Amid the constant replay of harrowing images of burnt-out buildings in Aleppo, the sprawling rubble dust of Raqqa, and devastating refugee displacement, the narrative currently painted of Syria is one of historical effacement. Yet Syria has one of the richest cultural histories in the world, contributing greatly to Arabic classical music with the cyclical poetics of Aleppo’s muwashshah, as well as being deeply influential in the 19th century Arab literary revival, producing poet Adunis, free verse writer Muhammad al-Maghout and novelist Haidar Haidar. Now striving to continue in this tradition – regardless of political ruin – are Syrian musicians Khaled Kurbeh and Raman Khalaf with their debut LP, Aphorisms.
Pianist Kurbeh and oud player Khalaf have been performing together since 2015, merging Arabic classical music with western jazz and classical traditions to create a new vernacular of chamber music. Currently based in Berlin, their compositions straddle the electronic and acoustic, as evinced by this record’s release on a new curatorial project, ‘Between Buttons’, by house veteran Henrik Schwarz. Don’t expect a 4/4 kick though, as Aphorisms’ influences are more subtly worked, centring around an interplay between Khalaf’s lyrical oud and plaintive vocalisations with Kurbeh’s jazz and classical-influenced piano and synthesizer work. Recorded with a Berlin-based ensemble, Aphorisms is at once a record of cultural specificity and an interdisciplinary work of boundary-defying art.
Read the rest of the review in the Quietus.
[This piece was published on 08/11/17]