Deben Bhattacharya

Maqams of Syria

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This disc is a collection of field recordings made in the 1950s and 1960s by the late Indian ethnomusicologist Deben Bhattacharya. The maqams of the title are features of Arabic music. A maqam is a set of characteristic melodic phrases, prominent notes, and boundaries based on a scale. These elements are used as the basis of improvisation. The idea is somewhat similar to Indian music. For a layperson to appreciate the maqam system would probably require two or more pieces in a row with the same maqam.

What this album does offer is a variety of pieces played on a variety of instruments. Some are not especially interesting: for example, the one for kanun (hammered dulcimer) and voice and the one for solo ney (the breathy Arab flute). The other tracks are more interesting, such as "Taqsim on Violin" and "Ajam on Buzuk." The buzuk -- or bouzuki, as it's usually called -- is a fun instrument that sounds halfway between a guitar and a banjo. The piece "Hijaz" builds up from a ney and a single voice to a chorus, ney, and several percussion instruments. It is almost symphonic in its power. This disc is probably not for the absolute beginner, but anyone who knows they like Arabic music for solo and mixed instruments will probably like it.

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