In May, Bachar Mar-Khalifé released a 9-track album in tribute to legendary Nubian oud player, composer, singer and percussionist Hamza El Din. For those of you who aren't aware of Hamza El Din, he is considered a treasure of both Egypt and the West, an experimentalist who influenced a vast number of international artists, even performing with the Grateful Dead and Kronos Quartet following his emigration to the United States. His album, Escalay: The Water Wheel, was considered one of the first "world music" recordings to gain recognition in the West. It is a concept album about the boy who runs the water wheel in his village: he wakes up every morning, hooks the water buffalo to the wheel, and hums as it turns.
Mar-Khalifé's newest album, The Water Wheel, a Tribute to Hamza El Din includes not only covers of some of the songs from this album, but many of Hamza El Din's other works, including those composed by Mohammed Abdel Wahab. Mar-Khalifé's signature piano is backed up by electronics, bass, electric guitar, percussion, synth, electric saz and oud. It stretches the skins of Hamza El Din's compositions, incorporating rock and jazz.
The final track on this album is "El Hilwatu" which was just re-mixed by Palestinian DJ SAMA'. Apparently, Mar-Khalifé immediately thought of SAMA', whom he had met in Paris in 2016, to remix the track, and the choice was sound (no pun intended). The track is high energy and tranced out to begin with, with frenzied drums, syncopated Nubian claps, a hypnotizing bass line, all supporting the chant-like drawl of Mar-Khalifé's nasal voice. When you throw the track to Ramallah's rave queen, it's no doubt going to come out rapturous. It works in reverse compared to the original, however, starting with the more tranquil piano that the original ends with, and increasing in intensity to full club bang mode. Contrary to this, the original launches straight away into madness, calming down towards the end.
It's wonderful seeing the work of masters, late and living, still appreciated and even adapted by contemporary artists. Thanks to Bachar Mar-Khalifé, the life of Hamza El Din's music continues.
Follow Bachar Mar-Khalifé on Bandcamp.
Follow SAMA' on SoundCloud.