, and many other imaginary stopping towns...
I CANTORI DI BAGHERIA, Canzuna a la carrittera, Fontimusicali
By pure chance, on the same week we received this album on the songs of Sicilian carters to which Pierre Vaiana participated… the label Fontimusicali, that carries out an ethnomusicological work, has collected these songs of travelling merchants, ancestors of today’s truck drivers and routers, who stopped by the hostels called
in Sicily and
in Arabic, heirs of the ancient Greek hostels, the
, and cousins of the Oriental khans and caravanserais, that hosted men, goods and animals (
Housing the stranger in the Mediterranean world: Lodging, trade and travel in late antiquity and the Middle Ages, Cambridge University Press, 2003
). These carters spent their evening singing, challenging each other in contests that required a great vocal virtuosity as well as the mastering of a wide poetic repertoire, and each would conclude his song with a call – “chiamata” – launched to the next singer by calling his name… Incredibly, whereas the many songs linked to other professions have disappeared in Sicily – as for the songs of the salt makers, the sulphur miners or the tuna fishers – the “Canzuna a la carrittera” are still alive, as witnessed in this album, where some interpreters are aged twenty. Want to know why? The Sicilian cart, a colourful wooden cart, has become the symbol of Sicily, miniaturised as a souvenir, all emigrants took it with them, explains Pierre Vaiana. And if the carts don’t pave the roads anymore, they still parade on celebrations, notably in the region of Bagheria, where this collection was recorded. The descendants of the ancient carters are still aware that they belong to an elite – who owned their means of production and their horses, unlike the peasants, who only had their arms - as testifies one of the singers, Giovanni Di Salvo, aged 23, a philosophy student at the University of Palermo, but who firstly introduces himself as a “carrettiere”. The quasi faithful reflection of a night of music spent between friends, this record is a testimony of a tradition that remains surprisingly lively, even if highways and tourist clubs have invaded Sicily like everywhere else…
Introducing AKIM EL SIKAMEYA, World Music Network/Distrib. Harmonia Mundi
Sounds like a good start: a festive and joyful accordion (that of Philippe Eidel) accompanies Akim el Sikameya who sings the very danceable song “Chouia l’mon coeur, chouia l’Bon Dieu” (Here’s one for the Islamists!), in the purest tradition of the Algerian music sung before the Independence, when French and Algerian mixed carelessly both in words and music. While post-Independence ideologies have carefully avoided mixing these two universes, the rise of radicalism and nationalist tensions - in a country that has lost 200 to 300.000 souls in the civil war of the 90’s – led to the effect that, to counter the chilling radical ideologies of “purity” and exclusion, the “Franco-Arab” style of Algerian music was rehabilitated, despite its wrongful association with the colonial presence. In fact it mainly involved native Algerian musicians, who expressed themselves in French just like Parisian rock singers sing in English today, to be trendier… Akim El Sikameya, born in Oran, the capital of music, of the evenings and pleasures it’s associated with, avers to be the offspring of Blond-Blond, Reinette l’Oranaise, Line Monty and other great artists previous to the Independence, who made a fusion – even before the word became associated with world music! – of traditional Arab-Andalusian music, French songs and the world music of the time. In this case, he winks at tango, the world success of the 40’s, and at Spanish music, so present in the old days, when the words artists used were by far saucier than those of Akim! Thus in the “ruban noir”: “Ta peau de miel et de soie/Et ta bouche de velours/Ont la douceur des beaux jours” (...) (Your honey and silk skin/And your velvet mouth/Are as sweet as a nice day”; “Elle se déhanche contre moi/Et je vois les doux attraits du bonheur” (…) “She sways her hips against me/As I see the soft charms of happiness”)… This approach – and the music of course – seduced the British label World Music Network, which appreciated this daring action against the radicalism that threatens Algeria. However, though this may be true, they should also bear in mind that these words are used in Arab-Andalusian love poetry since the Middle-Ages, and that fundamentalist austerity is the exception, not the rule in Arabic societies… In short: for the nostalgic and lovers of the joyful and bon-vivant Algerian song, this album is for you! And for those that live in Paris: the artist animates the nights of the Bellevilloise, a showground in the North of Paris, and invites his friends there every week…
