Iran, Bhutto, Hebron Massacre, Drugsherpa & In Search Of Ahmad Shah Masood

The following is a review done specifically for the site.

Some singles across time:

Iran (1989) Staalplaat STCD001
Bhutto (1991) Extreme XCS012
Hebron Massacre (1994) Soleilmoon SOL24CD
Drugsherpa (1994) Staalplaat STMCS001
In Search of Ahmad Masood (1998) Staalplaat MUSLIMLIM015

A common question: how has Muslimgauze developed and changed over the 10 years of 'commercial' distribution? An approach to this can be made through the singles which have appeared at times across the decade. It also gives shape to a set of reviews of the short form disc which have come my way recently - and is not comprehensive in any way. Some of these releases are 'related' to a full album ('Bhutto', 'Hebron Massacre') while others are short pieces that stand alone ('Drugsherpa', 'In search of Ahmad Maser').

I have included 'Iran' because even though it is close to a full length release (thirty four minutes - especially when considered from the world of vinyl) the three tracks on it are described as re-mixes or versions, implying there are originals somewhere. This was the first CD Muslimgauze, and the first on a larger label (Soleilmoon had released a tape 'Untitled' which contained much of the 'Abu Nidal/Coup D'Etat' release). 'Lion of Kandahar' layers percussion - drums of various tones, bells, gongs - over a deep drone with scattered descending string motifs to create a fast-paced, original oriental sound. This could easily be an Arabic percussion ensemble. A subtle, longer rhythm occurs as the layers are stripped back to one or two components at various stages across the ten minutes: the drone and strings, or some toms. After the second of these periods, the music fades totally to be replaced by a simple kick drum, over which the other elements slowly re-gather, to recreate a stripped version of the first half. The short version of 'Qom' starts with a slightly-processed drum beating a slow rhythm with some faint synth in the background. Other drums join in, accompanied by some rattling metal and a synth/woodwind tone which hovers over the complex rhythms and provides a haunting focus. The gentle build up to 'Intifadah' includes some distorted chanting (possibly Tuvan) as bells, drums, metallic percussion and bursts of white noise combine. Tuned percussion carries a recurring melody, and there is a twittering which could be birds or synthetic. Again there is a period when the track strips back to cymbals and some electronic elements, before a kick-drum starts up and slowly layers are added to rebuild the track, but with a much sparser feel, which ebbs and flows in intensity. A third period emphasises the chant over a fast, gentle tom with ringing cymbals before again building to a full fast climax, followed by a short, subdued release. The subtlety, complexity and sure hand that Muslimgauze demonstrates in these tracks says much about his skill and the 'apprentice' period of the Limited Edition (and other) releases. Much of what we consider the Muslimgauze sound and method are present (the rhythms, tone, electronica, remixing, deft handling of long tracks), and only the ambient strain isn't on display (and which isn't generally 'single' material anyway). The main weakness is that the extended mixes both seem to depend on the rather clichéd base of a kick drum, but rather than merely placing the original melody over the new rhythm (the pattern of most 'dance'-type remixes from the period), Muslimgauze follow the more interesting line of playing with the other elements.

'Bhutto' combines a radio edit and album version of the track 'Benazir Bhutto' from 'Zul'm' and a mix of 'Shiva Hooka'. The title track, in both its forms, is a pleasant, bubbly piece of Arabic-influenced music: a gentle rhythm has rising and falling lines, bird-like twitterings and subtle vocals. Interesting but it sails past like a sunny day: perhaps this is the Benazir Bhutto of an admirer, rather than the Virgin Iron-Pants of Salman Rushdie's 'Shame'. The 'Radio Rabbat Remix' by (Australia's?) Sean Kelly is a nice summary of the longer piece, and could get extensive air-play. 'Shiva Hooka (1000 Nights Mix)' is more interesting as tentative tom strikes attempt to develop a rhythm, winds echo through, echoing machinery rumbles through the background occasionally, producing a dark minimalist landscape.

