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Dhafer Youssef: Sounds of Mirrors — intricate and sensuous

Dhafer Youssef: Sounds of Mirrors — intricate and sensuous

December 01
19:52 2018

The Tunisian vocalist and oud player Dhafer Youssef steeps his compositions in the modes and rhythms of the Middle East. On this album, melodies curl round the sensuous contours of an Arabic scale or dance lightly over low-register drones while intricate rhythmic structures are played with a strong pulse, making them easy on the ear.

If this were the sum total of Youssef’s music, we could still celebrate his remarkable voice and authenticity. But by taking other genres on board, the Tunisian does much more.

His much-praised previous album, Diwan of Beauty and Odd, twinned his mesmeric musicianship with sharp-edged American modernism, and his emotionally charged vocals with poignant Ambrose Akinmusire trumpet. This album is accented by the ragas and rhythms of Indian music, and Youssef’s searing falsettos and mellow lower range now blend equally seamlessly with Husnu Senlendirici’s clarinet.

The set was originally conceived to celebrate tabla player Zakir Hussain, and it is the whump and rattle of his drumming that gives the album its urgency and drive. Turkish clarinettist Senlendirici follows the flow with microtonal lyricism and echoes Youssef’s vocal lines. But with Norwegian guitarist Eivind Aarset bridging rhythm and lead with synthesised textures and slabs of sound, the album’s centre of gravity changes.

The programme opens and closes with tabla-free tributes to Hussain. The first, “Humankind” meditates over a dense Aarset drone, the second, “Good Morning Mumbai,” glows with the warmth of the rising sun. Tablas enter with an insistent throb on “Dance Layan Dance”, a helter-skelter mood-piece inspired by Youssef’s daughter.

As the set progresses, broody contemplations morph to zippy oud riffs, the restless pulse of “Journey in Bergama” features gentle Aarset strums and a four-part suite winds from peaceful devotional soundscape to sedately orchestrated dance. “Ruby Like Wine”, written for Sheikh Muhammed Omran, builds to a perfectly pitched Youssef falsetto, and is the standout vocal track.


Sounds of Mirrors’ is released by Anteprima

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