Monday, December 23, 2013

Insan - Twais

Insan (Human, in Arabic) is a great album recorded by Twais, a Syrian quartet belonging to the musical movement that permeated Damascus in the first decade of this century. At the time, every foreign policy wonk and practitioner thought that Bashar Al-Assad would be the guy who'd bring democracy and prosperity to Syria and would influence the rest of the Arab World. Few remember it now, but Barack Obama even tried to broker an Israel-Palestine agreement through Al-Assad. Today, it is clear that we were all wrong (in fairness, it was clear that Obama was wrong on Bashar and Palestine even back in 2008).

Predictably, the band dismembered. Based on the information available online, Essam Rafea (oud) is now touring around the World. It is unclear what happened with Firas Charestan (Qanoon) and with Muslem Rahal (nay). In the case of Rahal, the latest youtube clips date from 2010. There is no presence online of Ragheb Jbel (percussions).

You can still buy the album online on the traditional retail stores, but for all practical purposes, the presence of Twais online has vanished almost completely. This blog lists all the tracks of the album and presents a broken link where the tracks could be download. The website presented on the album's booklet is now full with what I think are Chinese characters. In 2009, shortly after the album went out, some enlightened soul, posted all the tracks on youtube. I can't recommend you enough to take a look at them.

In order to keep the band's memory alive, I can only copy the description available on the booklet:

Twais was the first singer of the Islamic era, and was praised both for the beauty of his voice and his originality, as he introduced Iqaa (beats) into singing in the 7th century. It is Twais' spirit of innovation and originality that the Quartet aspires to and strives to reproduce. The musicians' aim is to create a unique style of music, by investigating the roots of Arab and Oriental Music, with specific focu on instrumental music, and integrating these traditional standards within contemporary forms, by using different musical schools and contemporary compositions. Following the tradition of the classical takht (oriental quartet), the musicians' instruments of choice include the Oud, the Qanoon, the Nay, and percussions.
Created in 2004 by Essam Rafea, the Twais ensemble gathers some of the best musicians of their generation in Syria. It has performed in Syria, the Arab countries, and Europe, and has contributed to records by German accordion player Manfred Leuchter, and the French Baroque music group, Musiques des Lumières XVIII-21, led by Jean-Christophe Frisch.

I sincerely hope the band members haven't been bombed or killed. They are quite good musicians and they are, after all, humans.

This is the last Arabic/Sephardic/Oriental music album I will review in a while. It's time to close the cycle and travel elsewhere...

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