KAMILYA JUBRAN, Makan, Zig Zag Territoires/Distrib. Harmonia Mundi
Artist Kamilya Jubran is passionate about poetry. In her new album, she updates the tradition of singing poetry with the ‘oud, not by “going back to the past” to an imaginary Orientalism, but on the contrary by modernising the genre through an all contemporary minimalism, without distorting it. As if a dress designer would cut out of a luxurious and ancient fabric, a dress with an original, daring and modern cut. In “Makan” (Place) she sings the poems of her poet friends – Palestinian Salman Masalha, Moroccan Hassan Najmi and Iraqi Fadhil al Azzami, who composed 4 poems for this album – she has also added the work of a Senegalese poet, Birago Diop, who died in 1989. She strings out the words, sometimes one by one, sometimes vowel after vowel, sound after sound, and takes a voluptuous pleasure, once vocalising, another time accelerating the rhythm of the word, letting the ‘oud speak alone, opening a pause after that. Kamilya tells us a story, like a storyteller, of life experiences, in a language, Classical Arabic, at the service of a very modern use of the ‘oud, which sometimes becomes percussion, pure rhythm... Born in Galilee in 1963 from Christian Palestinian parents, Kamilya grew up in a family of musicians, her father was both music professor and maker of ‘ouds and qanouns (zithers), and her brother, Khaled, created the Urmawi centre for Machrek music in Jerusalem. During 20 years, from 1982 to 2002, Kamilya was the voice, the ‘oud and qanoun of the Palestinian protest group Sabreen (
). Since 2002, the artist lives in Bern, Switzerland and has developed in solo or with Swiss electronic music artist Werner Hasler, creations and shows that express her will to find her own road.
J’ai une route qui ne mène nulle part (There’s a road that takes me nowhere)
J’ai un lieu qui est ma mélodie (There’s a place that is my melody)
C’est pourquoi je parcours le monde et je chante (That’s why I roam the world and sing):
Kamilya Jubran, who for many years sang the sorrow of a population deprived of its earth, titled her album after the words of Salman Masalha… Appeased – but not consoled – Kamilya has found her road, her place, her “makan” in music…
ABED AZRIÉ, Mystic, Doumtak/Distrib. Nocturne
Another artist from the Middle East who sings Arab poetry, Sufi poetry this time: Abed Azrié, born in Aleppo, France is his second home since 1967, offers us a double album (CD and DVD) of the concert “Mystic” held at the Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris on March 2008. On the album, you will find this note:
“La pensée des Soufis qui trouve Dieu en toute chose, nous conduit à l’amour entre le divin et l’humain, mais également entre l’humain et l’humain. Elle nous conduit à l’unité des religions en une seule, dite “religion de l’amour”, selon l’expression d’Ibn Arabi”.
(Sufi thought that finds God’s presence in everything, leads us to the love between the divine and the human, but also between humans. It leads to unifying all religions into a single one, called the “religion of love” according to the expression of Ibn Arabi).
This album is a manifesto, in these times where some try to make of religion a weapon of hate, and not an instrument of love, Abed Azrié opens his album with a poem by Al Hallaj (858-922) who was sentenced to death in Baghdad for heresy. Al Hallaj, who was near to God as for all Sufis, wrote:
“ Quelle terre est vide de Toi pour qu'on s'élance à Te chercher au ciel ?
(What land is devoid of You for us to look for You in the sky?)
Tu les vois qui Te regardent au grand jour mais aveugles ils ne Te voient pas".
(You see them looking at You in the daytime but they’re blind and can’t see You)…
Abed Azrié delivers with his beautiful deep voice, his Sufi poems that sing of divine love with the passion of carnal love (“Je suis celui que j’aime et celui que j’aime est moi/Le miroir ne reflète rien d’autre que nous deux” [I’m the one I love and the one I love is me/The mirror only reflects us two] Al Hallaj) or that celebrate religious tolerance, like “Faith” by Ibn Arabi:
Mon coeur accepte désormais toute forme (My body now accepts any shape)
Il est pré de gazelles (It’s grass for gazelles)
Et cloître de moines chrétiens (And cloister for Christian monks)
Temple d’idoles, Kaaba du pelerine (A Temple of idols, The Kaaba of the pilgrim)
Tables de Torah et feuilles de Coran. (The Tables of the Torah and the leaves of the Koran)
J’appartiens à la religion de l’amour (I belong to the religion of love)
Partout où vont ses caravans (Wherever its caravans go)
Car l’amour est ma religion et ma foi (Because love is my religion and faith)....