Sam Shalabi

Sam Shalabi — Eid (Alien8 CD)

Eid (Arabic for “festival”) is Montreal-based Sam Shalabi’s strongest work since his jaw-dropping Osama — a facetious, fiery and poignant reflection on what it means to be “an Arab” in North America post-0911 (“Sam” is short for “Osama” reflecting Shalabi’s Libyan/Egyptian background). Shalabi has explored lines between Arabic and other middle Eastern musics, psychedelia and folk with his touring band The Shalabi Effect for a number of years to considerable effect. Eid was composed during a year recently spent by Shalabi living in Cairo, but recorded in Montreal with contributions from many key figures in Montreal’s alt music scene. Although there are important traces of various musical forms heard in Cairo today, from Arabic classical music through to Egyptian pop and various rock mutations, woven into the complex sound-tapestry of the disk, the sound is experimental and modern, and Shalabi insists that the record is as much a meditation on North America, made by a foreigner living in Cairo, as it “about” Egypt today or “Egyptian music”. The exception that proves the rules here is the opening track, a strong, traditional sounding rumination on the oud, that gives little hint of the uproarious psych freakout of “Jessica Simpson” which follows, complete with a scorching guitar solo from Shalabi. The remarkable “Eid” mixes Arabic strings with a variety of unidentifiable voice recordings of people in varying states of distress and fervor, some recordings from films, others improvised within the studio, conjuring up both a sense of tradition and its violent distortion. There are a number of fine guest vocals too, including a fiery Evangelista style ballad “Billy the Kid” from Elizabeth Anka Vajagic, and strong appearances by Katie Moore and Nick Cave collaborator Lhasa de Sela. Shalabi does not indulge in any easy or obvious position taking when it comes to “ethnic music” or “East and West” — the distortion and collision of musical forms here is both exhilarating and frightening, rendering everything foreign and at the same time a monster entirely of our own making. Diplomacy is replaced by intelligence and the joy of sound: one minute, popular, alternative and classical musical traditions are treated respectfully, the next minute with a great big sonic fart.

Originally published in The Wire, 2008.

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