I’m not a musician. Oh sure, I did my time in the high school band, spewing on the business end of a trombone as part of what our band director affectionately referred to as ‘the sludge pump’ section. And I can even read music, or at least COULD, something a few R & R guitarists couldn’t do in their wettest wildest dreams. But that’s just mathematics, music as equation, the stuff of ‘classical music’-uptown, upstairs, privilege of the landed gentry- while on the other side of town, out in the countryside, simple country folk sang love songs to each other and recited stories handed down through generations, folk heroes kept alive through oral history.
But that’s not what really interests me about music, neither the pleasant effect of particular notes in creative melodic progressions, nor the information conveyed in narrative story-telling. What interests me most is the emotional transcendance capable of being transmitted, something probably best exemplified- at least until the modern era- in church music. “Music, unlike art or architecture, does not represent physical objects, and unlike poetry is independent of propositional thought. Hence it can take human emotions into areas that other artistic works cannot, and offer the prospect of an escape from worldly existence.” (Wikipedia) Obviously they haven’t read much modern poetry, but still, why certain emotions seem best expressed in major keys and others in minor ones is a source of never-ending mystery to me.
And except for some military ‘music’ (yeah, right), that’s pretty much the way it stayed, at least in the Western world, until the arrival of Africans on the scene with their exotic sounds- mostly percussion- and new lyrical concerns that transcended the previously typical themes of… love, mostly. That new emphasis on rhythm, and society, and the willingness of lyricists to gladly take over a role previously relegated to poetry, gave birth to popular music, something far more powerful than the ‘folk music’ that preceded it. I don’t know of anybody- ANYBODY- who hasn’t been touched by popular music, whether intellectual or businessman or ditch-digger, whether rap or rock or country. It somehow SPEAKS to us, inside, side by side with that little voice that is so closely identified with our inner being.
Add to this milieu over the last half century a plethora of foreign styles from a plethora of foreign countries- Mexican son, Brazilian samba, Euro-pop, Jamaican reggae, Peruvian folclorico, salsa cumbia meringue, Afro-beat high-life juju, and they just keep on coming, the DNA of music in constant evolution, the product of both artificial and natural selection. Then the genres start interbreeding amongst themselves, seeking fertile soil in which to drop their genes, and soon you’ve got hybrid genres like Celtic salsa and Cambodian surf music. And just when you think you’ve seen it all, then something comes along like… Hebrew Qawwali music, via
The artist’s name is Shye Ben-Tzur and his new album is called ‘Shoshan’. Ben-Tzur is an Israeli poet who moved to
From the upbeat rousing choruses of the song ‘Shoshan’ to the Latin-Arabic (OK, flamenco) style of ‘Dil Ke Bahar’ and the Spanish guitar of ‘To Die in Love’, the album segues into the minor key wailing of ‘Sovev’ and the brooding harmonies of ‘Daras Bina’. In fact the album is almost dialectic in its approach to the reconstruction of Jewish/Arab Middle Eastern music as manifested there and in its farthest reaches in Muslim India and Moorish Spain. Yet it never strays too far from the tabla rhythms which are indispensable to Qawwali music. This synthesis is nowhere better expressed than in the last song, ‘Shoshan Katan’, which somehow I knew was the last song even when playing at random during my first listen. Why is that I wonder? Is there a certain air of finality that can somehow be conveyed musically? That’s a question I’ll have to save for later. For now I suggest checking out ‘Shoshan’ by Shye Ben-Tzur. It’ll do you good. And have a happy 9-11, may the memory of those who died serve to promote the understanding necessary to mitigate those eternal conflicts that caused it. We all share the same God, remember.