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Luís Delgado
El Hechizo de Babilonia
NubeNegra (

cd cover This lovely and haunting tribute to Moorish Andalusian woman poets of the early second millennium is structured a bit like a Hector Zazou project, especially in its use of a variety of vocalists, albeit with a tighter theme. A more profound difference is the dominating instrumental mastery of Luís Delgado; it is telling that base tracks were recorded at his instrument museum in Villadolid, Spain. Delgado's santurs, gimbris, and ouds frolic with Jaime Muñoz' kaval flute and Hossam Ramzy's inexhaustible percussion toolkit, the whole lent a persistent dreamlike ambience by tastefully programmed drone effects. Lyrics are provided in both Spanish and English, but are mysteriously ineffable as sung, perhaps in fidelity to their ancient language.

"El Diwan de las Poetisas" is instrumental; kaval (rim-blown flute), oud, and santur (hammered dulcimer) trading figures against a deep droning background in its slow introduction, e-bow guitar creating its own musical space where a cello might be expected. Beckoning programmed drone introduces María del Mar Bonet's resonant low alto vocal in "Me Desea (He Longs for Me)," the result evocative of Dead Can Dance, an impression shattered with percussion and a key change, Bonet's vocal rising to follow a kaval melodic line of hypnotically constrained joy. In the title track, a subtly tumbling waltz beat and banjo-like gimbri support Mariem Hassan's high, sinuously keening vocal in a tale of a mysterious visitor bearing seduction, perhaps love. Has the master time to receive her? In "El Relámpago (Lightning)," the usual tasteful synth drone is supplemented by Indian tamboura, Jamie Muñoz' kaval and Delgado's santur backing another unique vocal, Herminia Hugenel's smooth, throaty alto, sinuous in the long, pensive introduction, but without Hassan's sharp edges. The bright, friendly, and impeccably controlled tenor of El Arabí Serghini Mohamed dominates "Es Bueno Todo lo que Surge de Vos (All That Comes from Thee Is Good)," a swinging two-step devotional hymn, his joint chorus with Delgado suggesting gnaoua trance music.

While the vocal tracks are the attention grabbers on "El Hechizo de Babilonia," Delgado's instrumental interludes elaborate themes and prepare the aural palate for the many transformations in this integrated work, best experienced start to finish in a single sitting. - Jim Foley

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