Category Archives: Tunisia

Breathtaking: Anouar Brahem

Anouar Brahem

Anouar Brahem

There is a feeling in the music of Anouar Brahem of being wrapped up and warm.  The oud, with its rubbery pluckings and mellow and honeyed tones seems to blend perfectly with the clarinet which glides and slides from depth to depth.  You may not have travelled this way before, to Djibouti or Beirut, but you are safe. And you feel it.

Astounding is a reference, in the name of this album, to a woman’s eyes.  But really it is a valid a description of the playing and musical vision of Tunisian oud master Anouar Brahem. He is usually placed in the very front lines of the those who play this old Arabian lute instrument; in his rich music and with his wonderfully selected band members, he has moved the instrument forward with grace and nuance.

Albums as perfect as this appear rarely. Tunisian oud maestro Brahem has been one of ECM’s most-revered artists for years, pioneering a superior kind of east-west fusion (although that makes it sound less interesting than it is).

But this quartet recording beats anything I’ve heard from him yet. Dedicated to the late Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish, the album’s eight originals trace a continuous arabesque, wind and strings intertwining against a trance-like rhythmic pulse, which at times gets heavy enough to recall Massive Attack’s remix of Nusrat. (The Independent)

The Astounding Eyes Of Rita

Track Listing:

Al Birwa

Dance With Waves

For No Apparent Reason

Galilee Mon Amour

Stopover At Djibouti

The Astounding Eyes Of Rita

The Lover Of Beirut

Waking State

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The music of empty moments: Anouar Brahem

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This record reminds me of a winter afternoon in Tashkent.  Like all grand Soviet-built cities, modern Tashkent (there has been a urban community living around the place for many many centuries) is designed to a familiar and similar urban plan.  Yes, there are the heavily constructed concrete buildings that impose themselves on the all sides. And there are the broad boulevards and streets that make it easy for tanks to roll into place when deemed necessary.

 

But one of the most pleasant aspects of Central Asian (perhaps most former Soviet) cities is  the amount of space given over to parks and green walking areas. Near the gravitational center of the city you’ll find massive open spaces planted with lots of shade and fruit trees. In summer kids tumble on the grass and splash in the fountain if its working. Couples sit on a blanket eating melons and apricots and roasting goat meat kebabs. In winter skaters are on the ice and babuskhas sell hot chestnuts.  Tashkent doesn’t often get snow so on sunny winter days little lean-tos of plastic sheeting pop up as impromptu karaoke stalls along the wide concrete paths that criss-cross the garden.

Timur Park, Tashkent

I visited Tashkent regularly as a transit point to Europe or Asia. And one particular visit stands out in my mind with vivid clarity.  It was a mid-winter afternoon.  The sky was clear and coloured pale blue. The sun was bright but not very strong.  You felt the nip of cold on your knuckles all the time.  My wife and had time to kill. We found a park, named after Timur Lang (Tamerlane), I think.  Though it was a nice day, the place seemed almost entirely deserted.  We ambled around the walkways, looking for nothing in particular in no particular hurry.

 

The karoke stalls were abandoned. They would be full in a few hours though, as Tashkentis seemed to believe singing was especially fun after dark.  A feeling of general emptiness had settled on the garden. Nothing moved very quickly, if at all.  Even the branches were empty of leaves. Once in a while a stiff branch scraped up against another and a whispered crack sounded. There was no music playing and I don’t recall hearing the whoosh of the traffic.

 

For those moments we walked as if in a bubble. Just the quiet shuffle of our feet and breathing kept us company.  It was a gorgeous time and something not quite of this world.

 

When I hear Anouar Brahems record Astrakan Cafe I’m immediately taken back to that silent Central Asian walk.  With his oud and the clarinet and drum of his Turkish friends, he recreates that time and place.  This is the mysterious allure of music.  Sounds replicate and recreate visions and sensations. The record is inspired, of course, by the sounds and cultural atmosphere of Central Asia, the Balkans and the Caucasus’.  Regions of the world where people  are in no rush to finish up at the cafe and where dances can combust suddenly into existence on the echo of distant music.

 

Like all of Brahem’s music this is moody, evocative and dynamic stuff. As cigarette smoke, it sways this way and loops in around itself, never tracing the exact pattern twice but always hanging within reach. The oud, more than any other instrument, is able to  touch those mellow tones that define those places off the beaten track on an off day.  The strings vibrate like honey when plucked and seem to weep real tears.

 

I only wish I could be sitting in a cafe in Mozdok  sipping a muddy coffee as I listened again and again to his music.

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Track Listing:

01 Aube Rouge À Grozny

02 Astrakan Café (1)

03 The Mozdok’s Train

04 Blue Jewels

05 Nihawend Lunga

06 Ashkabad

07 Halfaouine

08 Parfum De Gitane

09 Khotan

10 Karakoum

11 Astara

12 Dar Es Salam

13 Hijaz Pechref

14 Astrakan Café (2)

 

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