Sunday, May 24, 2009

EL TANBURA - Friends of Bamboute (30iPS)

Three years ago, El Tanbura impressed with their first international release of infectious traditional Egyptian dance music - Between the Desert and the Sea - and this 20th anniversary follow-up is every bit as seductive. The instrumental set-up is simple but effective, comprising the swinging strains of the five-string simsimiyya harp-lute from the band's Port Said origins; the tanbura, a six-stringed lyre that has a lighter, slightly more intricately melodic sound; the occasional tinge of richly harmonic nay flute; and clattering, chattering hand-drum percussion that pulls the rhythm this way and that, aided when applicable by handclaps and qarqaba finger castanets. The vocals, all-male, range from deep, spritual incantations to sprightly call and response chants, all inspired by mystical Suez Sufism and the swaying dance music of the hasish dens frequented by 19th Century Bambutiyya merchants of Port Said.
If you enjoyed the Bedouin Jerry Can Band's 2007 album Coffee Time (on which members of El Tanbura featured) you'll love the likes of Heela Heela and Afra - brisk, irresistibly catchy, but also expertly delivered with a sophisticated inter-marriage of melody and rhythm. There are slower, more mournful (even spiritual) moments such as Noh El Hamam, a love song delivered with great tenderness by band leader Zakaria Ibrahim against the sympathetic intonations of his backing band. And the lurching Badr Arid is an evocative praise song reminiscent of the best downbeat Tuareg desert blues. All good stuff, although El Tanbura tend to shortern their songs for the recording studio. That's understandable - indeed laudable given how this makes the music so accessible to the Western listener - but it's still advisable to catch them in concert when they hit your town, to bear witness to these songs as they unravel to their full unexpurgated brilliance.

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