Music From Yemen Arabia: Sanaani, Laheji, Adeni
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Yemen sits on the southwest corner of the Arabian Peninsula where the Indian Ocean meets the Red Sea. Its rich and ancient history has long had a place in the stories of the Middle East (Queen of Sheba) from a time when its geography was more crucial to regional trade. In modern times its history has been sometimes troubled (remember North Yemen and South Yemen?) & this week I've been watching the papers to learn the fate of the American hostages taken in a recent kidnapping.

These songs were recorded in 1973 and originate from the city of Sanaa, the sheikdom of Lahej, and the port of Aden. Featured, in part, are the three Kawkabani brothers, playing in a Sanaa musical style on oud, kanoun, and percussion. (The oud is the familiar fretless lute of the Middle East, the kanoun is a 66-metal-stringed trapezoid-shaped zither). Too often the kanoun's sound is lost in larger orchestration; here the small ensemble allows it to come forth, letting single notes sustain. You'll hear it on "You Said That You Would Forget Me," a song about the sorrow of a dying love affair.

Oud musician Hassan al Zabeede is from Lahej, a sheikdom on the southern borders of North Yemen. On "Ana Mush Areemak" and "Tabal Samar" he presents a pair of Laheji songs. Finally, the Kawkabani brothers are highlighted on "Wa Magarred Bi Wadi Aldoore," a song about the city of Sanaa, and "Ya Sahooh al Enab" ("Breakfast of Grapes"), a quat-chewing song that seems well suited to the narcotic leaf & the social rituals that accompany its consumption.

This is a well-crafted collection whose reissue is welcome. Are these musicians, recorded over twenty-five years ago, performing today? That's the collection I'd really like to hear! - Richard Dorsett

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