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The Art of Listening


CD Review of Madar

by Amina Goodyear
posted May 18, 2010

Classic Arabic Instrumental Music and Improvisations

(For students of music, all the pieces name the maqam and rhythm progressions.)

In the Arab world when one thinks of perfection, of classic music, cultural and artistic innovation, of musical and spiritual tradition, one thinks of Syria, of Damascus, of Aleppo, of Muwashah (Andalusian sung poetry), Sabah Fahkri, the Salateen al Tarab, Dervishes, Sufi and more.

This CD is recorded by two master musicians from Syria: Samer Farah and Faisal Zedan. Together they will take you on a musical excursion throughout their world and they will enrapture you with their Saltanah, their creative process and their self-expression.

As you delve in this journey and experience their Saltanah, you will reach the world of Tarab: the world of musical ecstasy, the world of memories… and you may audibly or silently utter – ah, allah or ya salam.

In order to do this, you must be prepared to give this CD your 100% complete, undivided attention*.
I first did this with earphones and later, again, in a silent room, save the speakers delivering concert level sound. I cleared my mind of all distractions and did not allow any visual interference. Low lights in a darkened room with candles would be ideal.

I then let Madar transport me. Madar is that unseen force which binds two people through borders, time and space. And Madar let me in.

  • Track 1: Sibooni Ya Nas – "People Leave Me Alone" –
    The Qanoon (a trapezoidal  zither-like stringed instrument) begins with clear melodic notes that seem to ripple like water. It is quiet, melancholy, sentimental. The Derbakki (goblet drum, dumbek, Egyptian tabla) begins with wahda kabira and later changes to malfoof. The drumming is precise; not rushed.The journey begins and I am transported with feelings of  longing.
  • Track 2 –  Hijaz Taqseem
    The piece begins with the Riqq (tambourine). This piece is a Taqseem (an instrumental improvisation) and provides a perfect opportunity to achieve Saltanah with the riqq being the binding factor.
    Sometimes when I listen to jazz I often note that the instrument that solos "noodles". In this piece the Qanoon expresses a creative energy with the same "noodling" intent and the Riqq offers a "noodling" exchange..
    The Riqq slips easily into another rhythm and a conversation between the two instruments occurs. This creativity in the moment, this Saltanah brings about Tarab – the sensation, the ecstasy that I, the listener, will feel. As the rhythm evolves, the piece fades out. This is probably due to the fact that the entire piece is too long for the CD. (This cut version is almost 11 mnutes. ) When on a musical roll/journey, it is hard to set a time limit to creativity – so perhaps they just faded?
  • Track 3  – Ya Banat Iskindiria – "Girls of Alexandria" –
    The piece starts with the drum and there are complex changes of rhythm.
    Mohamed el Bakar in the 1960’s first introduced me to this song in what was probably one of my first "Belly Dance" albums. Later while working at the Bagdad Cabaret, also in the 1960’s, I used to dance to this song. It was a favorite of the owner and violinist Yusef Kouyoumjian who was Turkish Armenian (from Bagdad, Iraq). The rhythm plays with many ornaments that seem to just spontaneously appear. There is a wonderful Qanoon Taqseem that  shows off how clear and well mixed this recording is. There is very good separation.
  • Track 4 – Weli Weli Min Hubun – "Her Love Torments Me" –
    In this piece the Derbakki is rocking – it does it’s thing. There is complex drumming under the Qanoon. At one point the drum pulls back for the Qanoon Taqseem, but the drumming still plays intricate ornamentations and changes.
  • Track 5 – Bayati Taqseem
    The Riqq introduces the Taqseem and takes the Qanoon on another journey as it takes lead and changes rhythm. The two musicians are totally in synch and travel the same road. The addition of the Riqqs’ Zils add another dimension. (I remember wondering if Faisal overlaid the track with the cymbals but decided that it was probably done in one take as he has lightning-fast adept fingers.)
  • Track 6 – Aziz Alaya Elnom – "Can’t Sleep Thinking of You" –
    The instruments start together. The Derbakki plays with three different 2/4 rhythms – malfouf, adani and karatchi to keep the piece moving and alive. The drum easily moves and glides within the three rhythms and you can’t tell the changes until way after they’ve changed.
  • Track 7 – Ahla wu Sahla Bil Ahbab – "Welcome All Beloved Friends" –
    On my nights off from working in Arabic clubs, I used to work in a number of Greek clubs – all called Zorba’s. This music was used for audience participation line dancing and I used to call it "The only dance I know".  The percussion instrument is the Tar  (hand-held wooden frame drum). There is a Qanoon Taqseem.
  • Track 8 – Bastah – An Iraqi folk composition
    The rhythm is an Iraqi rhythm called jorjuna. Is it 6/8? Is it 10/8? Is it both? Well, it is 10/8 with a 6/8 feel. I’ve tried to play it on the drum and, if left to play on my own, – I fail. There is a feel to it that is not easy. (Feel don’t count?) The music in this piece conjures up the Silk Road. It is an Iraqi piece but brings to mind neighboring Iran. The drum plays a Taqseem improvisation within the Qanoon Taqseem while the jorjuna mood is felt throughout.
  • Track 9  Hijaz Hahi – A traditional Sufi composition Sufi – tar. This piece definitely evokes memories of rapture and spiritualism.
    I have never had the opportunity to experience the Sufi dancers of Syria in Aleppo, but in Cairo, Egypt in a large stone palace, Al Ghoury Palace, the sound of a lone flute and a whirling dancer named Bunduq, imprinted in me memories of muted colors, serenity and harmony with the universe. This track ,Hijaz Hahi, takes me back.  The Qanoon and the haunting Tar give off a mystical imagery – a spiritualism, quiet solitude – a oneness with a higher being. The Taqseem rolls and spins as in whirling and the Tar enhances the fervency of the Taqseem and takes the listener to the next level – a higher elevation . The Taqseem continues to whirl in intensity and as the piece ends, I wish it were longer. I would have liked a single CD devoted to just this one piece. (Eight minutes seemed way too short.)
  • Track 10 – Rast Taqseem
    This Taqseem is a great follow-up to track #9 but it ends abruptly. It left me wanting more.

