Abdullah Chhadeh
& Nara,
Seven Gates
(Abyc, 2005)

With the release of Seven Gates, qanun player Abdullah Chhadeh has attempted to capture "his journey from East to West," aided here by his band Nara. Seeing this band's live performance is an unforgettable experience. I recalled Chhadeh & Nara's live gig of last year -- it was a powerful, heady experience, with a palpable sense of communication between musician and audience that you rarely witness. Only last week an employee of the venue commented that she'd never witnessed such a powerful performance either before or since that event.

Chhadeh is a talented composer of beautiful music. These exotically titled pieces have been inspired by the Seven Gates to Damascus, and there's a beautifully sung song of peace, "Al Salam Alikum." Chhadeh has an emotive, distinctive voice.

Musically, these performances are consummate. Chhadeh plays the qanun, a many-stringed relative of the harp, with an outstanding degree of accomplishment, which you appreciate more fully when you see his live performance. His band members hail from Lebanon, Syria, the UK and Ireland, and their contributions are equally skilled.

Chhadeh's music reveals a deep understanding of compositional technique, and he has completely mastered the art of "tension and release" in his music, allowing quieter passages to be frequently overcome by moments of suspense and dramatic tension (this is so evident in pieces like "Keif" and "Bab-Al Faraj"). This is a particular strength of his. The nay flute weaves its very seductive charms, and the accordion and double bass lend drama and depth throughout all these tunes. This is very passionate Middle Eastern music.

To pin down my feelings with absolute honesty, however, my one niggle is that this elegantly packaged album doesn't quite capture that genuinely exciting, in truth overwhelming feeling of hearing and seeing this music played live. It's so exciting to watch Bernard O'Neill or Iba Abu Khalaf poised over drum kit and darbuka, or Chhadeh picking out the most intricate of tunes with the plectra on his fingers -- and to witness the entire band's seduction, via music and eye contact, of a VERY unsuspecting audience!

by Debbie Koritsas
5 November 2005