Monday, June 23, 2008

Arabic Journeys: CD Review

a collection of downtempo electronica laced with Middle Eastern samples | 2 out of 5 stars

The cover states that this two CD set is a "journey into the world of global beats" which indicated to me that it would be a collection of down-tempo, contemporary electronica with some hint of Middle Eastern inspiration throughout, and that is exactly what this set is. It is not intended to instruct on genuine Middle Eastern rhythms, and in fact some of its content is very weak in Middle Eastern influence (a lot of pieces, especially on the second CD, actually seemed to have an Indian rather than Middle Eastern inspiration), but that was my impression when I bought it, so I cannot claim I was misled into purchasing it. However, if one is not familiar with what terms like "global beats" often implies I can completely understand how someone would be disappointed with this album because they were expecting Arabic drum solos or more traditional Middle Eastern pieces. I believe it would be extremely helpful for the publisher to place some sort of descriptive blurb on the packaging clarifying the contents of this set.

With that being said, if you do understand the type of music actually included in this compilation and enjoy ambient, chill-out style music with an international or ethnic flair, you will probably enjoy this collection. Each of the two CDs contain twenty songs apiece, so you do get a lot for the purchase price.

However, I do have to mention that there is some sort of error on the first CD in the set. Songs number 11 and 19 are exactly the same (Amazon reflects this in their sound samples so my copy must not be a fluke), even though they are labeled on the packaging as different songs by different artists, so in reality the first CD has only nineteen songs. I thought song 11/19 sounded extremely familiar, and in fact it appears on Putumayo's CD World Lounge as the tenth track: "Trance Dance (DJ Krush Mix)" by Hamid Baroudi. Arabic Journeys is evidently doubly in error because it not only has the same song twice but it is labeled incorrectly on both accounts!

Virtually all of the songs in this set are rather dreamy electronic pieces which utilize Middle Eastern samples. Some of the weaker songs are just layerings of canned electronic beats and rather cheesy synthesizer effects. The most common type of samples used are either of percussion instruments, typically the doumbek, or of Oriental style string arrangements. I recognized some of the samples from other CDs in my collection, and on the second CD, I heard the same oud piece sampled in two different songs. Most of the songs are probably not dynamic enough to use for bellydance performance pieces, even by fusion style dancers, but I think this set might be useful as a backdrop for warm-up exercises, slow movement drills, and stretching in a bellydance class format.

If you enjoy this particular CD, you may also like Chill in Arabia because it contains very downtempo electronic music with the occasional Middle Eastern samples thrown in. Chill in Arabia also features female vocals and definitely leans in the direction of trip hop. If, on the other hand, you're looking for robust, upbeat electronic music with a more significant Middle Eastern influence, I would highly recommend Arabesque, Arabian Travels: A Six Degrees Collection, and Electric Oasis: Exotic Arabian Grooves.You can also view my Listmania list Traditional-Modern Fusion Music for Bellydance for other suggestions.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Modern Orientalism - ACEO

This is an ACEO, an acronym which stands for Art Cards, Editions and Originals and denote small pieces of artwork 2.5 inches x 3.5 inches in size, I began late Sunday night and completed Monday. It's a homage to contemporary Tribal Fusion belly dancers and to the Orientalist trends in art over the past few centuries, particularly in Art Nouveau style pieces and in the art of people like Erté.

I really enjoy the theme and hope to explore it a bit further in future ACEOs. I don't think this is my best work, but I wanted to show that I am in fact still alive and making artwork! While this particular piece has been purchased, I do have other bellydance-related ACEOs in progress.