Thursday, March 29, 2012

V/A - Qat, Coffee & Qambus: Raw 45's from Yemen (Dust-to-Digital, 2012)

V/A - Qat, Coffee & Qambus: Raw 45's from Yemen
Dust-to-Digital 2012

This compilation of Yemeni singles was collected by Chris Menist, a British DJ, musician and journalist. The style of music on this compilation features qambus (a string lute unique to Yemen) and oud instrumentation predominantly accompanied by sung poetry (homayni). The recording dates go back to the 60’s and 70’s. All of the singles on this compilation were found in antique shops in Sana’a (there are no record shops), and thus the lyrical style is dominated by Shi’ar Al-Ghina’a Al-Sana’ani, or “Sana’ani Lyric Poetry.”

The opener “Ya Mun Dakhal Bahr Al-Hawa” (Hey, Who Enters the Sea of Passion?) by Fatimah Al-Zaelaeyah is a solo vocal performance only accompanied by a sahn suhasi, a copper tray balanced on finger tips. It sounds like a big metal garbage can. The polyrhythm is very hypnotic and Al-Zaelaeyah’s voice is very raw, gentle and soulful. The vocal melody is relatively short and repeats itself throughout the song. With just the percussion and the vocals, the song has quite a sparse and minimalist sound, but it is really powerful.

“Raee Al-Gamel” (The Owner of Beauty), by Ahmed Al Sonaidar, begins with some groovy, solo oud plucking soon joined by Sonaidar’s vocals. The recording has a slightly distorted sound which is no surprise, but only adds to the mystique and mythology surrounding the time and place of the recording. Displayed in this song, the Yemeni style of oud playing is rhythmically complex and trance-inducing, often considered to be influenced by its east African neighbors Ethiopia and Eritrea across the Red Sea.

“Mushtaq” (I’m Yearning), by Bolbol Al-Hejaz and Soni Ahmad, is the only male/female duet on the compilation. The vocal melodies are jovial and upbeat, and trade back and forth between Hejaz and Ahmad. It features more oud and a 4/4 clapping beat.

“Bellah Alek Wa Mosafer” (Hey You, Passenger!), is by Ayob Absi who is well known in Yemen. The rhythm stands out because of its syncopation. There are also male and female choruses that back up Absi also making the track unique.

“Haya Abu-Saif” (Welcome Saif’s Father), by Amna Hizam, features melancholic and haunting oud playing. Hizam’s vocals are deeply moving because of their yearning quality. The vocal melody and the oud’s melody mimic each other quite nicely. For me, this is the catchiest song on the comp, because I have my own interpretation of the melody stuck in my head. When I listen to it, my soul yearns with Hizam's.

“Wahed Mozawag” (A Married Person), by Mohammed Hamood Al-Awami, is a song that would be sung during wedding celebrations. As Menist writes, “Taking musical influence from the areas of Lahaj and Yafa, the main vocals are underpinned by handclaps, joyous whoops, and exhortations of the female backing singers.” You can hear the distinct vocal ululations from the women, which are a common practice heard in North African and Middle Eastern music.

I highly recommend picking up this compilation if you like Middle Eastern or North African folk music. There are so few releases like this.

LP for sale at amazon and elsewhere:

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