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Choubi Choubi! Folk & Pop Sounds From Iraq
Sublime Frequencies

Rating: 9/10 ?

January 9, 2006
World music from a specific country is like a river running through the alluvial floodplain of the communal fruition of cultural forms. The Sublime Frequencies label has been collecting sights and sounds from around the world with the intent of shedding some light on the unknown cultural works from non-Western countries. Without proper recordings, these forms of art, culture and tradition have a rather unfortunate tendency to disappear. Fortunately, Sublime Frequencies have taken up the cause with their catalogue of field recordings, found sounds, and all other means of capturing the essence of a people or a region. Compiled by Mark Gergis, this collection of folk and pop songs from Iraq is a notable one, especially in the face of Iraq's impending Westernization and national reform.

First off, let's clarify the concept that the title encloses: choubi is an Iraqi musical style which puts an incantatory rhythm at the forefront of the musical mantra, and which sometimes includes double reeded instruments, a menacing bass, tribal percussion, disarranged keyboards, and even fiddles and oud (this being an instrument of northern Africa and southwest Asia that resembles a lute).

According to Sublime Frequencies, other traditional styles augmenting the reach of choubi's signature beat are the basta (an urban style from Baghdad), the bezikh (there's even a song called "Segue Bezikh"), the hecha, and the mawal ("a vocal improv that sets the tone of a song, regardless of the style"). And there's also the syncopated work of a unique nomadic hand drum called a khishba, or zanbour, which is the Arabic word for "wasp".

Three of the 16 cuts on Choubi Choubi! are taken from Ja'afar Hassan's 1970s album Let's Sing Together, and those are without doubt the most menacing tracks in the record, although they perfectly glue together with the rest. The important thing is that you can tell whenever Hassan is singing, be it the notable opener "They Taught Me," the in-your-face "Front My Hope," or the beautiful "Palestinian", which resonates with the energy of the Iraqi Socialist movement, which Ja'afar Hassan was very active with until the arrival, just a few years later, of Saddam Hussein.

Some of these songs are not credited to any specific author. One half of the record is indeed of unknown origin, which adds a mysticism to the whole endeavor. Being relegated to anonymity, cuts like "Oh Mother, the Handsome Man Tortures Me" or "Ahl Al Aqi (Oh, People of Reason)" acquire a fascinating state that elicits concern for the singer's plight from collective being. The interesting thing about this release, besides its obvious autochthonous importance, is the politically informed core of every song. Most of the music collected here was produced during the Saddam period, i.e. between 1980s and 2002.

Selected from Iraqi cassettes and LPs found in Syria, Europe and even the Iraqi neighbourhoods of Detroit, Michigan, Choubi Choubi! is a traditional journey through a little fraction of the Arabic world, which utilizes the political subtext to sow a message in the listener's head. Never mind the arcane film scores of the video games that squeeze their guts so hard to sound authentic, for this is the real deal. Sure a misinformed neighbour of yours may mistake you for a terrorist whenever the record is pumping, but that's the price you'll have to pay.

Reviewed by Helder Gomes
Currently living on the south bank of the Tagus river, in Portugal, Helder Gomes is a working class hero. He is a journalist for the local radio station Rádio Nova Anten. In his spare time, he skates and watches many odd movies. He is in love with the French nouvelle vague, and the Danish/Swedish invasion. He writes for a number of publications, on the Internet or otherwise, notably the underground Portuguese magazine Mondo Bizarre, and the Jazz Review website. He is also the news collector and a staff witer for the adorable Lost at Sea. Oh, and there is also the Coffee Breakz radio show that he tries to host every Saturday.

See other reviews by Helder Gomes



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