(Habib Yammine – riqq, daff, darbouka, voice; Aïcha Redouane – singing, daff; Oussama Chraibi – bongo)
Habib Yammine, percussionist, ethnomusicologist, teacher, composer, and author here presents a tour of Arabic percussion music from Lebanon to Yemen. Arabic music, whether classical, folk, or popular, is always rhythmically rich and complex, usually polyrhythmic, and often employing several different rhythmic patterns of varying length employing units of meter with 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 12, 17, 19, and 23 beats. From a technical standpoint, it is quite daunting. But, as Yammine says in the informative liner notes, “[Y]ou don’t go to the sea to count the waves, you go to be lulled by it, to be carried aloft on the crest of the waves.” And that’s what tends to happen, if one can put aside one’s biases and unfamiliarity with this strange and mesmeric music.
Another important aspect of Arabic music is improvisation, where (in this case) a master percussionist varies rhythmic patterns within established meters much as a Western jazz player improvises on previously established melodic patterns. With already extremely intricate rhythmic patterns laid down, a listener familiar with these patterns will (likely) undergo experiences not unlike those a knowledgeable jazz enthusiast experiences listening to a great piano or horn solo. For those, such as this reviewer, who haven’t grown up in Arabic cultures, the patterns—as well as the improvisations—although not familiar, still work a certain magic on the listener.
Several of the numbers feature singing by Yammine’s wife, Aïcha Redouane, who displays not only remarkable control of pitch, vibrato, and intonation, but imbues her performance with deeply felt emotion. Much of her singing is a kind of Arabic vocalise, where particular nonsense sounds are utilized not only to emphasize the artist’s command of voice but also to offset or dramatize rhythmic material.
Despite the rather formidable cultural and musical barriers separating Western listeners from music of this type, there nevertheless seems to be enough common ground that the curious and adventurous may find sufficient accord to hazard a listen or two.
One final note: this reviewer is certainly not qualified to pass judgment on the technical, aesthetic, and artistic merits of a disc like this, it being so far out of his typical listening ken; thus, the four-star rating merely reflects his enjoyment/appreciation level.
TrackList: Jalâl, Thurayya, Wazn li-mu’allaqat Imru’ al-Qays, Dhikrayât yamaniyya, Dabké, Munáját, Jadîla, Sab’a, Qâfilat al-‘anbar, Raqs Badawî, ‘Adan
– Jan P. Dennis