Israeli musical artist Duda Tassa and legendary Radiohead guitarist Johnny Greenwood release Jarak Qaribak. The album is a love letter to Arabic music that crosses Middle Eastern barriers as it re-imagines Arabic songs and challenges Western ears.
The title translates loosely as “Your neighbour is your friend.” An apt overall summary of what Tassa and Greenwood seek to accomplish with the release. The duo showcase Arabic, Iraqi and Israeli songs performed by various vocalists from numerous areas of the Middle East. Over nine tracks, the duo performs a kind of alchemy blending traditional Arabic instruments with Tassa’s rock sensibilities and Greenwood’s Radioheadesque guitar riffs. The album was produced by the duo and mixed by Nigel Godrich.
Duda Tassa hails from Tel Aviv, Israel and has been a respected figure in Israeli music since childhood. Johnny Greenwood, guitarist for Radiohead, is no stranger to collaborations in the “World Music” area. Greenwood, in 2015 worked with Shye Ben Tzur and the Rajasthan Express on the critically well-received Junun. Mirroring what he had done with Junun, Greenwood, again with Jarak Qaribak, sets the listener on an adventure in an unfamiliar musical setting.
Refreshingly in Greenwood’s side projects, especially his work in the “World Music” genre, he has never acted like some Western saviour revealing other cultures to the “West” but instead lives among the artists allowing them to take centre stage. On Jarak Qaribak again, he takes this approach blending into the musical production and producing compelling work. Although he is familiar with the sonics of Middle Eastern music due to living at times in Israel with his Israeli wife, artist Sharona Katan, he still found himself challenged by the Arabic musical scales. Throughout the album, he is careful to convey the essence of the regional music without appropriating it or being condescending. He respects the genre without taking away the passion or energy of the sonics.
Jarak Qaribak opens with the magnificent “Djit Nishrab”, which perfectly combines the exotic nature of the track with a tense violin motif that, if listened to closely, harkens to Radiohead’s track “Burn the Witch” as it laments a love gone wrong. “Ashufak Shay” is the lead track of the album. Safae Essafi performs the song and is a definite entryway into the beauty of this release. It doesn’t take long to get enthralled by the sonic power of the song with its dramatic piano.
The track that lodged in my memory is “Taq Ou Dub”, sung by Nour Freteikh, a taunting/defiant love song. It is loaded with drum machines and techno samples. It also does not matter that most listeners will not understand the lyrics. The vocalist perfectly conveys the tone. “Leylet Hub” displays choral harmonies that amaze, while “Ahibak” transforms a yearning ballad into a hopeful romance with dollops of synth-funk. For those with a keen ear, “Ya Anid Ya Yaba”- a Jordanian Folk song, marries a Radiohead King of Limbs layered percussion with Tassa’s synthesizer treatments to produce a stand-out track of true musical mastery.
Duda Tassa takes on the vocals for the Moroccan song “Lhla Yzid Ikthar”, singing in a language he doesn’t speak, producing an impressive track. The pair showcases the rewritten tracks throughout the album, uplifting the original compositions.
Jarak Qaribak is a musical journey, providing a sample of engaging music originating from Jordan, Israel, Algeria, Egypt and Morocco. It is a gateway to investigating more of the music that comes from the region. The release looks to display the beguiling idea of what would happen if the disharmony that abounds in the region was quelled, and instead, the stellar musical vibe was allowed to come to the forefront.
Tassa and Greenwood tempt the listener to ponder what was and what could be without getting caught in the political turmoil that has existed in the region for way too long. Both deserve credit for creating an alluring creation. The album is a courageous journey recommended for the musically adventurous willing to take on a challenge off the beaten path.