Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Anouar Brahem - The Astounding Eyes of Rita

The work of the Tunisian oud player and composer Anouar Brahem was first brought to my attention a couple of years ago by my good friend Abdel Halim El Hachimi over at Tales From Bradistan. The album recommended to me was "Voyage de Sahar" (2005). A truly beautiful recording and a revelation to me. It's simple but effective arrangements were based around the oud, piano and accordion. To me that album was, and still is one of the most atmospheric and enchanting albums I have ever heard. For me a desert island disc, no doubt. Not far behind that was "Le Pas du Chat Noir" (2001) featuring the same musicians and instrumentation. Exploring Brahem's work further on his previous recordings, I discovered that this artist is not one who sticks to the same formula. Most of his albums will of course feature the oud as lead instrument which lends itself to a middle eastern sound, but that sound with different musicians can be interweaved easily with anything from clarinet, violin, soprano saxophone, double-bass or more traditional middle eastern instruments such as the nay to create a different feel and vibe on each album, but still underpinned with a very distinctive sound, with almost a brooding haunting feel. Don't expect to be able to dance to any of Anouar Brahem's music, but expect to be moved.

This album "The Astounding Eyes of Rita" - like the recordings mentioned above, are on the ECM label. There have been some wonderful releases on this label recently such as Vassilis Tsabropoulos - "The Promise" and Jon Balke & Amina Alaoui - "Siwan". The musicians on this disc work with Brahem for the first time and they are: Klaus Gesing - bass clarinet, Björn Meyer - bass and Khaled Yassine on darbuka and bendir. The album is not as immediate as "Voyage de Sahar" or "Le Pas du Chat Noir", but much more accesaible than earlier albums like "Conte de L'incroyable Amour" or "Barzakh". "...Rita" begins to make sense after two or three plays and it is definitely one of the best new albums that I have encountered in recent months, and there has been a lot of good stuff around.

It's hard to pick highlights on this, but my current favourites are "The Lover Of Beirut", "Al Birwa", "Galilee Mon Amour" and the album's amazing title track, which there is a clip of below.


  1. Thanks for the heads-up young man and I enjoyed your review (I hope to add my own when I can get round to it). This CD is a great work indeed, not as immediate as those 2 key albums you mention, but subsequent listen means that it slowly starts to reveal its depth and beauty. I am listening to it almost daily right now but I still feel that I do not know it one bit.

  2. By the way big man, the album is "astounding" not "astonishing" ;-)