Thursday, December 27, 2012

Les Musiciens Du Nil - Egypte (Ocora - 558 514)

Having started to get into Middle Eastern musical cultures, here is another important part of the culture that has shaped area's musical understanding. Egyptian music is the second most important foundation of Middle Eastern musical culture after Persian and has affected the world the most. It is for one reason simpler to adjust to European music norms. Secondly, it is surely much more livelier than Persian. Unfortunately many people abroad call it Belly Dance music. Oh I just wish the truth would be that easy.

The ancient music of Egypt started from the Upper Egypt which is the South part actually (Due to Nile, if you may not remember from geograpgy lessons). The music was well established before the arrival of Islam and gave some of it's aspects to it also. The music culture mainly belonged to Fellahin which is the general term for bedouins and mountain dwellers. Since Upper Egypt was and still is not a very crowded place in terms of population concentration, it not only had a significance of enjoyment, but was a social expression as well. The main instrument was Rabab which is a sort of a fiddle with one or two strings. This type of instrument later on was used in lots of other regions with the same or similar names.

The music in this region was mainly played by a Shaer (Poet/Singer). The music was accompanied by the Shaer's story, poem or the narrative of a past event. This was also a way of information sharing. Of course, love stories, daily struggles were in the subjects of these songs, but any critical event that has happened also found it's way here and was then passed from city to city, town to town.

The music in general is made up of three different parts. The first piece, Aamedat El Karnak, is a Taqsim which is in modern understanding the intro as well as the solo performance of the main artist. It is not a jam session. The artist takes a piece of the main song and develops an improvised solo by building on it. The second piece Ya Faraoule is a love song which is quite joyful with fast rhythmic structure. The third piece Zahrat El Loxor is similar in terms of structure to the second piece, but this one is only instrumental. However, the best example of ancient Egyptian music is the fourth piece Abou Zeid El Hilali by Shamandi Tewfick Metqal. This is the standard shaer way and has been a refreshing piece all in all. It tells the story of Hilali which is a legend from the 11th century.

One thing should be noted that the music itself is quite simple with many repetitions of the main theme creating the general song. There are certain rhythmic changes when something of importance has to be noted (With lyrical songs), but apart from that the music is mainly repetitive. However, this is true for the ancient music. The modern examples have been quite adopted, but the main theme is still religiously followed albeit small changes within the song.

Some may know, the best example of singers in this category is Oum Kalsoum. Even though she was not a shaer herself, she sang these songs and has earned a mythical respect within the Middle East region and a worldwide recognition. Egypt entered a stand still during her Thursday radio concerts. Even wars entered a stand still when she was to give a concert. Therefore this record is a chance to listen to the background of the music which led to her. Believe me you will enjoy it.

To buy this record:

@ Ebay
@ Discogs

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Rafael Toral - Space Solo 1 (Taiga - TAIGA 2)

Rafael Toral is a Portugese experimental musician who can be considered an old school artist compared to the new generation of experimentalists. He still mainly adapts the tweaking and restructuring electronic music instruments rather than relying heavily on computer. Being an improvisational guitarist (And quite a good one at that), he has taken this approach to experimental music coming to points where he has literally pushed the boundaries of improvisation.

The Space Solo 1 album was originally released as a CD by Quecksilber label and later on reissued on limited edition red vinyl. The album consists of 5 tracks taken from 4 performances out of the Space Study tour. Actually the track names are mainly self explanatory like "Portable Amplifier" where he uses a modified MS-2 portable amplifier feedback with light-controlled filter.

"Portable Amplifier" is a track that was taken from the Space Study 2 performance in Lisboa. It starts with a mainly spacelike melody which directly resembles the movie "Space Odyssey", but from then on, it takes a totally different turn where Toral pushes the amplifier and the filter to its limits. The frequency levels are constantly altered and I am sure if I was a dog, I could have heard more of it. Closer to the end section of the track, silence is also added as a factor to the composition while small clicks and cuts shows you that you are still in the loop.

