There’s world music and there’s world music: from Paul Simon’s world-tinged pop to Plant/Page roping in ethnic musicians to make polished albums or Tinariwen using western instruments for traditional songs. Then there are musicians from wherever playing traditional instruments. We’re fond of gnawa from Morocco, two-string guitars (that means real string) and qaraqueb — metal castanets — producing hypnotic music whose roots lie in religion, the aim to create state of trance; a dance rhythm is somewhat inevitable.
We’re more familiar with Africa, apart from the late Maqbool Ahmed Sabri, a Pakistani performer of Sufi Islamic devotional music, and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan (his Mustt Mustt is fantastic even if you’re not normally a fan of Muslim devotional music).
This nominally classical album is somewhere in between all this: track names reference India and Afghanistan and the western instruments (violins, viola, oboe, contrabass) are played to produce an authentic eastern sound, the rhythm being that ubiquitous tribal beat performed by anyone with a groove who wants to make music. Take away the tribal beat and add a more Western rhythm section and it could be dance music performed across the ages, from Tudor times (the album has got an early music feel) to a sedate Viennese waltz.
Opener Jaunpuri (Morning Song) is slow and has a metronomic beat, the violin laying down a mournful melody over what we thought was percussion but the sleeve notes say is the cello doing a tabla impression.
Love Songs follows, the first, an Armenian one, more Western in sound, a lush and romantic but sad tune. Memory Of A Lost Beloved is more of the same while Love Drunk is playful and more uptempo; none of these has the percussion of track one and suggest Paris more than Pakistan. Only with Afghan Suite No2 does the Muslim air return. This is a lively tune with a more complex beat, perhaps a little more polite than the street version might be.
Calligraphies loses the percussion, with the music driven along by the strings, which swirl together to create a subtle texture, these leading into The Oldest Song In The World, which really is the oldest song in the world — the sheet music was found in Syria and dated to 1,400 BC. The oldest song and the swirling Calligraphies are not dissimilar, and nor are people of 1,500 years ago if they appreciated this as much as a modern listener still can.
Divine Art produces lots of interesting albums but this is about the most interesting we’ve had — fans of world or early music should like it, though anyone with an interest in music should go out buy it — it’s wonderful.
Out on Divine Art’s Metier label, 28589.
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