Muslimgauze (Epitonic Overview)

Bryn Jones, the sole member of Muslimgauze, hails not from the Middle East, but from Manchester, where he cultivated a truly unique aesthetic by blending the timelessness of Arabic percussion with the digital arenas of sampling and dub trickery. Muslimgauze's early work was dominated by ritualistic instrumentals, in which insistent gusts of arid ambience gracefully sweep through the pulsing complexities of Arabic percussion. In his later work, the binary codes of his digital equipment are allowed to deliberately misfire, offering sharp staccato edits in opposition to the fluidly streaming samples of tablas. While the aural presence of Muslimgauze elicits abstract shimmers of desert imagery, his conceptual agenda is fervently concrete. Every release is an impassioned reaction to specific incidents related to Palestinian politics.

Coup D'Etat/Abu Nidal is a reissue of two 1987 vinyl-only releases. Abu Nidal was originally released on Jones's own Limited Editions Records. As demonstrated by the brooding title track, "Abu Nidal," Muslimgauze's earliest work stands as his darkest, with ominous synth drones engulfing the tense Arabic percussion and invoking images of stealthy assassins striking just before dawn.

Released in 1993, Veiled Sisters is a double CD dominated by an insistent cyclical bass line drone that has an uncanny resemblance to the "hovering" bass lines of mid-'90s darkcore drum and bass (Dome and Roland, Ed Rush). With "Hindunation/Fiefdom/El Minzah Kiff," Muslimgauze didn't quite go drum and bass -- the genre didn't even exist by name when Jones recorded these tracks. Only the sounds of the bass retain a similarity as the bass drone lulls the manic arrangements of Arabic cymbals and stringed instruments.

Muslimgauze's relation to dub may also include the same massive intake of pot as Lee 'Scratch' Perry, but his intention was to attain the conviction and focus of the Hasan I Sabbah's mythic Persian religions sect of murderous Hashashins. As indicated by the 1996 double CD Gun Aramaic, with its appropriately entitled cut, "Opiate and Mullah," the dub of Muslimgauze reverberates not with the happy-go-lucky sonic schizophrenia of the '70s Jamaican producers, but with very dry digital clickery swelling from an electronic haziness and persistent Arabic rhythms.

Muslimgauze's rigid yet expressive palette of Arabic sounds has yielded a multitude of dynamic juxtapositions. None could be clearer than the digitally distorted drum crack of "Anti Arab Media Censor Part I" in relation to the sun bleached drones of "Arab Jerusalem," both found on the 1996 CD Arab Quarter.

Screeching distortion blasts, distant jet engine rumbles, and bad-ass hip hop breaks add a rather militaristic slant to Muslimgauze's up-tempo Arabic trance-mantras. 1997's Jaal Ab Dullah presents short looping tracks such as "Old Bombay Vinyl Junkie" and "Kabul Is Free Under a Veil."

For another 1997 release, Farouk Enjineer, Muslimgauze twiddles his knobs to get give plastic, almost spasmodic, production values to his usually seductive percussive mantras. "Under Saffron" phases the volume and EQ of a handful of repetitive loops to achieve Arabic dub noise.

"Mosul," from the 1998 CD Mazar-I-Sharif, epitomizes the mesmeric seduction of snake charmers with a flute line that passively meanders behind hypnotic Arabic percussion which is programmed to occasionally peak out in digitally distorted crunches.

Muslimgauze infused 1999's Hussein Mahmood Jeeb Tehar Gass with a slinky groove, abandoning the short sharp shocks of his later distortionist work. "Bilechik Mule" layers a nonstop percussive beat with Arabic short wave radio samples and catchy melodies to create a dub that would make On-U Sound proud.

Muslimgauze shelved the fluidity of his previous albums on 2000's Sufiq. In its stead, he has deliberately exposed his music's digital underpinnings, fracturing pulsating Arabic percussion into herky-jerky digitized dervish music with harsh edits of start-stop-silence-start programming and overdriven samples. Baghdad, another 2000 release, shows Jones returning to the classic Muslimgauze sound with tracks like "Algeciras."

"Youssif Gujarati" comes from Muslimlim 028, number 28 in a special series of limited edition Muslimgauze releases produced by Staalplaat. It too represents classic Muslimgauze. Digital skips and noise and a stuttering vocal sample are laid over an infectious drum line. Loyal fans can subscribe to the Muslimlim series, and so far it has included a number of box sets and a CD packed on a table tennis paddle(!). For more information about Muslimlim, see the Staalplaat web site.

"Rebiana Sand Sea" is taken from 2001's Melt on Portland, Oregon's BSI Records. This limited edition vinyl release of battle breaks and tech-funk could be described as "West Bank" electronic.

Unfortunately, Jones passed away in 1999, and never got to witness the fulfillment of his musical mission: the coming of peace to the Middle East and freedom to Palestine. Nevertheless, Jones has sculpted so much material (currently over 120 releases, mostly full albums!) that Soleilmoon and Staalplaat will continue releasing Muslimgauze albums for years to come.

article by: Jim Haynes

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