release date: April 15, 2003
Arabbox was recorded in 1993 following the first Gulf War. Now, after 10 years, and in the midst of a second Gulf War, a limited edition CD in an Indian hand-made metal box is being released. 500 copies have been manufactured. Following this first edition a second, unlimited edition will be issued with a modified tray card and without the metal box.
It's commonly known that Bryn Jones, the late musician behind Muslimgauze, was driven by the passion of the Palestinian people's fight for an independent homeland. What is less well understood is how he found inspiration in other parts of the Muslim world, including Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. India, with its dominant Hindu culture, might seem like an odd place to include in the list, until you remember that more than one hundred million Muslims live there. In fact Jones, who loved language and wordplay (consider the name "Muslimgauze", for example), frequently plundered the south Asian subcontinent throughout his long musical career for song titles and album names, coming up with gems like "Old Bombay Vinyl Junkie" and "Tandoori Dog".
So it’s not surprising that two song titles on Arabbox can be traced to India. "Ganges Swimmer", heard in another form on the Staalplaat CD Izlamaphobia, and "Firozsha Baag", the fictitious Bombay (now Mumbai) setting for a collection of interconnected stories by Indo-Canadian author Rohington Mistry. Thus it is appropriate that the images and packaging of this release are derived from India. But Iraq is very much in the news again, and that country is not neglected here. Track names like "Kurdish Red", "Sadaambush", and "Basra" all come directly from that region. Incredibly, it seems the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Stylistically, the songs of Arabbox follow other works recorded by Muslimgauze in the early 1990's. Fans familiar with the Soleilmoon double CD Veiled Sisters will recognize the flowing, humanistic sounds, natural sounding percussion, and gently shimmering keyboards that sent the reviewers running to their dictionaries to search for new words to describe what they were hearing. Now that Bryn is gone we're left to listen to his work and interpret his genius on our own.
Press release from Soleilmoon.The following appeared in e|i.
By the end of 2003, Muslimgauze's Bryn Jones will have released three full-length albums: Iranair Inflight Magazine on Staalplaat, Dome of the Rock on ant-zen and Arabbox. One could call such activity an inhuman feat - and one would be correct, seeing as Jones died in January 1999. Yet more remarkable than the vast back catalog of over 100 releases is the fact that Jones, a Brit, located his bottomless well of creativity in the themes of classical and contemporary Islam. In the last four years, Muslimgauze's legend has grown exponentially due to releases like this one, because Arabbox, although not his best work, is music that seizes upon and makes familiar emotions that so often seem couched grotesquely in stereotypes of Islamic music. Arabbox was originally recorded in 1993, meaning that stylistically it falls among Muslimgauze's more ambient releases - the majestic Vote Hezbollah, the epic Citadel and Maroon - tapping the archetypal sound sceneries of the Islamic world in all its geographical diversity. "Ganges Swimmer" recalls India's massive Muslim population, where the sound of daily activity at said river is married to a rich sitar haze. And while no one today can feign ignorance of Iraq's Muslim constituency, Muslimgauze uses punishing industrial bass on "Kurdish Red" and abrupt electro drum kits on "Sadaambush" to reminds us of Islam's supremacy throughout that region. The Muslimgauze mystique always wore its politics on its sleeve, a point evidenced in the contrast of soothing, repetitive synth tones and the name "Veil of Tear Gas," where the inflammatory sentiment resides in the track title while the essence of Islam's storied history is what resonates sonically. So it is with Arabbox, another Muslimgauze release that succeeds at deepening not only Bryn Jones' musical legend, but the very idea of Islam as presented in Western music circles.
review by Heath K HignightThe following appeared in The Wire.
This text originally appeared in e|i magazine (issue # 2).
Another month, another Muslimgauze reissue. It may be the whole Muslimgauze 'thing' is doomed to a kind of timeliness in reverse, and in perpetuity; eg, if U2 or Radiohead were to put out a wholly instrumental - but still prickly - album with titles, as here, like "Basra" and "Veil Of Tear Gas" and "Sadaambush" - full of threat and subliminal empathy for untranslated Middle Eastern voices - you can just imagine the (over)reaction. Whereas with Muslimgauze, we just tend to shrug and cringingly smile as if to say: right: more Muslimgauze: uh, so what? If Bryn Jones were still alive, would we be on the receiving end of slightly more coruscating cross cultural recess and sonic tracer rounds? Rage-strafed curses for Hoon, plangent requia for Kelly? Arabbox (recorded "live at the Manchester Turkish Baths" in July 93) may have 11 'tracks' but in truth it's one long, near passive, escaped hiss of sadness: low key, minor key, almost frieze-like. Even the slightest, prettiest tracks here are inhabited (or inhibited) by an impossibly frail and inconceivably deep sadness - which, in truth, is hard to believe was entirely locatable in Jones' feelings about a Middle East he never visited and so which always remained an infinitely restorable phantasm inside his head. The sadness seems much deeper and further ingrained than that, approaching pathological - almost as if the terrible dispossessed 'birthright' of the Palestinians corresponded, secretly, to some personal scar or shadow in Jones' own life. Such codes now remain forever closed to us, even as the strange, solitary, utterly singular (if sometimes self-defeatingly circular) wailing note of Muslimgauze threatens - like the conflict itself - never to end.
review by Ian Penmansee also Arabbox (second issue) & Arabbox, In Search Of Ahmad Shah Masood, Iran Air Inflight Magazine, Jebel Tariq & Red Madrassa
This text originally appeared in The Wire magazine (issue # 237).
Reproduced by permission.
The Wire on-line index.
November 4, 2020