Constellation is having another banner year, with first-half albums by Matana Roberts, Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Colin Stetson and Sarah Neufeld already making an impact. Their next hit comes from the fiery international duo Jerusalem In My Heart. Even more remarkable than the fact that they don’t sound like a duo is that the music is made by only one (Radwan Ghazi Moumneh), while his partner Charles-Andre Coderre contributes the visuals that form an integral part of the live set. Guest stars do appear, but never more than two at a time.
The music is in turns pensive, angry and frenzied. While the lyrics are in Arabic, translations are available, referencing hope, betrayal and accusation, culminating in the timely question, “Oh, what’s the matter with you, Syria?” Such politics are hidden to the common Western listener, but expose veins of conflict in the Arab mindset. Not everyone is dangerous, but neither is everyone benign.
Perhaps the best facet of the album is its continued movement away from the Buddha Bar sound that marred so many interpretations of Arabic music. The common assumption was that it was played only in temples, for meditation or for holy dancing. Confronting such stereotypes with heartfelt playing, Moumneh offers an alternative take on world music: not the blandness of new age, but the sharp edges of cultural difference. Sure, there’s dance music here (“Lau Ridyou Bil Hijaz”), but of a much more authentic nature than Westerners are accustomed to hearing. No, we are not all the same.
The buzuk (long-necked lute) features strongly, demonstrating the expansion of timbre that can occur when even one underused instrument is integrated into a modern rock structure. Bansuri flute makes an appearance as well. Ironically, the biggest impact is felt on album highlight “Qala Li Kafa Kafa Kafa Kafa Kafa Kafa (To Me He Said Enough Enough Enough Enough Enough Enough)”, as a contact mike in Moumneh’s mouth produces a loud, dark drone. What seems initially like a risk turns out to pay huge dividends, as the piece grows devastating in scope. It’s the greatest example of the duo’s desire to put everything on the table: Arabic history, sociological disgust, ancient instruments and electronics. Blasts of white noise nearly drown everything in their wake, yet the buzuk survives the onslaught. It’s as if to say that cultures can indeed survive modernity, and valuable messages can be heard above the din. Beauty lies in the heart of noise, if only we have the ears to discern it. (Richard Allen)
Release date: 4 September