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- Published on Monday, 29 August 2011 05:00
- Category: Artist Profile
What do you call music that refuses to define itself? Anything. Or nothing. That’s just how the New York-based band Shusmo likes it.
Named after the Arabic phrase for “whatchamacallit,” the quintet, formed in 2000 by Palestinian-born Tareq Abboushi, breaks the boundaries between both Western and Arab music with one aim – to define a new genre of Arabic music “that winds past all the barriers dividing Arabic maqam from down-and-dirty funk, Latin spark, and swinging jazz.”
With the recent release of their sophomore album Mumtastic, the influences of both cultures, from Arabic tunes to Led Zeppelin and the Beatles, are not only clear, but seamless. “What I’m working towards is an alternative Arabic music,” Abboushi explained in the band’s recent press release. “Now, you’re either sitting listening to classical music or you’re dancing to pop in a club. And there’s too little in between. We need something that works like Stevie Wonder that has soul and musicality and that you can also move to.”
The album opens with “Longa Nakreez,” a song based in classical Turkish form that features intricate riffing between a grunged-out buzug (a pear-shaped, fretted Arabic lute with three double strings) and a shredding clarinet in place of what’s typically played by the electric guitar. “The Time It Takes” plays out like a fugue, where a short melody is introduced by one instrument, then repeats itself through the other instruments that then develop the melody by interweaving their parts. “Georgina +2” starts off as an Arabic song, then midway through breaks down into a trade-off between Arab and Latin percussion. “Samba for Maha” is a samba, while “Rasty George” is in rast, a basic scale in Arabic music. On a political note, “The Wall” looks at the contradictions that surround the wall that separates Palestinians from Israelis. The album’s closing track, “Dal-Ona,” adds funk stylings to a traditional Levantine song that accompanies a popular Middle Eastern line dance call dabke.
The group itself is as diverse as the music it plays, with members from Palestine, Greece, Peru, and the United States. Although he's been playing piano since the age of five, Abboushi himself didn't take up Arabic music until his first year of college, when he studied buzuq at the Edward Said National Conservatory of Music in Palestine. He then moved to New York to study jazz piano performance at William Patterson University.
“I listened to a little bit of classical Arab music - not that much when I was back home,” he told NPR’s Weekend Edition. “There was a lot of classical Western music in the house, obviously, because my mother taught piano. And when you’re in town, when you’re in a taxi, when you’re in the marketplace, you're going to hear lots of Arabic and classical Arabic music and whatever was "Pop" at the time.”
Taking on their synthesis is no easy task, especially because Western music is driven by chords while Arabic music is driven by melody. “You can have harmony between different lines, but it’s not the harmonic progressions that move things forward. You’re just writing lines that weave together and create harmony between them. Melodies interact with each other dynamically and keep things rolling.”
It’s this type of forward movement that drives Shusmo to use music as an illustration of Palestinian life, “both the quirky world of the exile and the confusing and heart-wrenching state of affairs back home,” says Abboushi.
“This kind of creative expression was dormant for too long. But there’s an Arabic cultural scene that’s been on the rise on many levels, from stand-up comedy to film to conceptual art. I’m very happy to see that such a creative cultural movement is growing and I’m proud that Shusmo is part of it.”
By Aslan Media Contributor, Safa Samiezade-Yazd
Photo Used with Permission