Following the release of Orontes’ evocative debut, Dancing on the Heads of Snakes, the mastermind behind the project (Michel Gasco) has graciously left us with a curation that captures his love for middle-eastern music. Settle in for a brief listen as he takes you through from Afghanistan to Africa and beyond in this atmospheric five-track playlist, rife with intrigue and curiosity.
1. Hazma El Din – Greetings
Gasco: Hamza el Din was my real first encounter with oud music. I was searching for African music after I discovered Ali Farka Toure, and one day I came across this piece. This moment changed everything. I said to myself “this is the instrument I want to play”. In those days (back in 2004) it was not easy to get a proper oud without travelling to the Middle East, so until then I continued to play the guitar. When I got my first oud I put the guitar aside and started learning the oud by myself before finally getting the chance to move to Syria where I could start learning from a master.
2. Ali Farka – Toure-Diaraby
Gasco: In 2003 one of my friends played this song for me – I was focusing in old time blues at the time such as, Skip James, Rev Gary Davis and other similar artists. I was astonished when I listen to Ali Farka – he was so powerful and gentle at the same time. His music put my attention on the real roots of Blues Music: Africa.
3. Nizar Rohana Trio – Madar Hijaz
Gasco: After many years listening and studying the Oud, I was finding myself especially engaged with the Levantine style (Syria, Libanon, Palestine). All of my favourite Oud players were old masters, I wasn’t interested in the new ones, save for Simon Shaheen who plays a old traditional style. Then I listened to Nizar Rouhana. For me he is not only a great player, but also a great composer of instrumental Levantine contemporary music. You can hear both the tradition and modernity in his music – by modernity I don´t mean just playing fast (as this is what many players choose to do) no; he chooses to play fast just at the right moment, when the music needs it. This is one of my favorite oud pieces ever.
4. Alla – Le Bled (Tankoul)
Alla is a great Oud player, quite unkown, but completely different to all other players. He comes from a village in the desert of Algeria, and you can truly feel the weather and the mood of the place in this beautiful piece.
5. Asadullah Jan (ft. Karim Khushnawaz) – Ustad Rahim
After the oud, the Afghan rubab is my second love. Rahim Khushnawaz from Herat, Afghanistan, is my favorite player. This is one of the first pieces I heard on the Rubab. I’m really in love with the music of Khorasan – the area that now comprehends west of Afghanistan and Iran. Ustad Rahim was a true master in playing Khorasani music on the Rubab, and one of his best examples is this piece.
6. Sima Bina – موسیقی جنوب خراسان آهنگ نوایی
Sima Bina is probably the best female singer of folk music in Iran, she is from South Khorasan in Iran. This piece, Navai, is a very old song from one of the most important cities in the Iranian Khorasan, Torbat e Jam, and I just love how she sings it!
7. Mohamad Reza Lofti – Aboo Ataa Improvisation
Gasco : I didn´t know much about Iranian music until I moved to Iran to study Afghan Rubab. But there, one of my friends who is a great musician himself started sharing excellent iranian music for me. Mohammad Reza Lotfi plays the Tar in such a deep way that I felt in love with his music from the first moment. This piece is a great example of his playing.
8. Twais – Samaai Bayat
Gasco: I met the Twais guys when I was living in Syria. They are great musicians, and their interpretation of the pieces they choose in this album is super good. The Samai is one of the most important musical forms in Middle Eastern Music – this one is a contemporary and beautiful one.