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01/11/2017
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MARCEL KHALIFE / MAHMOUD DARWISH – Andalusia of Love (2016 / Nagam Records)

We in the West have a lamentable talent for forgetting where we came from…and I don’t mean Europe, Africa, etc., but rather the wellsprings between the two: the Mediterranean and surrounding areas. It was there that a very very strong affinity for knowledge, art, spirit, and what makes us human really took hold and exploded, an expansion we still dwell in and then, sigh!, gloss over at our increasing peril, hence the disastrous tensions in the region over the last few decades.

Lebanese oud master Marcel Khalife is a living emblem of defiance demanding not revenge for the many inhumanities and atrocities conducted nor a continuation of existing hatreds but instead understanding and reconciliation. Her came to prominence during a self-imposed internal exile in the 70s, a rather bold move, basing his musical labors on the output of the famed Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish, a scribe in the tradition of Rumi, Tagore, and others. Darwish lay hold of Palestine, as Wikipedia somewhat clumsily put it, “as a metaphor for the loss of Eden, birth and resurrection, and the anguish of dispossession and exile”. In that is posed a world consciousness, a sea in which all must contemplate the oft searing foibles of the human animal.

Darwish passed in 2008, after justified world fame, but Khalife has carried on the work that so imbued them both with fierce Humanism, working to wake fellow bipeds and provoke a, as the promo lit avers, “sensual vision of a renewed golden age”. This CD is proof of just what that means, a luxurious tapestry of emotions and sonorities based in ancient tonicities brought to new life via the composer’s deft inflections and interpolations in jazz and other styles. It’s interesting that he formed a touring trio with his sons Rami (piano) and Bachar (perc.), invoking yet another sense of commonality and unity: from the family of family to the family of tribe to the family of region to family of world. On CD, Jilbert Yamine enters as a fourth member on kanoun (kanun, ganoun, kanoon), a koto/zithery instrument opening up the soundfield significantly.

Though the opus runs through 14 segments, Andalusia of Love is a sprawling concept cycle nearly an hour in length and, while sung in Arabic, you, citing Bachar, “don’t need to understand the words to feel the meaning” of lament based in Darwish’s poem of two lovers reunited, some of which in translated in the liner notes:

On the shores of the first salt, the first honey, I shall drink the juice of your night, then sleep above the golden corn that breaks the field, breaks even the cry of desire, making it rust. I see you…and I escape from death. Your body is a harbor. How can the land turn me out through the land as a beggar? How can a dream go to sleep?

Marcel encants and plays classic oud while Rami attends pianistics first independent and then closely allied to Jilbert’s kanoun, Bachar’s percussives shoring up the imagery’s borders and groundswell. The song finally, after many diversions, variations, asides, ruminations, and various devices, comes together powerfully and propulsively in the 14th segment, the close-out, rising up out of anguish and ecstatics to stir the blood, join listeners to performers carrying on in a lusty powerhouse concordance until fading into Rami’s starry outro piano, briefly Satie-vian by way of a “Moonlight Sonata” or Rachmaninoff ornament, shutting down the entire saga in quiet mellifluous bliss. Western devotees of exotic musics will find much of Laraaji, Maurice Pert, in places even Stephen Micus, of course Carnatic strains (and thus McLaughlin, Shakti, Mahavushnu, etc.) in all this but also in one of the West’s oldest music traditions closely related to all the geography’s delicious interrelations and inspirations.