“Orient” has been used to reference many things throughout history, and the compilation “Orient Noir” makes the term all the more disorienting.
Geographically, the word is used here to indicate a region east of Western Europe, especially North Africa and the Near and Middle East (but not Far East Asia, which “Orient” commonly implies). And “Orient Noir” uses broad strokes to include performers from Zanzibar, Egypt, Israel, Lebanon and more, singing in languages including Arabic, English, French, Hebrew, Ladino and Swahili.
The music is exotic, with chants and Nubian wedding dance music presented with acoustic and electronic instruments. Yet Westerners might swear they hear something akin to a New Orleans funeral dirge (Susan Sandler’s “Shalom Aleykhem”), an Irish jig (Emil Zrihan’s “Maka Shelishit“) and mournful mariachi (Frank London & Boban Markovic’s “Doin’ the Oriental 1”).
Confusing, but fitfully compelling.
Elsewhere, “Orient Noir” hits captivating highs with flute and hypnotic rhythm on both Mahmoud Fadl’s “ The 2nd Night in Mohamed’Ali Street” and Ihsan Al-Mounzer’s “Ali’s Nay,” plus Watcha Clan’s take on Ofra Haza’s Yeminite hymn “Im Nin’Alu” is presented in two bewitching ways — an abbreviated, somber version and a longer, wobbly-electronic rendition.
With so many languages flying around, it’s hard to determine if there is an overriding lyrical theme, though The Klezmatics’ military-drum-driven, folkie/gospelish “I Ain’t Afraid” is pointed with its English lines: “I ain’t afraid of your Yahweh, I ain’t afraid of your Allah, I ain’t afraid of your Jesus ... I’m afraid of what you do in the name of your god.”
Overall, the 14-track collection is eclectic, offbeat and randomly engaging.
And as for what the “Noir” part of “Orient Noir” means, well, listeners are really left in the dark on that one.
Rating: 3.5 stars (out of five)
© 2012, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
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