Far from a comfortable meeting of traditions.
A collaboration between musician Radwan Ghazi Moumneh and filmmaker Charles-André Coderre, the Jerusalem in My Heart project consists of a series of live audiovisual performances that has circled the globe for over a decade. While the recorded version of this material is missing half the product, listening to Daqa’iq Tudaiq is its own experience. Even without the visual counterpoints, the music still carries a narrative heft as Moumneh fuses the world of warped electronics with traditional and contemporary Lebanese and Egyptian music for a gnarled, confrontational whole.
Each side of Daqa’iq Tudaiq offers a different perspective on the project style. The first side is closest to non-European tradition, both in its reliance on a nameable source and in the relatively straightforward presentation of the instruments. “Wa Ta’atalat Loughat Al Kalam” reinterprets the popular Egyptian song “Ya Garat Al Wadi” into a four-part, 20-minute epic that takes a lighter approach to the noisy electronic side of Moumneh’s project. For the most part, the music moves along unfiltered, save subtle delays or stretched pitch-shifts on the vocals.
For listeners unfamiliar with Moumneh’s direct and indirect sources on “Wa Ta’atalat,” the intricate development and manipulations won’t become clear without multiple, careful listens. Without the textural additions of later tracks, the music here becomes solely about how Moumneh and his collaborators (among them arranger Sam Shalabi) are able to toy with harmony and interplay. The 15-member ensemble slowly cycles through modes, lifting and dropping the register of the main instrumental refrain to visit different emotional centers across the first two lengthy parts.
Of the four parts of “Wa Ta’atalat,” the third deviates the furthest from the source material. The music devolves into a spacious, noisy drone that privileges textural sound mass over pitch or harmony. This is not to say, though, that the sense of cohesion and group correspondence has vanished. Particularly in the percussion, there’s still a noticeable adherence to patterns, but Moumneh has simply let his electronic impulses loose, burying the forceful rhythms under massive swathes of sound. To round things out, the brief fourth section brings back the primary refrain, offering a sense of return and closure.
The second side features four distinct tracks, each offering different combinations of instruments and electronic textures. “Bein Ithnein” is guided by a straight ahead percussion pattern with Moumneh using slight panning effects to add a level of disorientation. Already, the music feels more immediate than “Wa Ta’atalat.” Not only is the instrumental mix less of an onslaught of sound, but the electronic additions are more recognizable and apparent. The synthetic atmosphere and distortion of the mix are eerie, but instead of compromising the track’s propulsive groove they add a sinister edge.
The sonic oddities continue on “Thahab, Mish Roujou’, Thabab,” which translates to “Departing, Not Returning, Departing.” The stringed instruments and percussion backdrops fall away, leaving only Moumneh’s voice and an array of electronics. It’s easily the most sonically unsettling moment here, as layers of distortion and delay mangle the acoustic source. “Layali Al-Rast” is another solo track, this time featuring Moumneh improvising on the buzuk. The acoustic-electronic relationship resembles that of the first side, where simple additions like clipped noise or a digitized delay are the only thing complementing the already deeply expressive music.
This music is far from a comfortable meeting of traditions. Moumneh knows exactly which knobs to twist and frequencies to overblow, leading to an album that vibrates with a serious, disarming purpose. While nothing can shake the fact that, without Coderre, there’s a missing element, hopefully this will drive fans to Jerusalem in My Heart’s live performances. Judging from the few images plastered on their social media, or one of Moumneh’s rare interviews, it’s clear that visuals are a crucial and refined part of the group’s message.