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Middle East REVIEWS
Shervin Boloorian
One With the Beloved
Hi-Phi Music (61 mins)

HHHHH

Mystical Islamic song of a
distinctly New Age kind
Oh dear. On paper,
Shervin Boloorian
ticks the right boxes.
He’s a refugee from
Iran, raised in the
UK, with an interest
in the spiritual poetry of Rumi and Sufi
mysticism. But musically, this is one of
the most bland, long-winded and
tedious recordings I’ve heard in a long
time. Boloorian sings Rumi’s poetry

and various Islamic mantras over soft
guitar chords, keyboards and some
electronics. At its most exciting, on the
track ‘Bismillah’ (In the Name of God),
we get some water sounds, a kora and
something distantly inspired by a Sufi
zikr – rhythmic chanting of the name
of God. But whereas the real thing is
raw, rhythmic and vigorous, this is
limp and drenched in artificial reverb.
Boloorian is based in Bali, where
he provides holistic sound therapy.
This sounds like New Age music for
the beach, but not for music lovers.
Bismillah! Just let it go!
SIMON BROUGHTON

TRACK TO TRY Bismillah

Jivan Gasparyan
Duduk Ensemble
Yeraz
Buda Musique (55 mins)

HHHHH

More duduks than you could
shake an apricot stick at
There are few
instruments as
beautiful as the
Armenian duduk.
Its plaintive, reedy
tone seems to
exude melancholy. Djivan (or Jivan)
Gasparyan is the acknowledged
master of the instrument and one of
his innovations is this duduk quartet

– which takes its inspiration, of course,
from the classical string quartet. Here,
with his grandson Djivan Gasparyan Jr
on second duduk, plus alto and bass
duduks, they play a selection of
harmonised Armenian tunes,
recorded in the atmospheric
13th-century Geghard Monastery.
It’s a shame that the opening of the
first piece, ‘Kujn Ara’, isn’t together –
Gasparyan Sr starting a microsecond
before the others. It should have been
an instant candidate for a retake. And
with the slightly dubious inclusion
of Schubert’s ‘Ave Maria’, I do wonder
about the selection of pieces. But
‘Tsirani Tsar’, a song collected by
Armenian composer Komitas, is very
appropriate, as the duduk itself is
made from apricot wood – tsirani is
Armenian for ‘apricot.’ The prevailing
pace is slow and the mood sombre, but
the album is undeniably beautiful, with
an extraordinary sense of stillness.
SIMON BROUGHTON

Joseph Tawadros &
James Tawadros
Live at Abbey Road
Joseph Tawadros (78 mins)

HHHHH

No-frills showcase for brothers

TRACK TO TRY Ekaa Maksour (Broken Rhythms)

BILL BADLEY

Ruggero Maramotti
NEIL VAN DER LINDEN

Joseph Tawadros is
an Australian oud
virtuoso who
blends the music of
his Egyptian
heritage with a
variety of more contemporary
influences: over the last decade he has
collaborated with New York jazz
musicians, banjo ace Béla Fleck and,
on his last album, himself, playing
more than 50 different instruments.
Live at Abbey Road is comparatively
stripped back, with just him on oud
and brother James playing riq
(tambourine) and bendir (frame drum).
The album’s title is a little misleading,
as this is not a concert recording but a
selection of single-take improvisations
performed in the famous studio. Half
the 29 tracks are around two minutes
long and seem more like beautiful
sketches, so you may find yourself
wanting something more substantial.
But the playing throughout is
technically astonishing and the
interplay between the two brothers
displays extraordinary empathy. Amid
this fiery brilliance, it’s the reflective
pieces like ‘June 14’ that are the most
successful and demonstrate Tawadros’
emerging maturity as a composer.

TOP

Maryam Saleh, Maurice Louca, Tamer Abu Ghazaleh
Lekhfa

OFTHE
WORLD
TRACK 2

Mostakel (46 mins)

HHHHH

Husband and wife singing unit embrace electro-chaabi
Maryam Saleh and Tamer Abu
Ghazaleh’s musical alliance does not
come as a surprise – not only because
they are married, but because their
singing styles match each other well.
Priding herself of being a singer who
never formally trained, Saleh emulated influences from
all sides of Arabic music and, in fact, is now a master of
them all. One of her main influences was the Egyptian
satirist and political singer Sheikh Imam, who is still
mostly banned from Egyptian state media, and who was a
family friend. The boyish voice of Abu Ghazaleh
complements her vocals, while Maurice Louca, an

innovative electronic musician, makes a natural third
member. His keyboard harmonies have lured the couple
into mellifluous duets and even anthemic multitrack
choruses, accompanied by Abu Ghazaleh on oud or buzuk
and Louca sometimes switching to electric guitar. Louca
also brings in trance dance sections with rhythmical
samples from Egyptian Sufi music and from mahraganat
or electro-chaabi. One of the standout tracks, ‘Ekaa
Maksour’ (Broken Rhythms) features all these. This is a
truly innovative album, which might turn out to be one of
the most important Arabic recordings of the decade.

