Ghalia Benali & Mâäk MwSOUL
Review by Michael Stone
Born in Brussels and raised in Tunisia, Ghalia Benali returned to Brussels at age 19 to study art and graphic design, but ultimately found herself drawn to singing, acting and dance. Benali has performed with several ensembles including Al Palna and the Indian Hadra (also having studied classical dance in India), Wild Harissa, Nada and Kafichantas (the latter with oudist Moufadhel Adhoum, who joins her here on MwSOUL).
Benali finds lyrical inspiration in classical and contemporary love poetry of the Arabic- and Persian-speaking world. The Belgian brass ensemble Mâäk (saxophones, trumpet, trombone, tuba, drums) provides driving brass 'n' bass counterpoint to Benali's keening vocals and occasional throat singing (e.g., “The Fortune Teller,” “Upon a Time”). Middle Eastern rhythmic patterns, modes and tonality find expression on MwSoul, although the brass instruments achieve their aural effect via quarter tones, approximating the microtonal character of the music in its original conception.
"The Fortune Teller" (excerpt)
A minor cavil (quite common in world-music titles) is the stilted English-language lyric translations, no doubt obscuring the beauty of the original Arabic and Persian poetry. However, that shortcoming takes nothing away from the tightly spun horn, string and percussive arrangements. Consider the vocal-brass call-and response on “No Anger,” or a song like “Bonding,” which sets out like a tuba-driven strutting New Orleans second line, before turning to Adhoum for an oud solo that brings the music back East and sets the stage for some fresh and angular brass harmonies. Ghalia Benali is a dramatic singer whose emotive powers are manifest on MwSoul. - Michael Stone