Where 'goons and ginks and company finks' fear to tread

Things Gnostic, Coptic, Hermetic and Sufi take me to Egypt in the summer and I have been impressed by a new Naxos CD of music by the Arab-American composer Mohammed Fairouz who was born in Egypt in 1985 and studied with György Ligeti. The title work Native Informant – Sonata for Solo Violin is structured around a lament for the victims of the 2011/12 Egyptian revolution, while Jebel Lebnan for wind quintet chronicles the impact of the Lebanese civil war. Mohammed Fairouz’s rare commitment to relevance in contemporary music makes this new release notable, the incontestable merit of his music makes it doubly notable. Music and activism are closely linked in Egypt, and the princess of song Oum Kalsoum (??-1975) played an important role in the evolution of Egyptian nationalism. Arabic song is an important cultural tradition – three million people lined the streets of Cairo for Oum Kalsoum’s funeral – yet it is little appreciated in the West. Hopefully Tunisian singer Dorsaf Hamndani’s new CD Princesses of Arabic Song on the enterprising French Accords Croisés label may go some way to rectifying that. On it she performs songs made famous by Lebanese singers Fairouz and Asmahan as well as standards from Oum Kalsoum; thankfully the arrangements are devoid of the keyboard and guitars that adorn much modern Egyptian vocal music, instead Dorsaf Hamdani is accompanied by a small ensemble of traditional instruments. Both Naxos and Accords Croisés must be congratulated for venturing where what the old union song described as ‘goons and ginks and company finks’ fear to tread.

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