Hassan Hakmoun :: The Gift
In February of 1999 I attended a gala benefit concert for the World Music Institute in NYC. The evening's roster of performers included musicians from Armenia, Africa, India, Iran, Palestine, Israel, America, & China. It was a somber night as the great tabla Ustad Alla Rakha had just passed away two days prior to the concert, forcing the absence of Zakir Hussain. However, Maestro Vikku Vinaykaram filled in at the last minute, reviving partial memories of Shakti in his performance with L. Shankar. Despite the mood, it was an outstanding event and I was particularly impressed by Morocco's Hassan Hakmoun.
Blessed with a musical gift, Hakmoun grew up in a family of musicians who studied and practiced the tradition of Gnawa, an ancient form of trance and purification performance, steeped in Islamic mysticism, which blends North African and Arab melodies with West African rhythms. Gnawa musicians are recognized for their healing powers, as well as the "trance" that is unleashed by the sheer joy and intensity during a performance, akin to the hypnotic spell cast by qawwaliyas. Armed with the sintir (a three stringed, long necked lute, similiar to the Persian sehtar), qarkabeb (large metallic castanets),
and tbel or ganga (large side drums), and wearing pajamas in vibrant native fabrics. Gnawa musicians perform amazing acrobatic feats, displaying kicks and leaps to seemingly levitate in their dance, all the while maintaining a fervent pulse that is laced with single and group chants and harmonies.
Hassan's last album, "Life Around the World" was documentary in style and production, keeping a traditional, barebones approach to the entire recording. "The Gift" in contrast, released on the increasingly prolific Triloka label, resonates with layers of sound, thanks in large part to the keen guidance of Fabian Alsultany. Incorporating a wider range of Arabic music and instruments for this project, the CD is extremely accessible and will impart visions of the deserts, caravans, oases, and mountains of North Africa if you choose to submit. Culling together musicians from Marrakesh, NYC, & LA, their combined efforts yield songs which roll like the sands of the Sahara. Vishal Vaid lends able vocal support to "Layla Layla", while Paula Cole enchants in duet on the title cut.
'Bismillah irrahim irrahim' - Almighty Thanks to God for this lovely creation.