Artie Barsamian

Shadows in the Casbah

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While packaged like a kitsch collection of Armenian music, Artie Barsamian's Shadows in the Casbah is full of traditional songs and instrumentation; the loungey title evokes Mantovani in Baghdad, but the music is mostly pure folk roots. Crass titles like "Balkan Rock" and "Desire in the Night" do speak of PR tampering, but most of the titles are original or tasteful translations from the Armenian. Featuring non-traditional instruments like the clarinet and saxophone, the ensemble works through 13 medium-to-fast tempo numbers resplendent with the sound of a variety of percussion, the oud, and the zither-like khanoon. Sounding like a mix of gypsy music from Eastern Europe and the subtler strains of Persian music, the material ranges from vocal features and methodical mood pieces to frenetic dance backdrops full of ensemble improvisation. Of course, an American-born Armenian like Barsamian can be forgiven for including a surf song like "Misirlou," but it actually works as well a "Balkan Rock." Like many Armenian immigrants in the States, including master oud player Richard Hagopian from Fresno, CA, New Englander Barsamian keeps the traditional Armenian songs alive at weddings, dances, and on wax. While not currently considered one of the serious Armenian folk musicians in either in Armenia or America, Artie Barsamian can be thanked for giving many their first introduction to the music of the Middle East back when world music was still a label in waiting.

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