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Sample Track 1:
"Queen of Sheba" from Trian to Basra and Other Stories
Sample Track 2:
"Kashaniya" from Train to Basra and Other Stories
Layer 2
Album Review

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Roots World, Album Review >>

Dena El Saffar remembers the bedtime stories her father told of the train trips he took as a young boy from Baghdad to Basra. However, she grew up in Chicago, so her musical memories are also informed by that city’s blues and the sweep of American cinematic soundtracks. And as each song on a soundtrack underscores a different scene, and as each time you look out a train window you see something new, the various tracks on this all-instrumental disk create vivid sound impressions of many locations - most in the Middle East, but also Mexico and the United States - and sounds both ancient and modern.

El Saffar formed Salaam with percussionist Tim Moore twenty years ago, and her violin, oud, and other stringed instruments and his various drums lead the band, but there’s also much more going on. On “Joza Tears,” El Saffar plays the joza, an Iraqi spike fiddle made from a water buffalo’s pericardium stretched over a coconut shell. However, to bear up the thin, haunting sound of the joza, the band layered and looped drums and electric bass.

Her brother, Amir ElSaffar, also contributes to the band’s sound, playing both jazz trumpet and the traditional Indian santoor. His trumpet gets a workout on the longest song, the buoyant “The Mariachi Stole My Heart,” where the Middle East meets Mexico. While much of the album creates a sense of place through music, some songs reach for the spirit of specific places, too. “Awakening,” details the bravery and hope that El Saffar saw in news reports from Egypt’s Tahrir Square in January 2011.

The tempos of El Saffar’s strings are never rushed, but they also are not languorous. Thanks to Moore’s percolating drums, on this train, you’re always moving to the next colorful destination.

Hope you guys are staying warm!!


 01/05/14 >> go there
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