NOTE: Unfortunately, I could not find any videos for this music. Wait for the end, though. I have a surprise.
Fact 1: Arabic music utilizes a kind of musical tuning totally different from Western music that is divided into 24 tones instead of 12; so trying to play Arabic music on Western instruments is, with very rare exceptions, just silly. Fact(ish) 2: Most piano music to come from the Middle East these days is, to put it nicely, very simple and New-Agey, presumably because they don’t understand how to make the Western temperament work well, much like how white people don’t seem to fully understand the Arabic temperament, or even know of its existence, so both sides use a watered down version of the foreign temperament. As an Egyptian-American, I love music from both worlds but I think the crossovers are too cheesy to be taken seriously. In fact, the whole Egyptomania thing, not just in music but in general, has never made sense to me. So hearing an album like this was a huge revelation for me.
Le Piano dans la Musique Arabe is exactly what it sounds like it is (if you know a little French, that is). It’s old recordings of Arabic music that feature the piano. Unlike the folksy and corny piano music coming from the Middle East today, this music sounds totally authentic. I was shocked to learn that Western instruments could actually make music like this. And these guys have a very good touch. Everyone on the record is Egyptian (Cairene, to be exact) and these recordings were made in the 1910’s. This is the kind of music that you would hear if you were in a shisha bar. Most of the people on this record, like Abdallah Chachine and Mohammed El-Kourd, I have never heard of before while some, like Mohammed Abdel-Wahab, are more notable and enduring figures in Egyptian pop music.
Most of the album is the piano by itself but sometimes the piano joins up with another traditional Middle Eastern instrument like the ney (I think that’s a ney) on “Faraqouni.” Basically, think of an Egyptian/Arab equivalent to Thelonious Monk playing in a bar and that’s what the record sounds like. The album has a lot of taqsims on it. A taqsim is a style of free improvisation, metered or unmetered and usually solo, that traditionally follows from a composition.
Oh, and, like most brilliant Arabic music, it’s great for pot. Just thought I’d throw that out there…
Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a physical or digital copy of this album for sale ANYWHERE. I couldn’t even find it on the Internet after a search that probably lasted a good two hours. The way I got this record was my dad finding it in an audiophile’s house somewhere in France. He claims that it’s available on iTunes and Amazon France but I couldn’t find it in either of those places. I even looked in every music shop that I found the last time I was in Cairo and didn’t find it. Even the most knowledgeable guys that I found looked at me like I was crazy when I brought this album up. I’m assuming it’s only available in France. I even looked up the label, Les Artistes Arabes Associes, and even though their discography is partially visible, this particular album doesn’t seem to show up anywhere.
Now, I understand that it’s really maddening and anti-climatic to write about a rare album only to reveal that it’s seemingly nowhere to be found outside France and that my dad and I seem to have the only copy. So I have a surprise gift for all of you: a free digital copy of Le Piano dans la Musique Arabe! Normally, I wouldn’t do this but because it’s so hard to find, I’m making an exception. If today is your birthday, consider this a birthday gift from us at Rhyme of the Unheard. If not, then Happy (insert random obscure holiday that happens to be today or a holiday that you made up for the occasion)!
Here it is: http://www.mediafire.com/?90jy6zux3yp5fuk
If you’re having trouble, feel free to write me: email@example.com