Gilded Serpent presents...

Creating and Experiencing Musical Ecstasy

Cry to the Moon

CD Review-Yasmin’s "Cry to the Moon, Taqsim lil Qamar"

Reviewed by Amina Goodyear
posted May 31, 2010

Wikipedia says that "Taqsim is the name of a melodic improvisation style that could be metric or non-metric which usually precedes a composition in Arabic, Turkish, Greek or other Middle Eastern music. The taqsim is usually performed by a solo instrument, yet sometimes the soloist can be backed by a percussionist or an instrumentalist playing a drone on the tonic of the maqam… "

It is widely seen as an art of improvisation in a specific maqam, but usually modulation to other maqams (maqamat) are present in a taqsim.

Taqsim traditionally follows a certain melodic progression… Following the introduction, the improviser is free to move anywhere in the maqam and even modulate to other "maqams" as long as he returns to the original. Taqsim is considered by many to be a connection to the spritual world.

Taqsim for the Moon (qamar) is just that and more. This CD produced by Yasmin of Washington D.C. brings to mind the word spirituality and also ecstasy, tarab and saltanah. Most importantly I believe it is probably Yasmin’s wish to subliminally educate her audience, most of whom are dancers, while entertaining and feeding their souls.

Cry to the Moon, in my opinion, is a very different CD. It is a special CD meant to be listened to, studied and enjoyed rather than to be used as a performance CD. (However, there are many danceable tracks.)

The booklet that accompanies this CD includes very important information on Arabic music including definitions on taqsim and maqam; information on the musical instruments; short but complete and interesting bios on Om Kalthoum and Farid al Atrash and transliterations and translations of the songs used.

This booklet alone is reason to buy the CD.

Yasmin introduces six songs and a drum solo. The songs are accompanied by solo instruments playing a taqsim. Some of these instruments are traditional such as nay and oud and some are modern (but probably also considered traditional in today’s world) such as the organ and the accordion. I have many favorite tracks in this CD, the oud, the nay and more, but my most favorite selections are performed by Karim Henkesh:

  • tracks 11 and 12 – violin taqsim and violin for ana fi intizarak.
  • tracks 20 and 21 – violin taqsim and violin for al hob keda.

The word tarab comes to mind in these pieces.There is no word in English that accurately translates the word tarab from Arabic to English. It is definitely the emotional effect of the music.

This is when one (both the musician and the listener) can become intensely involved – both emotionally and physically. This extraordinarily emotional state evoked by the performance might be also enhanced by the foreknowledge of the songs and somewhere in the subconscious seeing and hearing the great Om singing the words to these two songs.

Another favorite is tracks 22 and 23 – the oud taqsim and ya beta’a al-yasmin. Tarab also can connect the music to memories. In this case, I grew up in clubs where the oud played a very important part of the show and I spent many hours dancing and connecting with various oud players and their endless incredibly beautiful noodling (my word for taqsim). The oud taqsim on "vinyl" (what’s the word if it’s digital?) can evoke those memories and make "yesterday" be "today". Track 23 which follows the oud taqsim has a very special haunting quality and brings to mind images from Naguib Mahfouz’s "Cairo Trilogy" – the first volume, I believe. The image of the young girl peeking through the mashrabiyya looking at and imagining the young man below would be her prospective husband. As the song progresses we are reminded that many songs such as Taht il Shibak (Beneath the Window) are really songs of a different era and culture.

Track 24 – drum solo by Khamis Henkesh is as Yasmin states in her booklet, not intended for performance, but rather for meditation and contemplation. Many times accompanying the word tarab is the word saltanah. This word also is difficult to define in 5 easy words or less. There probably is no equivalent in the English language. In the book "Making Music in the Arab World" The Culture and Artistry of Tarab, written by Ali Jihad Racy, Cambridge University Press, there is one chapter alone devoted to the word Saltanah. To quote A.J. Racy,

"In a saltanah state, the performer becomes musically self-absorbed and experiences well focused and intense musical sensations. Whereas the concept of tarab characterizes traditional Arab music in general and connotes a trait permanently present in tarab works whether recorded or played live, saltanah is more often a temporary state generated before and during the performance proper. Also unlike the feeling of tarab, which extends to all the participants in the musical process, especially the audience members, saltanah typically applies to the musicians specifically in connection with performing. Saltanah is the condition that inspires affective music making. Although musically and emotionally part of the overall tarab experience, it is the magic that momentarily lifts the artist to a higher ecstatic plateau and empowers him or her to engender tarab most effectively. In this sense saltahah is creative ecstasy."

Saltanah – this is what I feel Khamis Henkesh achieved in track 24. In fact, if you listen to this CD, you may find other such moments in other tracks as well. I used to call this "the musicians were so good, they tranced out".

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