By: Greg Gargiulo
For those thirsty for a truly different cup of tea and willing enough to let senses wander to far reaches, steep up a cup of Eliyahu & The Qadim Ensemble's Eastern Wind (Embarka Records). Rooted deep underground from centuries of musical tradition passed down like sacred heirlooms through generations, the music produced by this collective is as natural as the flora and fauna native to the Middles Eastern region it comes from.
Bringing together a broad expanse of indigenous instruments - many of which are unidentifiable to the average layperson's ear - Eliyahu and the Qadim (pronounced ka-deem) Ensemble stitch together an offering of traditional and modern pieces that have traces to many divergent spots throughout the Middle East, including Arabia, Armenia, Israel, Morocco, Turkey, Egypt and Yemen. The featured musicians, hailing from both Jewish and Arabic faiths, combine their best efforts for the cause of musical and societal harmony, and though the backgrounds from which it's created don't originate from one specific location, the ultimate intention of the album is unified as it strives to unite people and engender peace.
The Eastern Wind project came as the result of Eliyahu Sills, a renowned flautist of the bansuri and the ney, two types of flutes from the North Indian and Middle Eastern regions, respectively, leading a group of accomplished and like-minded musicians from the San Francisco Bay Area. They formed the Qadim Ensemble as an outlet for producing an eclectic style of music that blended each of their endemic musical tongues, and chose the name Qadim because it translated to "ancient" and "that which will come" in both Arabic and Hebrew. By this process, they bridge the gaps of disparate language, music and culture and marry them together in an all-encompassing and highly hypnotizing whole at the center.
"Maghrebi," which gets bumping right away, features some of the strongest percussion on Wind, with the darbuka, dhola and Moroccan tablas all converging in a head-nodding rhythm and the bendir shaking steadily, as Eliyahu's vocals match with the oud and kalimba to keep it sensual and vibrant. The instrumental "Oh Yeah" is navigated by the rise and fall, back and forth exchanges of the oud at the backdrop and the bansuri at the volatile forefront, at times traveling to majestic highs and then sinking back down into the sand.
The gentle closer, "Til'et Ya Mahla Nurha," an Egyptian number, is one of many tracks that showcase the piercing vocals of Rachel Valfer as she seems to lament the struggles and hardship that plague the homes of musicians present. The solace offered by her voice and the progression of these native styles is, as they state, targeted at quelling the strife by finding musical middle ground. "Desert Dub" most likely represents the most modern-sounding track, and it possesses an epic grandeur that paints strokes of history as it unfolds with each blow of the bansuri, strum of the oud and pound of the dhola. As these many discordant styles mesh without notice into a uniformed whole, they incur new life as lucid as some of them were originated as much 800 years ago. Using that rebirth, these passages can span both time as well as place, and they're able to lay new fertile ground, where not only the instruments involved here but all in existence can play without discrimination or interruption for the sake of universal communion.
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