Arabesque Music Ensemble
By Blaine Schultz
Umm Kulthum was a very popular Arabic vocalis; in her beautiful and powerful voice, she performed songs composed for her by a trio of talented men. Zakariyya Ahmad, Muhammad al-Qasabji and Riyad al-Sunbati are known as the Three Musketeers. This album is made up of tunes written in the 1930s and 1940s – some of which were originally recorded for movies. This is not a reissue, but a contemporary project of the Chicago-based Arabesque Music Ensemble. It is a tribute to the composers.
For these recordings, the ensemble worked with 75-year-old vocalist Youssef Kassab, who transcribed the original recordings. While most of the group members are in their 20s and 30s (and have recorded with Shakira and Beyonce), they sought to recreate the vibe of the original era. The Three Musketeers were traditionalists for the most part, but added touches of Western influene – hence the appearance of cello alongside ‘ud and qanun. Liner note translation of the lyrics speak of sacred and secular devotion and patriotism – love in its many forms. What stands out is the care the musicians took with this music. Lilting melodies glide and rage with ease.
The Arabesque Music Ensemble performs February 5 at the DeKoven Center in Racine.