Beirut to the Future

Having visited every darn wondrous nation on the planet, we start the sophomore voyage by revisiting the music scene of Lebanon. One of the most musically diverse countries of the Middle East, thus certainly worth a repeat trip – exploring mostly new and obscure Lebanese sounds.

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Rings Around Kurdistan

Palagan Village, Iran/Kurdistan

Palagan Village, Iran/Kurdistan

National boundaries can be messy, temporary creatures.  Towards the north of the Middle East, there is an ethnic group numbering over 25 million that spill over the borders of four nations, estranged by all of their governments.  The fall of the Ottoman Empire nearly 100 years ago and subsequent divisions left the Kurdish people without a land to call their own – but the dream of a free and independent Kurdistan has never faded.

The current conflict between ISIS (or ISIL, or now often called Daesh – which is more derogatory) and the ruling regimes of Syria and Iraq holds lasting implications for the future of Kurdistan, and the Kurdish people (equipped with their own army) have thus far been very successful in driving the extremists from their land.  The borders may yet shift again.

Kerkuk TV Studio, Kurdistan (Iraq), 1976

Swingin’ in the ’70s, Iraqi Kurdistan

Music has been the glue that held Kurdistan together through a century of struggle.  It’s high time to acknowledge the sublime sounds of hope that the Kurdish have conjured over this dark era. (Heck, Kurdistan even has a pop star).  Let music light the way!

Man Oman, the land of hidden jams

This week we visit the Sultanate of Oman, a rocky coastal nation with a keen interest in seafaring exploration.  Friends of many, enemies of few, sneaking just below the international tabloids… for simplicity’s sake let’s call it Switzerland of the Middle East.  Heck, they even manage the feat of having positive relations with both Iran and the United States.  They don’t choose sides.  Omanis are easygoing like that.  They have a Sultan after all.

As for the music, there is a vast and complex history of intermingling to draw upon.  Many Swahili rhythms have seeped into the Omani soundscape, as the Omani empire once stretched down the East African coast as far as Madagascar.  There is also the potent influence of Arabic neighbors to the north, as well as the instruments of the Baloch people of Pakistan.  Music is a part of everyday public life in Oman, not often recorded for posterity, and thus many of the sublime sounds from the ground are not readily available to our far-off ears.  We can imagine..  And extrapolate from the few recordings that we have at our disposal:  some gritty hip hop, vocal acrobatics, drums of thunder, and ambient oud sketches..