Muhammad Hakim / Zâwiya Hilaliya

Sufi Chanting From Syria: Dhikr Qâdirî Khâlwatî

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Every Friday afternoon in Jalhoum, a neighborhood of the old city of Aleppo, Syria, the Sufi cantors of the zâwiya hilaliya (the prayer room) sing the Dhikr Qâdirî Khâlwatî, a Muslim ceremony consisting of a trance-inducing remembrance of God. Mystical in essence, exhilarating when performed with the intended fervor (and including body movements and breathing designed to induce hyperventilation), the Dhikr is one of the most captivating forms of religious music Islam has to offer. Here, Muhammad Hakim leads ten singers in the prayers and chants that usually constitute the ceremony. Recorded at the fifth Festival de l'Imaginaire (France), this is not the ceremony itself, as the spiritual leader of the congregation declined the invitation, but the performance doesn't appear to lose anything from its lack of official sanctity. The songs are heartwarming, their melodies contagious. The drone produced by the repetition of certain sentences by some members of the group provides a hypnotic backdrop that pushes the music to stunning climaxes. The 18-minute "Maqsûm" is irresistible in its ecstatic drive, yielding an inspired solo from Hakim before grinding to a halt. The singers are unaccompanied, except for Hakim's occasional handclapping or frame drum, but the richness of the vocal arrangements (which hold more than a passing similarity to Gregorian chant) and the powerful delivery would make any other instrumental contribution sound feeble in comparison. This truly is an astounding album. The sound quality is excellent.

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