Hamas Cinema Gaza Strip

The following appeared on the incursion music review.

Two new releases from the near infinite arsenal that is the Muslimgauze archives, one from Soleilmoon and one from Staalplaat.

Hummus comes crashing out of the gate with the track "Zebb ul ala el din," a pummelling number that is relentless in its attack. As with a lot of the later Muslimgauze releases, it's all about the beats and the shock value, and this release is no exception. Very plain packaging contrasts with the jumbled distortion of many of the tracks here. Unfortunately, Hummus is a disappointment: it takes too many turns, and is unable to lay a solid foundation as an album proper. I can see this as a collection of experiments gone awry, as there is just no flow to the proceedings. Early in the disc, a 12-minute number steals the show: it's a fluid, languid piece called "Daughter of the king of China", and is quite unlike anything Muslimgauze has recorded before. The sound is distinctly Oriental, which he rarely concentrated on, and it's a welcome excursion here. What follows are many short pieces that are unable to further develop that same atmosphere that so dominated the early portion of the disc. We are left with an empty feeling upon its completion.

Contrast that with Hamas Cinema Gaza Strip, which is a superior disc by all counts. Not only is there a consistent flow to the tracks, the production itself seems to be of a higher quality. Here, Muslimgauze has produced a more "cinematic" version of his music. Long passages of filmic dialogue traverse over the sparse beats contained within, and the results are mesmerizing. This is perhaps the strongest disc since 1997's excellent Narcotic. Perhaps it has to do with the presence of John Delf, who engineers three of the tracks here. He had worked with Muslimgauze on a lot of his more acoustic recordings. The title track a mystical blend of reverberating strings and a steady break beat, with peacocks calling softly in the distance and live drumming played over top of it all. The results are irresistibly magical. Tracks that follow settle into the more ambient terrain that was explored on Gun Aramaic, but soon after comes a most energetic number called "Jerusalem Artichoke." Perhaps the only misstep on the disc is the track "Rent a Hookah," which has a more abrasive construction. The closing number, "Balti Utensil" is a staccato excursion that will prick up your ears before settling towards its dubbed-out final moments.

I know there are still more Muslimgauze discs slated for release this year, which is phenomenal since it has now been over three years since Bryn Jones passed away. With the situation as it currently is in the Middle East, it seems quite portentous that a flood of Muslimgauze music is set to hit us. If we can have more discs like Hamas Cinema Gaza Strip, the releases will be a fitting soundtrack to a situation Jones was so resolute in bringing his (and our) attention to.

review by Vils M Santo
incusrion.org (issue 051 April, 2002)

The following appeared in Chainlink D.L.K..

Look who's back... From the never-ending stream of old Muslimgauze recordings (these are from 1998) a new CD has been put together. Quite minimal percussion tracks with kick and snare in addition to traditional percussion, Arab/Indian-sounding string instruments, up-front voices in Arabic language, some man speaking in English about freedom fighters, other every-day-life speaking, women singing and laughing and some nice delay plays with the beat that give it sort of a dub vibe at times. But don't worry his usual overdriven slightly distorted percussive sounds with sitar-like instruments in the back are still to be found on this one too. Occasionally the songs get a little more obscure and mysterious, with an electronic drive to it, like a low frequency bass line, whispered vocals, electronic sounds or stuff like that... That makes it more interesting an appealing!

It's also interesting to know that in a time like this, when the world seems to collectively and indistinctly hate the Muslims, Sony DADC (the pressing plant who manufactures pretty much all the CDs you ever owned) refused to print the art work of "Hamas Cinema Gaza Strip" because of the image and text on it and because they didn't want to be related to political propaganda (as if they don't publish other political propaganda CDs already!!!). I don't find anything offensive in the artwork and there is no text except for titles and credits, go figure what these big-ass corporations are afraid of...

review by Marc Urselli-Schaerer
Chainlink D.L.K. (May 22, 2002)

The following appeared in Vital.

Composed less then a year before his slipping away, latest album titled "Hamas Cinema Gaza Strip" out on Staalplaat, represents the harsher side of Muslimgauze. Bryn Jones' conceptual focus on the Middle East certainly comes clear on this very atmospheric album.

Opening with the fairly soothing track of ethnic instruments and female chant the tempo dramatically increases on the following title track dominated by pounding beats and the sampled sound of a yelling crowd only to get even harsher on next track "Hezbollah radio advert" that opens with another yelling crowd of people that is soon after followed by a hard-hitting looped sample of hand percussion. After that the tempo decreases for a while with a more relaxed atmosphere though still kept in the dark mood with some deep heavy rumbles of subtle noise somewhere in the lower part of the sound picture. As the album reaches its end things start to get harsh again with the two final tracks that despite the aggressive sound expression almost seem danceable. If anyone should question it, "Hamas cinema Gaza strip", being both a furious and an emotionally strong album, certainly proves the fact that Muslimgauze did familiarize himself with the conflict of the Middle East.

review by Niels Mark Pedersen
Vital (#324 May 22, 2002)

The following appeared in Freq E-zine.

