Sunday, 11 September 2011

***Omar Khorshid - Guitar El Chark (Psychedelic,Egyptian Belly-Dance World music '73-'77 compilation 2010)***

Omar Khorshid is one of the greatest middle eastern electric guitarists, with a tone like spun gold and the chops to shred with the best of them. Born in Egypt, he cut his teeth in the underground rock clubs of Cairo in the 1960s. Eventually, he ended up working with the cream of the Egyptian musical crop, playing in the bands of such legendary figures as Oum Kalthoum, Abdel Halim Hafez, and Mohammed Abdel Wahab. Through his work with these singers, Khorshid introduced Western-style electric guitar into traditional Arab music.

But Khorshid was more than just a groundbreaking guitarist, he was also a bona fide movie star and soundtrack composer. He spent much of the 1970s in Lebanon and Syria and released a slew of wonderful music from blazing reverb-saturated versions of middle eastern classics to weird western lounge tunes. He died in a car accident in 1981 at the tender age of 36 shortly after his return to Egypt and the release his most acclaimed film, The Fortuneteller.

In recent years there’s been a minor surge of interest in Khorshid’s music in the West, but the music has been somewhat hard to come by. One of his most notable fans is Sun City Girls founder and eminently venerable guitarist Sir Richard Bishop. Bishop’s last album, The Freak of Araby, with its eccentric surf guitar along the Nile sound, bears Khorshid’s unmistakable (and thoroughly acknowledged) influence.

Until this welcome 2xLP set on Alan Bishop’s Sublime Frequencies label, Khorshid’s music has not been easy to find outside of Egypt, Lebanon and Syria. Guitar El Chark collects instrumental recordings that Khorshid made in Beirut from 1973-1977, which was one of the most prolific and creative periods of his short career. The collection centers on music by Arabic composers, ranging from traditional songs to tunes by contemporary songwriters like Nour al Malah and Khorshid himself. The playing is peerless: Khorshid’s reverb-mad middle eastern surf guitar mixed with intricate hand percussion, serpentine accordion and sci-fi synth sounds. Some of the finest moments come when Khorshid lets loose on the Moog, injecting a singularly alien glow over the proceedings — this is perhaps most notable on the scintillatingly propulsive title track. But even on a more straightforwardly sensuous song like "Habitaty (My Beloved)," Khorshid’s guitar work is out of this world.

My one quibble with this excellent collection is that it presents a unnecessarily narrow picture of Khorshid’s work by not including any non-arabic covers, a few of which, such as his cover of the Gershon Kingsley chestnut "Pop Corn," are truly inspired.

- Dusted

These performances exhibit all the wonderful possibilities of playing authentic late 20th-century Middle Eastern and belly dance music on what is considered primarily a Western instrument. All facets of Khorshid's musical genius are on display here. Many of the selections, intentionally or not, have a strong psychedelic aspect to them, especially the mind-blowing title track, "Hebbina Hebbina," "Ah Ya Zaman," "Kariaat El Fengan," "Sidi Mansour" (the Middle Eastern "Interstellar Overdrive"?), "Raqset El Fada," and the ethereal "Taksim Sanat Alfeyn." A distinct science fiction element can be heard on the final two tracks, as the respective translations of their titles -"Dance of Space" and "Music of the Year 2000" - would suggest. Other pieces such as "Wadil Muluk" and "Rahbaniyat" are showcases for Khorshid's lightning fingers, while "Sabirine" practically drips with reverb. "Ommil Habiba," "Raksat El Kheyl," "Solenzara," "Habibaty," and "Warakat Ya Nassib" display the more laid back and sensitive side of the guitarist, and what they lack in pyrotechnics they more than make up for with exquisiteness. "Arrabia'h" and "Enta Omri" rank as the most purely Middle Eastern-sounding numbers, especially with the "Cifte Telli" section in the latter. The instrumentation throughout this album typically consists of Khorshid on guitar, an electric keyboard, synthesizer or accordion player, and one or more percussionists on hand drums. The synth work occasionally gets a little out of hand on certain tracks that at times border on Middle Eastern disco, but this is a very minor quibble on what is otherwise a consistently extraordinary listening experience.

1. Guitar El Chark (Guitar of the Orient)
2. Wadil Muluk (Valley of the Kings)
3. Sabirine
4. Ommil Habiba (Mother, My Dearest)
5. Hebbina Hebbina (Love Us Like We Love You)
6. Rahbaniyat (Rahbani Variations)
7. Ah Ya Zaman (For Old Time's Sake)
8. Kariaat El Fengan (Fortune Teller)
9. Arrabia'h (The Spring)
10. Sidi Mansour (Master Monsour)
11. Raksat El Kheyl (Dance of the Horses)
12. Solenzara
13. Enta Omri (You Are My Life)
14. Habibaty (My Beloved)
15. Raqset El Fada (Dance of Space)
16. Warakat Ya Nassib (Lottery Ticket)
17. Taksim Sanat Alfeyn (Music of the Year 2000)
18. Record Company Promo Spot