The Two Nays of Bashir Abd al-Al, CD Reviews

Sami Asmar

The New Jersey based Musical Heritage Society has recently released a CD by nay player Bashir Abd al-Al, called the “Art of the Arabian Flute.”  It contains fifty-two minutes of pure taqasim, haunting improvisations on the instrument most associated with the sound of the desert, the call to prayer, and the emotional intensity characterizing classical Arab music.  Syrian-born Bashir, who comes from a musical Egyptian family including master violinist Abboud Abd al-Al, has an impressive resume having worked with Farid al-Atrash, Um Kulthum, Mohammad Abd al-Wahhab, Abd al-Halim Hafiz, and others who appreciated his style and skill of playing the nay.

The name of the open-ended rim-blown instrument is the Persian word for reed and is traced in some form as far back as ancient Egypt.  The classical nay, versus folk variations, has seven holes, one of which is in the back and comes in a set of varying lengths to play different keys such as the common duka in the key of D, often used for taqasim, and the nawa in the key of G, sometimes preferred for high-energy music.

Listen to sample of the CD

This CD features advanced improvisational techniques with subtle modulations between various maqamat and have few recognizable patterns, except the last number named Lagl Innabi (For the Sake of the Prophet) where the opening theme of the Egyptian spiritual song is used briefly as a point of departure.  This high quality music is an example of how virtuosos in the Arab classical music genre play to impress fellow musicians, not necessarily effortless listening for public consumption.  On this CD, it was unnecessary for the beautiful improvisations to have synthesized background drones; they only give the impression that the CD was intended for marketing on the trendy “Meditation Music” rack.

Contrast this CD with a distinctly different recording for the same artist called “Bellydance From Egypt,” released by ARC.  In it, a percussion-rich electric band plays popular dance music such as compositions by Farid al-Atrash with Gamil Gamal as the title track.  The nay is played in place of the vocal parts in a tremendously emotive fashion. Bashir's nay hovered beautifully above the other instruments.  Although packaged with a tacky title for commercial appeal, this CD is a surprising example of toe-tapping music that, in the hands of masters like Abd al-Al, still manages to drives listeners to the state of tarab.  Musicians like Abd al-Al use the taqasim and popular genres in order to deliver to a wide audience base the amazing beauty of the nay.