Ancient Sufi Invocations & Forgotten Songs from Aleppo

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Ancient Sufi Invocations & Forgotten Songs from Aleppo
Lost Origin Sound Series/Electric Cowbell (

The music on this disc is the result of passion, and thanks to the ongoing, ever more complex civil war that is tearing Syria's various religious, ethnic and political communities apart, it's also an accidental act of preservation. Indeed, in light of recent events in Aleppo and elsewhere, we're lucky to be hearing this at all. This document of breathtaking patience, polyphony and vocal incantations is not the product of years of ethnomusicological study, but the end of result of a DC-area punk rock drummer's rabid curiosity and desire to connect a new musical project to some form of ancient chant.

Recalling a book he'd read, William Dalrymple's "From the Holy Mountain," which dealt with Christian communities in the Middle East, Hamacher became curious about the apparently ancient music referenced in the book. When contact with Dalrymple assured him that nobody had bothered to record any of it, but that it could be found in a massive orthodox church in Aleppo, Hamacher started traveling. From there he became the guest of an arch bishop and recorded Syriac chant inside a cathedral in the middle of what is likely to be the oldest continuously inhabited city on earth. (Those recordings have yet to be released but portions of them can be heard on NPR's Fresh Air, where Hamacher was recently interviewed.) With this music, one can hear a connection between the synagogue and the church, as members sing in Syriac Amharic, the likely language of Jesus.

Ironically, just as Hamacher's recordings showed a communal pool for Christian, Jewish, and Muslim incantation to connect, Aleppo was ripped apart by the current civil war. Entire neighborhoods are now gone, and the Arch Bishop who housed Hamacher has since been kidnapped. As a result, the music on Nawa does not document Christian chant, though future volumes will. By 2010, Hamacher was told he could not travel to visit Jewish and Christian sites, so he dug deep into Islamic Sufism, a still not-well-understood tradition of becoming absolutely one with God. One connection led to another, until he found a group of men planning to preserve the older chants at a 500-year-old house in Aleppo. The result is this disc.

Nawa, at the time of these recordings, comprised nine men, and occasionally an oud and percussion, for a sound that has musical connections to everything from Persian maqam to current crops of European and American stoner and doom metal. (Some of the music here isn't a far cry from Earth's more recent work, though these men have no doubt never heard them.)

"Fasel Al Jalal" is an invocation, and as such, starts with a single voice, though a subtle bass vocal drone soon joins it. Within a few minutes, they begin chanting in unison, with the lead voice occasionally breaking away, where it soars atop a repeated, chanted cushion. One need have no idea what any of it means, or why it's even being sung in order to appreciate it. It takes only a casual listen by anyone with open ears to understand just what Hamacher was hearing over the many years and visits he made to this fascinating place.

Of course, because of the war, with ISIS and the United States now entering the fray and guaranteeing years of ceaseless and useless bombing and the continued acts of terrorism that will sprout from such campaigns, it's fortunate we have access to this. Aside from its sheer beauty in the face of so much ugliness, it will serve as a way to preserve centuries old traditions, and perhaps even remind us all of what truly matters as we dig ourselves out of the rubble-strewn leftovers of the messes we create. - Bruce Miller

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