My Desert Islands Discs 8
There have been many occasions when I've been obsessed by a music track, either because it's something I've overheard on the radio or it's been part of a compilation. It's then been imperative to hear more, to hunt down the source.
In my DID 7
, I mentioned the Songlines subscription with a compilation CD. it was on one of these that a year or so ago I first heard a track, a heartbreakingly haunting lament that not only gave me goosebumps but made me cry. A voice wails in a register that comes from above beyond, with an accompaniment of an oud
(Arabic guitar), a muted trumpet and guitar. The tune is familiar, from ancient times perhaps.
The magazine reviewed Divine Shadows
by Dhafer Youssef
, a Tunisian oud player and vocalist based in Europe: they said he had "a voice that could stop wars". The track included on the CD was Un Soupir Eternal
, "dedicated to a Norwegian girl, Karen Steen Aarset*
, 1931 - 2004".
Living in Indonesia, I don't have ready access to gigs and shared listening sessions, but I knew I wanted this album. Dhafer Youssef played with his group of Norwegian musicians at JakJazz last year, an unaffordable gig at the time, but reading about it I discovered that the CD was released in Indonesia at the Indonesian price of Rp.75,000 (c.$8.50).
I ordered it in two or three major music stores in town, leaving my phone number, with few expectations. A fortnight ago, at the start of the Idul Fitri holiday, Our Kid and I had some business in town, connected with a new website - to be launched this week - and wandered over to Duta Suara in Jl. Sabang.
I asked the lass at the till, and yes, Dhafer Youssef was in stock, in the 'male' singer section. It wasn't in 'Pop', nor in 'Jazz'. A shop assistant came back from other racks empty handed; eventually the lass walked to a section marked .... actually I don't know .... and the CD was mine, paid for. I asked the lass if she'd listened to the album and she said that she had and she liked it because it's different, unik
was the word she used.
I'll let other reviewers also speak for me.Guardian
: Youssef can be deep, light-hearted, complex, funky and achingly romantic, sometimes all within one song. The album's pace is leisurely, full of atmosphere, groove and great playing, but rarely self-indulgent; you never forget whose album it is.All About Jazz : He keeps searching for new sounds, and develops his fusion of the Sufi trance music tradition with mesmerizing, electronic, heavily sampled soundscapes.
Divine Shadows is the most crystallized statement by Youssef so far. He's not shy of venturing into new sonic regions, still respects the ancient tradition of the oud, and offers a captivating vision integrating both the past and the future.
: The desire for instant gratification has become ingrained into our culture. Does it mean we're all doomed to remain in our comfort zones, never to be troubled with new or unusual sounds?
For some, perhaps, that may be the case, but thankfully there are people who want new experiences, and Dhafer Youssef's music is a good place to start. Youssef opens his soul and projects a thousand aching meanings inspired by the wisdom and spiritualism of the centuries-old Sufic tradition, resulting in music of such timeless beauty you can imagine it happening at any point over the last thousand years.
It's the sound of humanity that resonates within us all, a universality that stirs something deep within that we never knew was there. And what Youssef does is imbue this sound with contemporary relevance by seizing the liberating potential of technology.
This album is all that and more. I know that I'll never grow tired of listening to it. This music is in no way élitist because there are many levels, many sounds, both ancient and modern, being communicated.
It is also a political statement.
This album is dedicated to all those who fight for free speech in today's world.
It’s one of the many reasons why this is has to be my ultimate choice.
On my desert island I'd indeed need Divine Shadows
........................................................*She was, I believe, the mother of guitarist Eivind Aarset, who produced the album and features in a number of groups who've recorded for ECM (cf My DID 5). That some of the tracks on Divine Shadows were engineered by Jan Erik Kongshaug, the engineer of note on so many ECM albums, is yet another connection. However, this album was released in 2006 on Jazzland Recordings.
Labels: Desert Island Discs