TRACK TO TRY Where it All Began
60 S O N G L I N E S

› ISSUE

134

W W W . S O N G L I N E S . C O. U K

Accords Croisés (52 mins)

HHHHH

Violinists: they don’t maqam
like this any more…
Zied Zouari is a
violin virtuoso who
was surely destined
to specialise in
fusion styles. Born
into a family of
musicians in Tunisia, he was hailed as
a child prodigy, and went on to study
classical, Arabic and Turkish music,
work with a French jazz guitarist and a
symphony orchestra, and tour with
different bands including the
French-Tunisian Cantatas des Rives.
All those influences can be heard here,
on a set in which he is joined by two
excellent musicians: the Turkish
singer, bass and saz (lute) player
Abdurrahman Tarikçi and the French
percussionist Julien Tekeyan, who has
worked with Khaled. They start with
‘Tunisian Complaint’, a gently
mournful instrumental dominated by
Zouari’s violin work, in which he
shows off his technical skill and ability
to change tempo. Then they move on
to ‘Flowers’, in which Tarikçi
demonstrates his fine vocals on a cool,
elegant track that veers off into a jazz
workout. So it continues. There is more
impressive singing, and saz playing
from Tarikçi on ‘Introduction Lettre à
Ikbel’, fine violin work on the upbeat
‘Egyptian Notice’, and rapid-fire
playing and yet more changes of
tempo on ‘Air from India’. Maqâm
Roads is an unfocused set, yes, but a
classy and sophisticated one.
ROBIN DENSELOW

TRACK TO TRY Flowers

VARIOUS ARTISTS
Habibi Funk
Habibi Funk Records (60 mins)

HHHHH

The Arab music world’s take
on Western soul and funk
Subtitled ‘an
eclectic selection of
music from the
Arab world,’ the
majority of the
tracks on this
compilation come from Morocco and
Algeria, with a smattering from
Sudan, Egypt, Tunisia and Lebanon.
Despite this range of countries,
eclectic is a curious word to use as the
style is overwhelmingly a copy of
Motown-style pop, with some

W W W . S O N G L I N E S . C O. U K

TOP

Maya Youssef
Syrian Dreams

OFTHE
WORLD

TRACK 10

Harmonia Mundi/Latitudes (45 mins)

HHHHH

The healing power of music: Syrian virtuoso finds peace
‘This album is
my personal
journey through
the six years of
war in Syria,’
Youssef writes of
her debut album. ‘I see the act of
playing music as the opposite of
death; it is a life and hope-affirming
act.’ Music as a healing instrument,
as a way of handling hard
experiences and the harder
emotions that come with them: you
need real expertise to achieve these
results. And Youssef, who started
playing aged seven, is a virtuoso of
the qanun, the traditional Syrian
78-stringed plucked zither whose
pitch tunes the rest of an ensemble.
soul/disco tracks at the end and a light
touch of Caribbean grooves. It’s up to
you whether you find it intriguing to
hear how far Western popular music
extended its influence, or whether you
find it dispiriting how thoroughly it
overwhelmed local influences. There
are only Western instruments here
and Western rhythms. Indeed, not
only are they stylistically faithful
imitations but many of the guitar and
horn riffs are immediately familiar.

She has worked with players from a
wide range of backgrounds and
traditions and here she teams up
with musicians including cellist
Barney Morse-Brown, oud player
Attab Haddad and percussionist
Sebastian Flaig. There is strength
hidden in the delicacy of the music,
a web of sympathetic parts working
as one. She is a master of her
instrument, one who will let it take
possession of her. On extended
songs such as the 11-minute ‘Seven
Gates of Damascus’ and ‘Queen of
the Night’, the music is sure to take
possession of you, too.
TIM CUMMING

TRACK TO TRY The Seven Gates
of Damascus
Bright spots include the clunky-butfunky ‘Casablanca Shuffle’ and the
lively opener ‘Bsslama Hbibti’ whereas
a discrete veil should be drawn over
the cringe-worthy synthesizer disco of
‘Games’ and ‘Sah’. Habibi Funk could
be a fun novelty record to put on at a
party – it’s all danceable despite some
poor quality recordings – but it won’t
expand your musical horizons.
JO SETTERS

TRACK TO TRY Bsslama Hbibti by Fadoul

Igor Studio

TRACK TO TRY Tsirani Tsar

Zied Zouari
Maqâm Roads


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