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World Music CD Reviews Middle East & North Africa

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Maqams Of Syria
Arc Music
By ADRIENNE E. GUSOFF

Published April 19, 2006

In 1953, the late Bengali ethnomusicologist Deben Bhattacharya set off from London to India with a battery-powered tape recorder to collect music for lectures. At the time few English had ever heard “ethnic” music, Bhattacharya assuming the role of educator. It quickly became his life’s calling. For the next 40 years he traveled the world, finding, recording, filming and preserving the music of the Middle East, Asia and Central Europe. This collection of flawless live recordings, made in Damascus from the mid-’50s through early ’60s, features traditional instruments such as the oud (lute), qunun (zither) and duff (frame drum), as well as voices of local singers performing age-old songs. In Arabic, maqam literally means “location”; in the musical sense, it represents the starting place for a singer or poet (similar to the Indian raga.)  This is classical Arabic music in its purest, played by accomplished musicians whose legacy would otherwise have been lost to posterity.

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