Apparently the pressing plant were not especially keen on the text and artwork for Hamas Cinema Gaza Strip, and refused to print the jewel case cover insert for this CD on the basis that "Sony DADC does not want to be related to 'political propaganda'". So Staalplaat had to get the printing done elsewhere; perhaps this isn't so surprising during a climate of terror and counter-terror, but it's interesting that the pressing plant didn't refuse to put the music onto the discs.

This brings the question of whether the music of Bryn Jones is "political propaganda" in itself, without attached titles like "Yasser Arafat In Tunis", "Hezbollah Radio Advert" or the title track? How about "Jerusalem Artichoke" or "Balti Utensil"? As for the pictures, while the veiled women on the cover might be supporters or members of Hamas, without a working knowledge of Arabic, it's difficult to tell. Perhaps the company were frightened off by the back catalogue and reputation of Muslimgauze, or maybe just the name? A quick random check of Staalplaat CDs shows that Sony DADC didn't have a problem with titles like Baghdad, Your Mines In Kabul or Speaking With Hamas, but perhaps it's because there weren't American and other troops milling around the area when those titles were released, just warlords fighting over territory scattered with Soviet mines. Or maybe it was that when the Intifada in Palestine was running at a level of hurled bricks and returned live fire rather than weekly suicide bombs and tank battalion revenge and before a wave of Izlamaphobia (another Muslimgauze title - did Sony press that one?) was sweeping European politics, then business was just business?

As far as the music goes, there's plenty of vocal samples from around the Muslim world of fist-raised aspect, no doubt sourced as ever from TV and radio, woven into a series of sinuously percussive tracks. The mood here is militant but not nearly so abrasive as some of the recent posthumous releases in most cases. Instead, the rhythms fracture easily, skip from brittle flurries of hand drum rolls to a loping bass loop or an uncoiling shudder of echoed dubwise Arabic-influenced grooves.

The mood of the disc feels determined more than angry, the undulating waves of tape-splice glitches and cut-up beats quivering with a tension which rises to a Hip Hop-tinged surface with the impassioned break-beat chug of "Jerusalem Artichoke".

The shuddery vibrations further expand sidewards to the spasming strings and quivering, distended rhythms of the evocatively-named "Rent A Hookah" and the yet more bulbous tabla'n'bass of "Balti Utensil". This latter concludes the album with an overlaid flute melody to counterpoint the chiming percussion which in turn offsets the progressively more distorted rhythm which soon dominates the conclusion in a squitter of extended repetition and a Dubbed-up miniature coda of Reggae-fied mellowness. Throughout Hamas Cinema Gaza Strip, the interjection of ululating women, jet aircraft swoops, documentary-flavoured environmental recordings and rippling water among those ever-hypnotic voices from the aether makes for a ponderously intoxicating downbeat addition to the Bryn Jones oeuvre. But is it propaganda?

review by Antron S. Meister
Freq E-zine

The following appeared in Stylus.

Bryn Jones, AKA Muslimgauze, was always a prolific musician. He first recorded as Muslimgauze in 1982, inspired by the Russian and Israeli antagonism against Muslims to forge his unique aesthetic. Throughout his career, his music remained remarkably true to the core style he developed at this early point: simple electronic music, often veering towards ambient, flavored with Middle Eastern and traditional Islamic melodies and instrumentation. During the 90s, Muslimgauze released dozens of albums, often in extremely limited editions available only through mail order. Despite the limited nature of Jones’ recordings and his controversial political stance — invariably articulated much more clearly in his liner notes than in the actual music — Muslimgauze did manage to become a fairly prominent name within the avant-garde underground.

Following Jones’ sudden death in 1999, his already prolific release schedule has become even more crammed. Apparently, the Muslimgauze vaults are full of unreleased material, and this music has been quickly pouring forth in various art editions and mail order albums. The Staalplaat label, which released many of Muslimgauze’s later albums while he was still alive, has also been at the forefront of these posthumous reissues, even starting a subscription service for devout Muslimgauze followers.

Hamas Cinema Gaza Strip is just one of the many posthumous Muslimgauze records to come out this year, and like all of them it was only available in extremely low quantities. It also happens to be one of the best Muslimgauze albums I've heard. More structured and beat-oriented than many of Jones’ recordings — without dabbling in the kind of caustic noise that he occasionally indulged — this CD is a dense and beautiful trip through Jones’ conception of the Middle East, a place he never visited but sympathized with very deeply.