    A good solution would be to loop it back to the beginning and play the entire CD again. And this is what I did.

Madar is an excellent CD and is an extremely clean and clear recording. All the tracks definitely have a live music quality without the ouside disruptions and peripheral annoyances of unwanted noise.The rhythm is not just a time-keeper. it is the glue, the integrity of this album and it creates the magic that is called Madar.
Samer Farah, (Qanoon) was born in the Syrian village of Ras El Ain to a Turkish father and Syrian mother and was exposed at an early age to Kurkish, Assyrian, Iraqi, Aramaiac, and Turkish music. After attending Aleppo’s music college, Samer studied and performed Arabic music in Los Angeles, California in the UCLA ensemble led by Dr. Jihad Racy and group Kan Zaman, led by Wael Kakish. There he met percussionist Faisal Zedan and started a longtime friendship and collaboration with him playing Muwashah (Arabic musical poetry sung to complex rhythms). Samer is also highly proficient at the art of Arabic calligraphy.

Faisal Zedan, (Derbakki, Riqq and Tar) grew up in the small Syrian village of Oum Dbaib. There, he began his study of percussion by learning from cassette tapes and the only drummer in the village. After moving to California, Faisal studied the academic aspect of Arabic music and ensemble work with noted Professor Ali Jihad Racy at UCLA and French Qanoon player Julien Jalaluddine Weis. Outside of teaching, Faisal focuses his work on the study of Muwashah, modern Syrian styles of percussion, and rejuvenating the classical Arabic dance known at the Muwashah dance. Faisal performs regularly and has shared the stage with many of today’s top Middle Eastern musicians and dancers.

*It is difficult to attain a oneness with this CD in a dance class situation.  One needs all levels of the mind or you will only get the superficial sounds and will not reach the depth required to fully enjoy this CD. This CD is best for dancing in the mind, not in the class. (There are, however, several tracks that are dance pieces.)

In my opinion, it is an excellent CD for background music in restaurants. It appeals to the subliminal senses.

Available for purchase from the artists here:

Rating: 4 zils
Zil Rating- 4


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