Eddie Lascu 19-Feb-2009 "Black Flies" + "This Is All There Is, There Is No Other Place"

According to Wikipedia, In Arabic music, Mawwal is a traditional genre of vocal music that is presented before the actual song begins. Throughout Middle East, Mawwal is often used to criticize society and mostly is performed through improvisation. The genre has links to historical forms of Arabic poetry and music and the singer demonstrates his skill with non-metrical melodic improvisation on a poetic narrative text and melody.

And so, when a band is called Mawwal, should surprise no one that the musicians perform original arrangements of traditional Middle Eastern music with a very inventive spirit. Formed in 2000 as an offshoot of Paranoise (a Progressive World Fusion band) around band leader Jim Matus (guitarist, lutist, composer and vocals), Mawwal also includes as full time members Jill O’Brien (vocals), Joe O’Brien (bass) and Mike Keyes (drums). Having toured extensively on the New England world music scene Mawwal releases its first album in 2007.

“Black Flies” is a collection of traditional folk songs from all over Asia and Northern Africa (Libya, Syria, Pakistan, Yemen and Uzbekistan) arranged with original music by Matus. Two songs (“Pyar Ka Diya” and “Ae Jane Man”) are compositions and feature the vocals of the legendary Pakistani singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. Matus has isolated the vocals and wrote new music around Khan’s voice. With the help of a DJ, the songs were then remixed into originals pieces. Other songs on the album feature the Yasna Voices, which is New York’s own Bulgarian Women’s Choir. Central figure to this choir is Vlada Tomova, featured on her own on a couple of songs. The haunting choral arrangements add to the overall lush atmosphere of the music. Other contributions include traditional instruments such as tabla and bansuri flute mixed with violin (Rohan Gregory is mesmerizing), percussion and lots of vocal arrangements. One notable name that is credited on most of the songs is Percy Jones (bass – Brand X, Tunnels).

The follow up from 2008, “This is all there is, There is no other place” picks up where “Black Flies” has left and continues the trip through the dusty roads of Asia and Africa. New traditional songs from Afghanistan, Kurdistan, Pakistan and Sudan are rearranged with original music composed by Matus. Two songs come from a different space: “Ho Gaye” – a Bulgarian folk song and “Mawwaltz” constructed on a melody from “Boogie Woogie Waltz” by Joe Zawinul. Jill O’Brien’ vocals are really spectacular on that last one. The title track includes in the chorus a section of the Lord’s Prayer in Aramaic. Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan appears again on two songs: the opening “Mondanabosh”, a traditional Afghan song and on the closing “Agg Damen”. The band has the same four members, but they get a lot of support from several other musicians, Percy Jones and Rohan Gregory being listed here too.

This is Peter Gabriel’s brand of world fusion music at its best. For fans of Peter Gabriel’s work as well as Youssou N’Dour, Ali Farka Touré or Azigza, if you want a reference closer to home.

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