Throughout the album, the drums are mixed uncharacteristically high, giving an immediacy and dominance to the rhythmic elements of this music. The title track makes the best use of this style, placing the hollow-sounding drums above squirts of Middle Eastern melodies and a stately sampled string section. Another of Jones’ favored tactics is the incorporation of voices speaking in Arabic into his music. Throughout the opening “Yasser Arafat in Tunis,” female voices drift in the spaces between the restrained guitar and lively drumming. On “Hezbollah Radio Advert” (which sounds like it could be true to its name), a guttural voice makes its case amid abrasive drum textures and bursts of rumbling noise.

The entire album never veers far from this general style. The surprising “Rent A Hookah” is the one exception, with its bleeps and pulsating rhythms bringing it very close to pure techno territory. On the other end of the spectrum, “Islamiq Groupe” takes things down a notch, submerging the drums and concentrating on a slow, languid flow punctuated by hushed voices and throat-scratching whoops.

Other than that, the album remains relatively static, to both its detriment and its credit. The problem is one with the whole Muslimgauze catalog, to an extent: it all sounds a bit too samey. But while a few songs, most notably the closing two, may get a bit tiresome over their extended lengths, most of the album is textured and lovely enough to get by despite the lack of variety. Jones’ infamous pro-Islam, anti-Israel politics are confined, as always, to the sleeve design and (presumably) the Arabic spoken word segments, which means that Muslimgauze’s message still doesn't have nearly the impact that the music does. Thankfully, the music on Hamas Cinema Gaza Strip stands on its own regardless of context or politics.

review by Ed Howard
Stylus (January 19, 2003)

The following appeared on Pitchfork.

That Bryn Jones (aka Muslimgauze) died in 1999 of a rare blood disease is a convincing argument for the existence ...

That Bryn Jones (aka Muslimgauze) died in 1999 of a rare blood disease is a convincing argument for the existence of a higher power. I'm not being callous here, suggesting that the world is better off without him; I'm saying that the escalation of the conflict in Israel, the invasion of Afghanistan, and the current war in the Iraq probably would have collectively driven Jones completely over the edge. Perhaps his death spared him unimaginable suffering.

While he was alive, Jones felt an intense anger at Israel and the United States, and sympathy for the plight of the Arab world generally and Palestinians specifically (he wasn't exactly opposed to terrorism either). Jones' stance was not borne of experience (he never actually visited the Middle East), religion (he was not a Muslim) or community (he didn't know or care what the Islamic world thought of his work). He was simply outraged at the existence of the state of Israel and the West's imperialist policies.

Because Jones was a workaholic, his anger found an outlet in recording, and he was pissed off, indeed: The discography page of his official website lists more than 150 releases since 1982. I didn't look closely to see how many of those are albums proper, but it's a lot. If he were alive today, with everything that's happening, he'd probably be putting out a new album every two hours. The pace would kill him.

Because Muslimgauze was so prolific, new records still appear almost monthly, three years after his death. It's difficult to imagine that one day there simply won't be any more Muslimgauze material in the vaults. Maybe it won't happen in my lifetime. But for now, the new releases keep on coming, and relatively casual fans such as myself can sit back and cherry-pick the good stuff.

Hamas Cinema Gaza Strip contains material Jones recorded in 1998, which wasn't originally released until last year and has now been repressed in a limited edition. No one expects one Muslimgauze release to sound dramatically different from another-- at his pace, he was bound to repeat himself. Rather, Jones' tracks are built from variations of about a dozen distinct and identifiable Muslimgauze styles.

This record can be classified as mostly stripped-down Muslimgauze: generally easy on the noise, with steady, hip-hop-informed beats, and no dub touches or ambient interludes. It also has a lot of what made Muslimgauze interesting. Jones' greatest accomplishment, musically, was his genius with percussion. The sheer power and authority of his drum tracks never fails to impress, and so it is with Hamas Cinema Gaza Strip .

Nobody ever has or will mix a midtempo hip-hop beat with distorted djembe fills like Muslimgauze does here on "Hezbollah Radio Advert". You can tell it's him instantly, with the unnerving blend of the clean (the driving 4/4 bit) and the filthy (the seriously overdriven hand drums). Bits of Arabic dialog, another Muslimgauze signature, buzz randomly over the rhythm. The title track uses a similar combination of sounds, but with loose, improvisational hand percussion and sweeping string samples that sound like they could be ripped from "Kashmir". "Izlamiq Groupe" on the other hand, is slow and druggy, with deep tabla pulses, samples of sitar, and an odd contrast as a pitter-patter of electric shocks dancing on top. These are all prime Muslimgauze tracks.

The record gets more abrasive as it goes on. "Rent a Hookah" is hard, noisy techno with just a few Middle Eastern elements, and the drums in "Balti Utensil", though not particularly fast, inch into the red. Still, Hamas Cinema Gaza Strip is not a particularly punishing Muslimgauze release, so it wouldn't be a bad place to start for the uninitiated. He surely made 50 albums better than this one, and 100 or more worse. The important thing is to dive in somewhere and check it out. No one sounds like Muslimgauze.

review by Mark Richardson
Pitchfork
(March 20, 2003)

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