For the last eight years Jerusalem In My Heart has been blending electronic music, contemporary Arab music and immersive film projections, but this is the first album they have ever recorded. In the past, group founder Radwan Ghazi Moumneh was not interested in a definitive recording; JIMH is meant to be a live experience. The film projection aspect is more than just video, as film artist Malena Szlam Salazar uses up to six 16 mm film projectors to play with space and light wherever a performance takes place. And while concerts may involve just the three core members, the group has a lot of friends in Montreal so it wouldn’t be unusual to have thirty or more people on stage. No two performances are alike.
How does an artistic project that is so shape-shifting translate to an album? The opening snap of vocals on Mo7it Al-Mo7it sound less like a prayer, and more a warning. My Arabic is pretty clumsy, and I don’t know what Moumneh is singing about, but the high amount of reverb recognizes an immediate relationship between Western and Eastern audio climates. The simmering drones and synths that soon accompany the multiplying vocals reveal a psychedelic bent, one that refuses to be put in a box as each song further unfolds. Moumneh spends three months of the year in Lebanon, working in the local experimental music scene, and while I’ve heard musicians of Lebanese descent mixing instruments and styles before (Claude Chalhoub is nice, albeit a quite new agey), this album is the first that is purely transformative to my ears, and absolutely unique.
It’s a true delight to come across an album whose disparate cultural starting points are written on the wall but sound completely natural together. Second track “3andalib Al-Furat” is a peaceful drift down a river. Many birds join in while Moumneh dreamily plays acoustic buzuk, zurna and piano. These gentle ten minutes assuage the echoing conjunction of sounds on the first track, as if we have escaped massive civilization, revealing the smells and sounds from a smaller, cobblestoned Lebanese village. Then the third movement enters in “Yudaghdegh El-ra3ey Walal-Ghanam” (or “He titillates the shepherd but not the sheep”), a cascade of bioluminescent synth staircases and gentle but urgent vocals. And oh, those harmonies! They are divine, sounding a lot like those that Maynard Keenan uses quite a lot in Tool’s holier moments. They behave like candlelight on a night with no moon. This is one of those pieces of music that is surprisingly short considering how time-expanding it feels.
Each track is a portal into the next, and a balance between the blown-out electronic sounds and the more holistic instruments is truly achieved. The peace of the songbirds and river appears once more before the mesmerizing “Ko7l El-3ein, 3emian El-3ein” takes us to the pinnacle of the story, with an electric guitar played in a scale fitting of a cross-desert voyage. Here the guitar is like the hero’s stallion as Moumneh rides it through the final two tracks, the latter of which is a compelling conversation between horse and rider whose ending is haunting and powerful.
Inspired by the book Al-Muhit al Muhit (“The Ocean of Oceans”) by the innovative Lebanese renaissance educator Butrus al-Boustani, Mo7it Al-Mo7it and all its song titles are written as if you were typing in Arabic on your mobile phone. Embracing a culturally unifying text and texting from one side of the world to the other is a bizarre pairing that is now part of our reality. No doubt the difference in patience and care required for these two things is about as vast as the ocean, and Jerusalem In My Heart’s debut record is a reflection of much care and patience in the face of this fretful age of the cheap and easy. It is a rock and roll gem among the pallid detritus known as “world fusion music.” This album has a mature and unbridled energy that defies classification, and I cannot recommend it enough. (Nayt Keane)
Release date: 19 March