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World Music CD Reviews Middle East & North Africa

Arabesque Music Ensemble

By Bruce Miller
Published June 6, 2008

The Music Of The Three Musketeers

The music here was originally written by Egyptian musicians Zakariyya Ahmed, Muhammad Al-Qasabji and Riyad Al-Sunbati—all of whom composed for that country’s most famous singer, the legendary Umm Kulthum. However, aside from 75-year-old Syrian vocalist Youssef Kassab and percussionist Michel Merhej Baklouk, the Arabesque Music Ensemble is made up of young musicians living in North America, many of them raised here. The challenge, which they tackle with abandon on this disc, is to keep traditional ensemble music alive without allowing their Western influences into the mix or sounding like a lifeless copy of an older but still vibrant musical style. And with the music on this disc, the storied tradition of Egyptian orchestral music continues even while the ensemble becomes a conduit for Kassab’s voice and direction, the result serves as a reminder that behind the singer, there is the composer, as well as the ensemble, who put this music together.