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Tania Saleh

Tania Saleh

Review by David Cox

Listen "No Justice in the Forest"

The Arab world which stretches from West Africa to the Persian Gulf (and influences events radiating out from there) is obviously a diverse place, with a common language and culture, but no common state or homeland. This is a part of the world that in turn was colonized by the Ottoman Turks, than the Western Europeans, broken into statelets by the Great Powers, and now, seems to be the battleground of various modern empires, with various people in search of peace and freedom. That said, this complex landscape is the setting for Lebanese singer-songwriter Tania Saleh’s latest project.

The independent musician, artist and filmmaker set off in this ambitious direction on Intersection with two songs of her own, but realized she needed some help, and the help was already there in the form of the rich legacy of various poets of the Middle East and Maghreb (Arab West): the Palestinian Mahmoud Darwish; the Syrian Nizar Qabbani; Iraq’s Nazik Al Malaika; Lebanese activist Joumana Haddad, to name four.

On her fifth recording Saleh uses this tapestry to create a 13-song masterpiece of stunning musical streetscapes. Fusing ‘west and east’ using studios in Cairo, Beirut and Oslo, Saleh works with Khalil Judran, a Norway-based experimental music producer and composer who is able to make Saleh’s exquisite vocal style work within a context of electronic post-pop.

This is a professional, heartfelt recording made by an accomplished group of artists. Along with Judran she is working with Mohammad Fawzi, on clarinet, duduk and soprano saxophone,; Egyptian multi-instrumentalist Nancy Mounir on violin, Andre Segone on double bass, Hani Bedair of the Nile Project on percussion and the Egyptian master Hazem Shaheen (now in Lebanon) on oud.

Listen "Show Me the Way"

In “Show Me the Way” as the song unfolds, Saleh writes about her confusion, she wants to get her ideas together, perhaps for this project, but they are ‘all scrambled, complicated and unclear’ and asks in the lyric ‘what history is being written, can you show me the way.’

Listen "Happy About Something"

As noted above, to find her way she turns to a number of sources, who help her to define this pivotal and undefinable part of the human world that we know as the ‘Middle-East and Maghreb’ or the ‘Arab World’. With Khalil Gibran “No Justice in the Forests” she sings ’human justice is like ice, melts with sunrise,’ and with Darwish “Happy About Something”: ‘we have no ambition to be losers in your wars.’

Saleh presents various views of the desired homeland: Bayram Al Tunsi writes of “The Orient”, ’you look so bright, but your darkness prevails/you are full of warmth but your body is lazy cold.’

Listen "In Other People's Lands"

In “In Other People’s Lands,” she asks with Abdallah Al Be isnardawni (Yemeni) ’where am I, where am I from? Do I have an ancertry/my country’s wind is behind me, forgotten like me….I am without a homeland, but fooled by patriotism.’

There isn’t a dull or poorly conceived song, however, Saleh’s singing on Haddad’s “I Lilith” is one of the highlights.

Listen "We Will Sing"

Closing with another of the better moments, on Egyptian poet Ahmad Fouad Najm’s “We Will Sing” Saleh ends with a percussive mood, the artist’s voice present in the face of uncertainty and despair: ‘We sing in tune with the street; we don’t sell our words for tons of silver.’

To put the music into context, it’s best to see Saleh’s interpretation of this work in her short film that illustrate the songs by means of dance, street art and poetry. - David Cox


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