Part of Rounder's Anthology of World Music series, this album focuses on the religious vocal traditions of Lebanon. There are three traditions that are followed in the compilation: the Matawila Shiites, and Hanafi Sunnites, and the Druse. The recordings were made throughout Lebanon in 1972 as part of Alain Daniélou's grand vision of the archives of traditional music worldwide, and were recently transferred to digital format. The album opens with a Druse funeral ceremony, with solo vocals from Sheikh Yussef Ali Abul Hosn and a small chorus of sheikhs performing in the background during certain passages. The laments are intentionally extravagantly heartfelt and emotionally powerful to the listener. This aim is achieved admirably with the intensity of the Sheikh. It moves into the music of the Matawila Shiites next, with an individualized supplication prayer recitation by Djafar Nureddin, followed by an invocation on behalf of Qumeil ibn Ziyad. The performer on these works is a layman, but is often asked to perform in official capacities due to his abilities. It's certainly worth hearing at any rate. The final portion involves three pieces from the Hanafi Sunnites in Tripoli: an adhan, a supplication, and a hymn. The adhan is a strictly structured call to prayer that is perhaps the best known (and most common) example of Islamic music, though it technically falls outside of the category of music within the Shari'a. The vocals are based strongly around a single note area, with movement to other ranges done only very slowly. There are certainly nuances between the adhan of the Tripoli mosque featured here and any number of others, with the verses differing depending on the sect performing. The supplicatory prayer is a much more emotional outburst, with improvisation being the key factor in its creation. The final piece, the "Muashshah," is a group hymn, similar in some ways to the vocal forms used by the Sufis or the Bosnian Muslims. It's a powerful setting with a chorus of unison chanters/singers performing quite well for the album. Overall, it's definitely a worthwhile venture for an hourlong journey through the vocal traditions of a trio of sects. Pick it up for a listen.
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AllMusic Review by Adam Greenberg