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World Music CD Reviews Middle East & North Africa


By Tom Jackson

The Call Of The Oases
Institut du Monde Arabe

The Path Of Ecstasy
Institut du Monde Arabe

Head south of the Atlas Mountains, keep the River Ziz on your left, the Rheris on your right and you'll fall upon a fertile plain. This ancient area of Morocco is the Tafilalet, an oasis of a million trees. The Call Of The Oases is the product of recordings made after a festival held in the town of Erfoud in 2002. Assembled as typical of the regional style and all playing in the local al baldi style, the four featured groups produce intoxicating, openhearted music: the sound of a snitra mandolin keeps time as vocalists offer alternating lines, tumbling one after the other like fruit from a basket. There are unexpected echoes of American bluegrass: banjo and scratchy violin over buzzing percussion reek of a good old hoedown. It's clear: in the middle of nowhere there is something wonderful. The Path Of Ecstasy, meanwhile, is an opportunity to stand at the back of the room and witness the mystic rituals of Sufism. This performance, or sama, features 10 singers of the Shadhiliyya order and three dancers of the Mawlawi, the famous whirling dervishes. Sacred music such as this is difficult to review?Ithere?Js an extent to which it simply is what it is. Enjoyable? Certainly. Fascinating? Very. But probably not a fixture on your stereo. The impressive section in which the chanting becomes faster and faster is threatening--like the child's story in which the tigers run so fast they turn to butter--ultimately ringing out with a single pulsing note.