24 January 2011

Monday's mp3: Pop Goes Syria

Most of the time, my initial impression of an album isn't far off. But this one threw me for a loop. Perhaps it was because Syrian singer Zein Al-Jundi's previous album was called Traditional Songs from Syria. That, along with the subtle packaging of her new album Sharrafouni led me to expect more of the same. And while it's not that I find traditional Middle Eastern music dull, neither is it frequently at the top of my Top 10 lists.

The first track on this album didn't hook me despite its pleasant Arabic pop sensibilities, with soaring strings and undistinguished rhythm track. So I put it down for a couple months and it fell to the bottom of a pile of CDs. Only later did I unearth it and revisit the songs, and what a surprise! The second track, "Ya Habibi" grabbed me with with its danceable Latin rhythm, accordion, and a touch of dumbek along with the somewhat stiff drum track.

Turns out Al-Jundi recorded the album in Lebanon, and with a different country come very different musical influences. "The idea and genre of music for the first CD was dictated by ARC Music," Al-Jundi says. “I picked the particular songs but didn’t have anything to do with the idea. I like and sing all different subgenres of Arabic music, so being self-produced and -funded, it was natural to go with something different, a more modern, pop sound."

With its edgy guitar and driving beat, the original song "Tab Toll" reminds me a bit of the music of Rachid Taha. Have a listen:

[mp3] Zein Al-Jundi: Tab Toll
from the album Sharrafouni

Along with several originals, Al-Jundi includes a cover of Adonis Alk's hit "Shiki Shiki Baba" that will please fans of Arabic pop. Since a flurry of pre-9-11 Arabic pop releases from labels such as Ark 21, this genre seems to have lagged other world music styles. Though the lack of song notes/translations will leave non-Arabic speakers in the dark about song content, this energetic album is a welcome addition that will draw in fans of Rai and other global styles.



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