El Sueño de Al-Zaqqâq
Intuition Records/NubeNegra 3236-2
By Srajan Ebaen
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The Dream of Al-Zaqqâq is a musical celebration of poetry that arose from 11th century Moorish Spain called
Al-Andalus and, more specifically, from the pen of Abul Hasan Alí ibn' Atiyyat Allâh ibn Muturrif ibn
Salma, known as Ibn Al-Zaqqâq. This poet lived in El Cid's Valencia, a city that had just been rebuilt by the Almoravids after the razing in the wake of Doña Jimena's abandonment, El Cid's widow, on the orders of Alfonso VI of Castile.
Despite the cultural changes brought by the usurpers, a coincident neo-classical revival occurred in Valencia. Its creators were Ibn Yafâya from Alzira and his nephew credited in today's album. Their material independence as wealthy land owners freed them from currying favors from the rulers to instead create traditional poetry influenced by nature loving and a Dionysian orientation that has strong parallels with the Medieval troubadours praising the feminine principle. Since the Almoravid invasion threatened much of Moorish culture established under the Taifa kings, authors of Arab poetry hastened to collect numerous works in anthologies (or divans) to assure survival for posterity.
The lyrics here are culled from Al-Zaqqâq's divan and sung by Aurora Moreno and Mohamed El Arabí
Serghini. Luis Delgado performs on the Andalusian lutes Baglama and Saz -- and its cousins, the Moroccan Gimbri beloved by the Gnawa brotherhoods, plus the Greek Laghiuto -- as well as the hammered
santur, synthesizer programming and various hand percussion. Jaime Muñoz plays the Turkish Ney and its Thracian relative, the Kaval flute as well as clarinet, while Carlos Beceiro on mandolin and Eduardo Paniagua on qanun and Renaissance tenor flute add further colors.
El Sueño transports us backwards in time into an era when poetry was so highly and widely esteemed by the general populace that pop stars like
Abensoraid, Algarid and Mabed could defy an Emir's decree -- all singers and poets had to vacate the holy city of Mecca -- by performing openly and inciting a public riot that turned on the Caliph to revoke his order. Voluptuous, elegant, mysterious, Moorish-Medieval in character but subtly modernized by Delgado,
El Sueño draws parallels with Abed Azrié's Suerte, Al-Andalus'
Illumination, Pedro Aledo's Ensemble Méditerranéen and -- culturally obviously removed but similar in feel - Shanachie's
Lost Songs of the Silk Road.
To invoke its languorous but intricate spirit, only six of the twelve tracks are supported by actual lyrics. The other half achieves the same hypnotic effect with instruments alone and points at the wordless supremacy of musical feeling over actual verbal content. Even listeners without an innate proclivity for aural things Arabian will find it very easy to relate. After all, the historic locale of Southern Spain during Moorish rule was very much European. That it also served as gateway to Africa and the Middle East and thus became a unique melting pot of influences only enriched its heritage. It can still be heard in modern-day Flamenco, and reaching out from there into many contemporary World Beat hybrid forms that freely borrow from diverse styles and regions of the world.
Truly, the historical period of Al-Andalus was a very potent precursor of today's musical diversification. It thus rightly favors return visits by contemporary musicians who feel inspired by its innate wealth and cross-cultural harmony.
Sueño is finely crafted, immaculately performed and equally well recorded. That makes it into both a musical and audiophile delight that should be on your list as an easy piece of mild exotica. It requires a lot less listener preparation than, say this month's
Aksak album, and can thus be warmly recommended to a less experimental audience that favors World Music "closer to home".