Friday, January 28, 2011
Omar Khorshid - Guitar El Chark (Sublime Frequencies, 2010)
It's only coincidence that this post just so happens to appear at the same time that Egypt is seemingly on the verge of a political if not complete cultural revolution, a movement that will hopefully not lead to any additional bloodshed. Guitarist nonpareil Omar Khorshid, of course, was a native son of that country whose mysterious premature death quite possibly resulted from his inadvertent involvement in the politics of the region. I can only wonder what he would make of the unrest in his homeland were he still alive today.
I was beyond stoked when this sumptuous two-LP set was released last year. Like most vinyl issued by Sublime Frequencies, Guitar El Chark received a very limited pressing, sold out in rapid fashion, and pretty much became an instant collectible. While I already own CD versions of most of Khorshid's albums, having an opportunity to hear these mesmerizing Middle Eastern grooves on vinyl was too tempting of a proposition to pass up, no matter what the cost. The creme de la creme of his 1973-1977 recordings for the Lebanese Voice of the Orient label is compiled here and offers the best possible introduction to the man's impressive body of work. The liner notes for this release provide a good abridged version of his life story, and those interested in reading a more detailed biography (as well as an opportunity to check out some great photos and ephemera) are encouraged to check out Omar Khorshid's website.
With the exception of the radio spot appearing at the very end, the tracks that appear on this retrospective are all instrumental performances of a staggering virtuosity. To my ears, Khorshid practically reinvents electric guitar playing. His style is all his own, but at times his sound reminds me of Dick Dale, more traditional Arab musicians, and even Bruno Battisti D'Amario, who played on several of Ennio Morricone's spaghetti western soundtracks. In short, these performances exhibit all the wonderful possibilities of playing authentic late 20th-century Middle Eastern and belly dance music on what is considered primarily a Western instrument. All facets of Khorshid's musical genius are on display here. Many of the selections, intentionally or not, have a strong psychedelic aspect to them, especially the mind-blowing title track, "Hebbina Hebbina," "Ah Ya Zaman," "Kariaat El Fengan," "Sidi Mansour" (the Middle Eastern "Interstellar Overdrive"?), "Raqset El Fada," and the ethereal "Taksim Sanat Alfeyn." A distinct science fiction element can be heard on the final two tracks, as the respective translations of their titles -"Dance of Space" and "Music of the Year 2000" - would suggest. Other pieces such as "Wadil Muluk" and "Rahbaniyat" are showcases for Khorshid's lightning fingers, while "Sabirine" practically drips with reverb. "Ommil Habiba," "Raksat El Kheyl," "Solenzara," "Habibaty," and "Warakat Ya Nassib" display the more laid back and sensitive side of the guitarist, and what they lack in pyrotechnics they more than make up for with exquisiteness. "Arrabia'h" and "Enta Omri" rank as the most purely Middle Eastern-sounding numbers, especially with the "Cifte Telli" section in the latter. The instrumentation throughout this album typically consists of Khorshid on guitar, an electric keyboard, synthesizer or accordion player, and one or more percussionists on hand drums. The synth work occasionally gets a little out of hand on certain tracks that at times border on Middle Eastern disco, but this is a very minor quibble on what is otherwise a consistently extraordinary listening experience.
1. Guitar El Chark (Guitar of the Orient)
2. Wadil Muluk (Valley of the Kings)
4. Ommil Habiba (Mother, My Dearest)
5. Hebbina Hebbina (Love Us Like We Love You)
6. Rahbaniyat (Rahbani Variations)
7. Ah Ya Zaman (For Old Time's Sake)
8. Kariaat El Fengan (Fortune Teller)
9. Arrabia'h (The Spring)
10. Sidi Mansour (Master Monsour)
11. Raksat El Kheyl (Dance of the Horses)
13. Enta Omri (You Are My Life)
14. Habibaty (My Beloved)
15. Raqset El Fada (Dance of Space)
16. Warakat Ya Nassib (Lottery Ticket)
17. Taksim Sanat Alfeyn (Music of the Year 2000)
18. Record Company Promo Spot