Muslimgauze said that events stimulated his musical composition - and few are more obvious than 'Hebron massacre' written in response to a shooting of Arabs by a Jewish settler. The single is an extended version of the track on 'Salaam Alekum, Bastard' and has a cover which underscores the theme with press cuttings from the period. Without this supporting context it would still be obvious that the music referred to a dark event: this is a bleak musical statement, a 'danse macabre' as one voice says, referring to the peace process. Over a gentle rhythm set by the drums, an edgy, relentless synthesised maelstrom rolls. There is a regular, stabbing chord which runs throughout (faded at times, also processed); sheets of cutting sounds, particularly in the first part; a distortion which recurs and dominates towards the end. The first half lays the scene which intensifies in the second where a bass/synth line emerges to underlie a building of pressure as the beat increases pace, the distortion becomes more common and dubby echoes flow through. And the suddenly a totally otherworldly musical coda, which could almost be a sample from an old Arabic record. During the whole piece there are some direct (perhaps because in English) vocal samples - people talking about the massacre and its impact. Somewhat draining because of its intensity, this is a dramatic piece of music - the clearest musico-political statement I have heard from Muslimgauze.

There is something about 3" CDs I like - the aesthetics of presentation and the constraints of 20 minutes or so of music are part of it. Whatever, when approached as the medium for composition, it brings out some great music. 'Drugsherpa' is no exception. This is a brooding work - hypnotic rather than ambient. A slow rolling rhythm starts the piece, accompanied by drums and prayer bells - and these bells are a recurring call which provides a continuity through the musical journey. The percussion is overlaid with occasional dislocated instrumental stabs issuing short themes, and some dreamy echoes including the Muslimgauze shimmering strings, but always with a solid base. The drums drop out after about 5 minutes leaving the synth line, revealing it as the brooding heart of the work, and slowly other instruments return, including some distant horns. The second half (or nearly two thirds) is a dubby trip as minimal instrumentation of drums and other percussion, some dreaming voices at one point, echo across the soundscape. The density builds but never as complex as the opening, before a slow fade which ends in an electro-minimalist bleeping. Whether related to the drugs of the title, this is a piece which takes the mind on a wondrous journey - perhaps pottered by the Sherpas.

With 'In search of Ahmad Maser' Muslimgauze ventured into the area of the MiniDisc, presenting 30 minutes of music across four tracks/parts. This is the crackling, distorted stream of his music, where a rhythm loop is set in train (they vary in length and complexity) and the focus is then on the subtle distortions and tinkering which are introduced. The process flattens out the music, removing the layers of instrumentation to a single ground. Some other motifs are present, the backward horns on part 1, the strings in part 2 or the synth in 4, but the loop is king. This is probably the least commercial or broadly appreciated style, and in some tracks on other discs it is difficult to see that much is happening. In the confines of a mini-album, though, the variation is sufficient to catch your attention, particularly in the longer part 4 where the rhythm is accelerated in the second half, or the rubbery loops present earlier. But this is Muslimgauze stripped bare and at its most confronting.

Other singles I have reviewed, which need to be slotted in this survey, are the gorgeous ambience of 'Gulf Between Us' and the more modern rhythms of the recent 'Lahore/Marseilles' and 'Melt'.

My opening question? Rhetorical: the singles are too small a sample, but you, the reader, can probably see some changes. But do they reflect the whole oeuvre?

review by Jeremy Keens
This text originally appeared here May 5, 1999.
Reproduced by permission.

see also Bhutto, Drugsherpa, Drugsherpa & Maroon, Hebron Massacre, In Search Of Ahmad Shah Masood, Iran & Infidel, Iran, Salaam Alekum, Bastard & Zul'm

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Bhutto Drugsherpa Hebron Massacre In Search Of Ahmad Shah Masood In Search Of Ahmad Shah Masood(re-issue)
Iran Iran (2) Iran (3) Iran (4)
January 9, 2017