Lucid Culture


An Amazing “Neo Middle Eastern” Triplebill at Drom

That opening act Zikrayat – celebrating the release of their new album Cinematic – didn’t steal the show from the other bands on the “neo Middle Eastern dance party” bill Thursday night at Drom attests to how good they were. There are plenty of terrific Middle Eastern musicians in New York, including the New York Arabic Orchestra and the crew who make Alwan for the Arts their home base. Zikrayat (Arabic for “memories”) mine the haunting, plaintive, lushly beautiful world of golden-age Egyptian and Lebanese film music from the 40s to the 60s. It was hard to tell bandleader/violinist Sami Abu Shumays’ originals from the classics: the band sent a poignant, mysteriously slinky mood and maintained it all the way through their hourlong set. Alongside Shumays this time out were Apostolis Sideris on bass, Bridget Robbins on ney flute, Tareq Abboushi on buzuq and a first-class dumbek (goblet drum) player who used his one solo to mess with his bandmates, and then the crowd, and got the whole house laughing at themselves.

After a couple of undulating, hypnotic dance numbers with all kinds of interplay – between violin and buzuq, or violin and ney – they launched into “one of those quirky Abdel Wahab operatic pieces,” as Shumays called it, moving majestically from an ominous buzuq taqsim against stark bowed bass, to a dramatic theme that went doublespeed and then back again. Another Abdel Wahab piece swayed with a sensual bounce, a launching pad for a stinging buzuq solo and some soaring crescendos from Robbins’ flute. The Lights of Lebanon, said Shumays, was “unbelievably tricky,” which was an understatement: it was sort of a Middle Eastern Abbey Road, a mini-suite of good ideas that could have been fleshed out even more than they were, the best among them a low, intense violin solo delivered with brooding poignancy. They closed with a couple of mysterious numbers, artfully mixing up the time signature. They’re at Galapagos on 11/21 playing classic Mohammed Abdel Wahab belly dance pieces at 7 PM sharp.

Raquy and the Cavemen had a new cd of their own, Release the Green Lover, to celebrate; the crowd reacted vigorously to the long drum solos that they used to consume the early part of the show and then closed with. Raquy Danziger, when she’s not playing whirlwind tabla rhythms, excels at the kamancheh (the Iranian spike fiddle popularized by Kayhan Kalhor), which she played in tandem with eleven-string guitarist Liron Peled. His custom-made axe adds layers of lushness to the incisive sting of a Turkish saz. A handful of the violin/guitar pieces, accompanied by a percussionist on Peled’s “dumset” (a full drum kit made out of dumbeks for extra low oomph), were toweringly intense, blending the ornate feel of 70s art-rock with Middle Eastern tonalities, all sorts of overtones floating from the strings. The Mad Marionettes was aptly titled, and absolutely creepy, with brooding, astringent kamancheh and all kinds of dynamic shifts. The album’s title cut was surprisingly playful, almost goth, with a 5/4 dance interlude two steps from Stonehenge.

Copal, the headliners, also had the release of their hypnotically captivating new cd Into the Shadow Garden to celebrate. Violinist/composer Hannah Thiem, backed by an incisive cellist plus a terse five-string electric bassist and drummer who used a syndrum for a snare, quickly established an irresistible groove that finally succeeded in gettting the dance floor in motion, and kept it bouncing for the rest of the night. Even the group’s dancer, who looked at least six months pregnant, moved with a pulsing grace. Thiem’s darkly catchy melodies are deceptively simple, giving band the chance to ease in and out of the mix, dub style, trade off riffs or bring the groove down to just the violin or cello and drums. Ungaro, an upbeat, tarantella-flavored number gave Thiem the first of many incisive, crescendoing solo spots; the aptly titled Shadows took on a surprising variety of shades, compared to the dusky mystery of the album version, including a hypnotically reverberating dumbek-and-drums interlude. A brand-new, as-yet untitled number shifted into brighter tonalities until the cellist went off on a chilling, trill-laden solo. They also explored klezmer-tinged and then atmospheric territory, with the plaintive Ether (whose German lyrics depict a bereaved woman searching for her dead lover, whose presence she can feel but not see), before going back to long, snaky, slowly crescendoing jams.

November 8, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, middle eastern music, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Zikrayat – Live at Lotus

Zikrayat is Arabic for “memories.” Led by virtuoso violinist Sami Abu Shumays, this New York-based Middle Eastern combo have admirably dedicated themselves to reviving classic and obscure songs from the golden age of Egyptian cinema, from the late 40s to the 60s. This live cd, recorded completely acoustic so as to recreate the feel of the originals, does justice to the material while adding a brilliant, even psychedelic improvisational edge. Since most of the fourteen tracks here are songs from movies, the version of the group that recorded this (they’ve gone through numerous lineup shifts) included a trio of dancers whose occasional percussion and vocal contributions only enhance the songs’ authentic feel.


Most of what’s here is beautiful, haunting Levantine dance music driven by hand drum and percussion, violin and ney flute sailing over the hypnotic, sometimes rumbling beat, low frequencies anchored by the oud. On one song, Shumays switches to rababa, the rustic-tinged traditional Egyptian fiddle. The group handle the melodic interplay with a playful aplomb, violin and flute frequently doubling each others’ lines, working both sides of a call-and-response with each other or with the vocals. Ghaida, the vocalist is nothing short of sensational: when she takes off and vocalises an improvisation, the crowd responds immediately to her eerie yet warmly intimate trills and glissandos.


The cd opens with the beautifully slinky nocturne Yamma I Amar Aal Baab from the romantic film Tamr Hinma, the piece that Shumays credited with inspiring this project. A thoughtful, exploratory, subtly crescendoing oud taqsim (improvisation) by Brian Prunka follows, then after that another hypnotic film song, Imta Hataaraf, featuring several gripping vocal breaks by Ghaida.  Sardonically, the cd liner notes characterize the famous Mohamed Abdel Wahab number Aziza as “the most overplayed belly-dance piece in the repertory,” yet Zikrayat’s interpretation manages to breathe new life into its dark intro and outro while not taking any chances with the predictable, somewhat cheesy midsection. There’s also a somewhat Western pop tune, a delectable and all-too-brief ney solo from Bridget Robbins and a stunning closing cut featuring Shumays’ rababa, ominously booming drums and a trick ending before it fades out. World music fans will devour this. If there’s any one criticism of the cd, it’s that when the pace picks up and the drums really kick in, the oud is sometimes inaudible. It would be easy to say that the problem could have been fixed by close-miking the oud, but it’s also possible that would have been a moot point considering the sonic quality – or lack thereof – in the room.


While Zikrayat’s present lineup is considerably stripped-down, the music never ceases to entrance and captivate, as a recent Barbes gig proved. Shumays is also an intriguing and innovative composer whose passion for this kind of music is matched by an equally improvisational, exploratory feel. Watch this space for upcoming NYC area shows.

December 17, 2008 Posted by | Music, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment