Lamia Bèdioui and the Desert Fish

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Lamia Bèdioui and the Desert Fish
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Through modern and ancient history, the Mediterranean Sea has been and remains one great maritime highway uniting continents and cultures. Today the Med serves as a fence – and too often, tragically, a graveyard – separating the prosperous peoples of the North and West from the oft-troubled South and East. Historians for their part recall that the Med was once politically united under the Roman Empire, that its borderlands have been constantly in flux, and that many languages, notably Greek, Latin and Arabic and their descendants, have vied for dominance.

Lamia Bèdioui is a Tunisian-born Greek resident who, along with her Desert Fish present a stunning sequence of storytelling in music, a cycle of 14 stories that circle the Great Sea and back again, examining in particular the Greek, Romance and Arabic cultures of the countries known today as Spain, France, Italy, Turkey, Algeria, Greece, Tunisia and Morocco. She has a voice that can handle these challenges and takes on each of these traditions.

As a vocalist, Bèdioui soulfully masters each tradition, seemingly at home in each. With accompaniment on (to name a few) oud, kaval, ney, Cretan lyra, qanun, darbuka, and udu, the Desert Fish provide the setting that moves seamlessly from one port to another, exploring the traditional repertoire. These are tales, or fragments of tales, tales of passions and loves lost, pirates, princes and slaves, that are carried from one port to another, over the centuries.

The Fish are Giorgios Vournas (oud, guitar, mandolin etc), Loukia Konstantatou (qanun and voice), Dimitris Chiotis (lyra, guitar with bow, lute, voice) and Yannis Eustatthopoulos (various percussion). Both Bedioui and the Desert Fish have produced and arranged the rich musical landscape of these songs.

"El Mar" (excerpt)

The hour-long suite fittingly opens with a sonorous and lyrical “El Mar/The Sea.” She sings:
    Vagabond sea so much like you
    Rushing toward me to leave again

"Sti Filaki" (excerpt)

A song from Asia Minor follows. The song is “Sti Filaki” (In Jail) with the poignant lyric:
    I planted an orange tree when I went to jail.
    And I've eaten oranges and I am still not free.

"Mau Marideia" (excerpt)

“Mau Marideia” (The Hapless Wife) is a song from Marseilles about the travails of a young woman who simply can't get rid of her rich older husband, no matter how she tries. She digs a pit under a pine tree and pushes him in, but he comes out, crawling. And so on in a tale told in polyphony and percussion.

Then there are “The Pirates in Palermo” :
    They stole our sun, they left us with black darkness, Sicily cried
    They seized our livelihood, the golden oranges,
    and ravaged our land, and everything's ash and smoke
Life at the edge of the sea is turbulent, insecure even, but it goes on, for it offers opportunity and hope.

"To Oniro" (excerpt)

Some of the stories are merely fragments. In “To Oniro” (The Dream) which concludes the disc, the singer narrates to a percussive beat and a haunting vocal track, the princess rises from her bed, opens the door to the garden, and discovers the tree of the golden oranges. Athamra is the fruit of the dream.

But what are these cultures? As the disc moves forward, we grow to understand that perhaps these aren't multiple cultures at all, but one culture. Dating from the times of Tyre and Sidon, the great port cities have brought Europeans, Africans, Asians and others together. A modern Marseille that holds communities of Italians, Armenians, Occitan speakers and Algerians exemplifies it, just as pre-modern Spain with its mix of Islamic, Jewish and Christian cultures once did. The songs presented here seem to have many titles in many languages.

Bèdioui seemingly has no limitations on her ability to take on projects demanding cultural and musical versatility. Nor do the Desert Fish. It's her second effort as featured artist and her first in almost a decade, since Fin'Amor (2006). She's also a contributor on a number of recordings, including at least three by Savina Yannatou.

The sea can be a highway or a barrier. This is an engaging project which, in a time of great economic divisions and divides between cultures, attempts to bridge those divides. - David Cox

CD available from cdRoots

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CD available from cdRoots

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