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Dudu Tassa | Jonny Greenwood: Jarak Qaribak



Dudu Tassa | Jonny Greenwood: Jarak Qaribak
Jonny Greenwood and Dudu Tassa courtesy of Sacks & Co.

There is something about listening to the music of Jarak Qaribak by Dudu Tassa and Jonny Greenwood against the backdrop of a monumentally destructive war in Israel that is not simply bittersweet, but ironic and even downright eerie. Here is exquisite repertoire, co-produced by Mr Tassa, a prodigious Israeli artist – of Mizrahi Jewish background – and the inimitable Jonny Greenwood, a visionary composer and guitarist of the celebrated contemporary ensemble Radiohead. But what makes it so special is that this Arabic music celebrates love in its many forms, in keeping with the theme of the album as stated in its title, which translates “your neighbour is your friend”.

Jarak Qaribak – Your Neighbour is Your Friend

So powerful is the music in the context of the current climate of antisemitism, not to mention the human catastrophe arising affecting both Israeli Jews and Palestinian Muslims arising out of naked terrorism that what was meant to be an album of secular music now takes on almost spiritual, Sufi overtones. Of course, this is not Sufi music, despite the spectral elements of trance music that is propelled by the thundering, hypnotic bass and drum element is some of the songs.

In fact, the producers – Mr Tassa and Mr Greenwood – once speculated that this music might as well have been evocative of Kraftwerk harking back to the 1970s. But this is 2023 and the irony of friendship between neighbours – now contextually almost exclusive to neighbours in the Middle East as this music is expressed in the Arabic context.   

Thus, it is impossible to underplay the poignancy of the lyrics, presented in the booklet with English translations for those who do not understand, but will surely appreciate the emotions expressed by the Arab lyricists. Almost immediately emotions that are proverbially forbidden emerge. Mostly, however, the meaningfulness is stark – such as in the song Taq ou-Dub, so eloquently sung by the Palestinian vocalist from Ramallah, Nour Freteikh, in a voice that is gorgeous, and lustrous as she sculpts poetic lyricism into the inventive musical expressions, digging into the meaning of the words and imbuing its phrases with a very special grace.

This is true – in varying shades of lyrical power in all the music, of course. Each work – high and lonesome in its evocations – is uniquely affecting and is sung by an inspired cast of vocalists from Lebanon [Ashufak Shay by Rashid Al Najjar], Iraq [Ya Mughir al-Ghazala by Karrar Alsaadi] and so on. Although it would be slightly risqué to single out one song – the poetry of the lyrics float and weave with beautiful clarity across the music that accompanies each work – one is sorely tempted to suggest that all the musical elements combine in an ethereal manner to suggest that Taq-ou-Dub may be the apogee of this recording excellently mixed by Nigel Godrich.

While it is true that this is an album of vocal music it is possible to also single out the instrumental content for special praise. Both Mr Tassa and – especially – Mr Greenwood are masters of mood and atmosphere. And they display the ability to coordinate colour and structure to a rare degree. They also consistently reveal versatility and resourcefulness as they meld their various instruments – some native to the Middle East and North Africa – together with the horns and choral elements with almost insolent virtuosity and elegance.

The variety and stylishness of the programme is matched by the exceptional range and refinement of the performances throughout. Every performer is fully attuned to the vision and artistry brought to bear on this recording by Mr Tassa and Mr Greenwood. Moreover, the seductive persuasion of the music in every melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic variation, from song to song, is unmatched and it appears as if each phrase in every song is so meticulously shaped that the whole performance emerges as a profoundly moving document, more so as one absorbs the theme and the variations of it in each song in the context of October and November of 2023.

For this is a time which will long be remembered as a bitter turning point in history – especially of The Middle East, once the cradle of civilisation – and in Arabic culture, which once contributed so much to the development of art and science since the 7th century when, in times of peace, it [Arabic culture] had an enormous influence not only in The Middle East, but throughout Europe. This is something that is lost on every civilisation that has followed since the 12th century, when militancy in religion trumped the gentleness of cultural pursuit, inflicting untold damage to human history ever since.

Deo gratis…

Music – 1: Djit Nishrah; 2: Ashufak Shay; 3: Taq ou-Dub; 4: Leylet Hub; 5: Ya Mughir al-Ghazala; 6: Ahibak; 7: Ya’Anid Ya Yaba; 8: Lhla Yzid Ikhtar; 9: Jan al-Galb Salik.

Musicians – Dudu Tassa: guitars, bass, synthesizer, vocals, brass arrangements and production; Jonny Greenwood: guitars, drum machines, bass, piano, organ, Ondes Martenot and production; Ariel Qassis: qanun, backing vocals and repertoire consulting & music notation; Mayu Shviro: cello; Johanna Reitmueller: violin and viola; Mustafa Amal: rehab; Yaniv Taichman: oud; Itamar Doari: percussion; Itzhak Ventura: flute; Aykut Sutoglu: trumpet; Sefi Zisling: trumpet and flugelhorn; Osama Abu Ali: mijwiz; Yonatan Daskal: synthesizer; Tamar Shawki: backing vocals; Neta Elkayam: backing vocals; Mona Bakri: backing vocals; Niran Bassoon: announcer; Idan Barir: translations. Guests – Ahmed Doma: vocals [1]; Rashid Al Najjar: vocals [2]; Nour Freteikh: vocals [3]; Mohsinne Salaheddine: vocals [4]; Karrar Alsaadi: vocals [5]; Safae Essafi: vocals [6]; Lynn A: vocals [7]; Noamane Chaari: vocals [9]; Zaineb Elouati: vocals [9[ Nigel Godrich: mixing.

Released – 2023
Label – World Circuit WCD 108
Runtime – 39:49

Based in Milton, Ontario, Canada, Raul is a poet, musician and an accomplished critic whose profound analysis is reinforced by his deep understanding of music, technically as well as historically.

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