"Echo-Feed" is mainly composed of repetitive notes interconnected with spacey textures whereas "Bender" creates the image of a space fight simulator in the intro and turns back into a similar approach like "Echo-Feed", but this time the textures are quite limited. It is more like a Free Jazz Improvisation, but the instrument in question is not a saxophone, but a modified MT-10 portable amplifier. Actually it could have been quite interesting if this approach was fitted with some modern Free Jazz composers. "Electrode Oscillator" is all the more demanding of the compositions due to it's ever changing structure from clicks & cuts and high pitched notes to the use of more distanced elements. One point you feel like there is an electronic woody woodpecker around and next you sit in a room of ancient computers creating click sounds at the same time. The musical understanding is not suited to our standard learnings and therefore following the composition becomes a journey in it's own right. Even though Toral does not rely on classic musicla concepts and notations, from time to time it can be sensed that he still keeps track of them. Yet sometimes, it becomes all too evident that he is in a world of music of his own. A quite interesting and attention grasping world I should say.

To buy this record:

@ Ebay (Currently only CD versions are being sold)
@ Discogs

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Woody Guthrie - Library Of Congress Recordings (Rounder - 1041/3)

Woody Guthrie is an interesting character altogether apart from being the idol of many musicians that we and our fathers have been fans of including Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and Pete Seeger. He is originally a Folk musician as well as an improviser, though during the development of his career, he sang more and more Blues songs. I should also note that he is certainly not a Country singer as that may be sometimes mixed up with Folk. Another interesting aspect of Guthrie is that he was not a rebuplican. More than that, he was an unofficial communist as he was never listed in any party or groups, but his views were clearly in that line. One reason may have been that he grew up in a well integrated town where a quarter of the population was Indians, the other quarter African Americans and rest Whites. Another aspect could be the Great Depression to which he grew into.

No matter his political leanings, one thing that we can be sure of is that he was one hell of a musician. This box set is also a very good proof of that. Most of his recordings are in the archives of Library Of Congress, hence this box set represents most of the best live recordings he has done. Additionally, before and after each song he plays live, he explains the music, his story and his views which makes the records all the more beautiful while listening. We learn that his mother died in an asylum and his father somehow caught fire after losing all his money and ranch (Guthrie thinks his father set himself on fire incidentally). He even explains his experience with a certain dust storm which happened in April 14th, 1935 which eventually turned up into a song named "Dust Storm Disaster".

The tracks which have been enlightening for me were "Railroad Blues", a story about whiskey "Rye Whiskey", "Do-Re-Mi", a self explanatory post Great Depression song called "I Ain't Got No Home", etc.  The main theme of the box set is the post Great Depression era and the dust storms that came with it. During the interviews you hear a lot about the Dust Bowl and it's effect on people, how people migrated from the Great Plains to states like California and how they lived there. Songs are actually about them as well. Due to wrong farming procedures  and the drought that came with it, the whole Great Plains were covered with dust and when came the prevailing winds, they took up the dust to create dust storms which are famous of that era. These storms caused sicknesses (Hence the song "Dust Pneumonia") and changed lives drastically. For the people interested in this era which also gave birth to John Steinbeck's famous "Grapes Of Wrath", you can watch the TV series "Surviving The Dust Bowl" from PBS's website here.

Overall I have to say that this is quite a sincere performance I am listening. It was recorded in 1940 and I have serious thoughts that this was a radio show. Unfortunately I have the newer version of this box set. The original was released by Library Of Congress records back in 1964 while this one is a repress from 1988 by Rounder records. I also have to say that everything about the release is the same with the previous one. No remastering etc, so that is a good thing. The whole box set left me stunned with the interviews, the songs and the stories behind them. It is a must for any music and sociology lover.

To buy this box set:

@ Ebay
@ Discogs