Bridging the Gulf

CD Review by Sami Asmar

California-based musicians Naser Musa and Souhail Kaspar have released a CD called Khaliji (RT Productions).  Arabic for “From the Gulf,“ Khaliji came to represent the culture of the Arab nations of the Persian/Arabian Gulf.  The music of these nations has gained tremendous popularity throughout the Arab World in recent years competing with productions of the established music industries of Egypt and Lebanon in album sales and television broadcasts, facilitated by the spread of Gulf-owned satellite channels reaching viewers worldwide. 

A listener to these broadcasts may distinguish the origin of a new song from the dialect of the singer, rhythmic patterns, or orchestration.  The local dialects of Egypt, the Levant (Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Palestine), Iraq, the Gulf, North Africa, etc., are distinctive in pronunciation and choice of words.  Note the recent trend for Levant signers to sing in the Khaliji dialect to expand their business base.  Interestingly, most contemporary Arab singers seem compelled to record a sizable amount of their repertoire in Egyptian dialect due to an outdated idea that an artist would not succeed unless accepted in Egypt; conversely, Egyptian singers rarely sing in a dialect other than their own.

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Khaliji rhythmic patterns are distinct from the classical rhythms of the Middle East.  The latter vary widely and are based on using a tabla (aka darbukkka) or riqq while the typically compound Gulf rhythms utilize frame drums such as tars and bendirs. Complex sequences of hand clapping are also a fundamental part of the rhythmic background.  The distinguishing factor of Gulf orchestration is their high tendency to maintain the ‘ud as a primary instrument.  Contemporary productions in Egypt and the Levant have gradually abandoned the ‘ud in favor of synthesizers.

The dialect, the ‘ud and the rhythms: the combination of specialties available in gifted ‘ud player and singer Naser Musa and talented percussionist Souhail Kaspar (who constitute half of the world renowned Ali Jihad Racy Ensemble).  Their CD contains nine songs for Gulf stars such as Abadi al-Johar, Abd al-Majid Abdullah, Talal Madah, and Nabil Sha’il.  Naser mastered these songs through field research in those countries, becoming a specialist in this genre.  Naser moved twenty years ago to the US from Jordan to earn a degree in music and has since been performing and composing, having released 24 songs of his composition to date.  The Khaliji CD is subtitled “Songs of Love and Passion from the Arabian Gulf,” and passion is a clear characteristic of Naser’s beautiful voice.  Souhail moved to the US from Lebanon but was trained in Aleppo, Syria, and had worked with great composers including Faird al-Atrash and Wadi al-Safi.  Souhail’s brilliant drumming has earned him tremendous recognition and respect in the world music circles.

Floating above energetic percussion and clapping, the resonance of the ‘ud fills the air, making the Khaliji CD, simply, beautiful listening.


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