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JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Moroccan Music Star Hassan Erraji Makes a Big Comeback

Moroccan/British multi-instrumentalist Hassan Erraji’s career predates the moment when westerners began calling what he does “world music.” By the mid-80s, he’d already won a cult following outside the land of his birth for his ecstatic, virtuosic work on the oud, the violin, qanun and several other stringed instruments. Thirty years down the road finds him he as vital as ever on his new album Awal Mara (Love at First Sight). Recorded at the Kaiser Chiefs’ studio, he’s backed by the rhythm section of Kenny Higgins on bass and Ben Stevens on drums, taking a break here from Corinne Bailey Rae’s band. It’s a characteristically tuneful mix of oldschool-style habibi music (from before the time the drum machines and synthesizers took over), and it’s pretty amazing how he manages to overdub one instrument after another to the point that he sounds like a Middle Eastern orchestra.

The title track is a funky, syncopated, lushly sparkling dance number with some sizzling, rippling qanun cascades, Erraji’s daughter Yasmin contributing soaring backing vocals behind his impassioned, gritty baritone. The swaying, hypnotic second track features another machine-gun qanun solo. With its almost Celtic violin ambience, the next cut is an “I wanna be rich” dance number. They follow that with the dreamily pulsing, staccato jangle of Haili Ayouma (Where Has My Love Gone), a bracingly astringent violin crescendo breaking the trancelike spell of the rhythm.

After a blithely pulsing, violin-driven instrumental, they introduce some tricky clapalong counterrythms on Safir (Safe Journey), with its pensive, suspenseful violin fills. The following song has almost a British folksong feel leading up to its big, clanking crescendo. The last two songs on the album are marvelously catchy, hauntingly slinky Levantine numbers, the first a ballad, the second rich with unexpected harmonies between father and daughter. They wind it up with a joyous dance instrumental. It’s sort of the Middle Eastern equivalent of what Memphis soul from the 1960s – or disco from ten years after that – is here. It’s out now on World Village Music.

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December 7, 2010 Posted by | middle eastern music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment