24 August 2009

Monday's mp3: Iraqi Music from Middle America

I'll be the first to admit that I'm no expert on Iraqi music. Even before the turmoil that befell the country during and after the rule of Saddam, Iraq seemed to export far less music than many of its neighbors, and much of that from expatriates. You've got your Aida Naddem, your Kadeem Al Saher (or however you want to spell it...), Naseer Shamma, Munir Bashir, Ahmeed Mukhtar and the like. And a few years back our friends at Sublime Frequencies brought us the eclectic compilation Choubi Coubi (Folk And Pop Songs From Iraq). But Iraqi offerings were still few and far between. ARC records has helped with a couple of releases, by Salaam - on SoundRoots.orgDaoud and Saleh Al-Kuwaity (Masters of Iraqi Music) and Ahmed Mukhtar (The Road to Baghdad).

But now, you need look no farther than Chicago for a solid dose of Middle Eastern music with its roots in Iraq and spanning the ages from 17th century Ottoman court music to Iraqi popular songs. On their self-titled CD, Salaam does that and more, dipping also into Turkish, Syrian, and North African themes...even a little blues and jazz, as on "Yugrug." There's some similarity to Brothers of the Baladi, though the Oregon-based Brothers are a bit more far-reaching with their Middle Eastern sound, going so far as to cover the Doors' "Paint It Black" on their Eye on the World album.

Salaam may be less brash, but their sound is growing on me, particularly the subtle fusion of "Nihavent Saz Semaisi" and the energetic "21st Century Gypsy." So far, my favorite track may the love song "Retik," with traditional music underlying some nice solos, including a buoyant, fluid trumpet solo in the spirit of Samy El Bably. Salaam may not have the slickest presentation and their CD could use a little design help (track numbers!), but their music reveals solid chops, an adventurous spirit, and a joy in performing that makes for marvelous listening.

[mp3] Salaam: Retik
from the album Salaam

more Salaam
Buy CD
Hear more song samples
NPR interview (direct link here)
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