Various Artists

Choubi Choubi: Folk & Pop Sounds from Iraq, Vol. 1

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The genius of the Sublime Frequencies anthologies -- presenting pop music from a worldwide context without the stuffy museum attitude of "world music" snobbery -- continues with Choubi Choubi!, a collection of Iraqi songs from 1970 forward. Mark Gergis' liner notes provide a fine anchor for a newcomer, briefly but effectively detailing the nature of Iraqi musical life, differing styles, and some important historical context. Gergis identifies a key instrument, a hand drum called a khishba or zanbour, which defines many Iraqi song styles much like the dhol does for bhangra. The fast-paced beats created, or sometimes replicated electronically, are instantly appealing, sometimes almost chaotic in their rush. Some of the selections have outstandingly rich blends of beats and orchestration -- "Yumma, Al Hilou"'s strings create a series of memorable hooks, while the massive echo on "Choubi Choubi," a self-referential love song to a specific genre, adds both ominous and frenetic atmosphere to the percussion. Songs like the brilliantly titled "Oh Mother, the Handsome Man Tortures Me," "Walla," and "Ala Honak" sometimes accelerate suddenly within the space of a second. The amazing instrumental breaks on Bawin's "Ya Binaya Goumi," with what sounds like violin, keyboard, and drums all chasing each other frenetically, have to be heard to be believed. On a different plane, three selections from early-'70s performer Ja'afar Hassan could easily have surfaced on a psych music comp by now, with a sharp Western pop/rock undercurrent mixing easily with the other styles highlighted on the disc. It's a vivid, stirring trio of songs, apparently meant to be anthems for a socialist party and all sounding like they could succeed at their goal. Credit also to the (seemingly backhanded) compliment of the title "Ashhad Biannak Hilou," aka "I Admit You Are Beautiful," which is also easily one of the best songs on a great collection overall.

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