Middle Eastern Music From Brooklyn: Baharat Band’s New CD

BaharatArtist: Baharat Band
Titel: Mosaics
Label: self-produced
Genre: Middle Eastern music/World/Belly dance music

CD Review by Dawoud Kringle

“Baharat” is an Arabic word for a spice blend that varies from different regions. As spices were traded along the trade routes so were musical instruments, which evolved in an original way to their respective culture. With this idea as conceptual foundation, Baharat Band is a band of Brooklyn based ensemble whose compositions and improvisations are influenced by music from various cultures from Africa to Asia, though primarily from the Middle East. They were founded by Michael Burdi (oud) and his brother Jerome Burdi (percussion), and joined by Jeff Campoli (percussion) and Enrique Mancia (bass). They are joined by guest musicians Adam Maalouf (riq), Hanna Madbek (guitar, vocals), and Cody Rowlands (trumpet).

The CD’s first track, “Herd,” opens with a firm and relaxed melody on the oud, joined by percussion and bass. One is immediately struck with the ease and effortless flow of the music, and the subtle way the melodies and rhythmic patterns insinuate themselves within one’s consciousness.

The CD continues with “Wolves.” The ease is not lost or diminished here, but a different mood is invoked. The song is, obviously, about wolves. But it’s almost as if the composition is not attempting to present wolves from the perspective of people in a region inhabited by wolves. It’s more like the music is invoking the perspective of the wolves themselves; almost an empathic identification with what it means to be a wolf.

The tracks explore, within the paradigm of the genre, an interesting variety of moods and textures. “Marsh” is a brief, yet rhythmically nuanced percussion piece. “Revel” surprises the listener with the inclusion of a didgeridoo, and halfway through, a trumpet joins during a lively break; the appearance of which does not in any way impress one as incongruous or hybrid. Classical guitar opens “Ana Hek,” followed by the only vocals on the CD, providing an interesting deviation from the overall mood of the other songs. Yet it does not break the continuity of the musical character of the CD. The final track, “Manna,” offers a final statement to the music; one that presents the sharpest contrast to the collection, but leaves the listener with a peaceful sense of closure.

The music clearly draws from Arabic, Persian, Turkish, and Syrian maqam. While the tracks are all clearly of the same ilk, and blend seamlessly with each other, the subtle differences between each track presents a marvelous contrast. Each piece has an individual mood and creates a subtle effect that may not be apparent in a casual listen. This is music whose effects are strong, yet not in any way overwhelming. One finds oneself immersed in the intended mood of the music before one realizes what has happened. This is perhaps, Baharat’s greatest musical strength; the ability to create a mood and draw from the inner essence of the compositions and the maqams they are based on.