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A Tribute to Om Kalsoum

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Album Review

This is an oddity, but one I cannot live without. For the uninitiated, Om Kalsoum was the it voice in Arabic music for the better part of the last half of the 20th century. She was revered by musicians of every stripe and had reportedly performed on not only the world's stages, but also on at least 750 film soundtracks as a singer and composer. Knowing full well that using a vocalist to fill in for her on a tribute record would be pointlessly inadequate, a host of the finest musicians from the region got together under the direction of Movses Panossian and recorded nine of her best-known selections instrumentally. This features an orchestra of 16 musicians, including a five-piece violin section that features no less a maestro than Aziz George and kawal player Abdalla Hlmi. The set opens with the hauntingly beautiful "Hayyarti Albi," moving through modes and droning scales with languorous beauty and mournful emotion. This is a bittersweet piece that has at its heart grief, longing, and the determination to continue despite it all. Also included is the dance "Ina Omri," a wedding dance with a lyric line that defies categorization. This is classical Arabic music that delves deep into high ceremony and yet retains its connection with the common people — as all of Kalsoum's music does. Of the nine selections here there isn't one that does not induce deep emotional and spiritual feelings, or awe the listener with its astonishing musicianship. This is, despite the lack of Kalsoum's enigmatic voice, a fitting tribute to her legacy of enchanting, beguiling music.

A Tribute to Om Kalsoum, Cairo Orchestra
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