Yusuf Omar

Irak: Les Maqams de Bagdad (Iraq: The Maquams of Baghdad)

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This disc is a re-release of a recording made in 1972, with the addition of one maqam that brings the original length of 41 minutes up to 52. The sound quality is professional, as one expects from Ocora, but dated. Some of the instrumental detail is lost in the background. Other than the wailing, pleading, chanting vocalist Yusuf Omar (1918-87), the ensemble consists of santur (the Middle Eastern hammer dulcimer), two djozas (upright fiddles with small gourd bodies), tabla, tambourine, and other percussion.

Since the time of this recording the centuries-old tradition of "maquams" (in the Iraqi sense of the word) has died out in the face of modernization, westernization, and the political turmoil of the Saddam era. These are beautiful works centered on free-rhythm poetry. In this performance the instruments open and close each maqam with a chugging rhythm that pulls the listener in. Listeners who are not connoisseurs of the form may find the free-rhythm verse recitation a little hard to take because of its seeming shapelessness. Despite this the three maqams offered do possess drama and passion. This album is not for the "belly dance" enthusiasts but may intrigue the serious world music listeners of the level who would listen to groups like the Kamkars.