You've probably heard Christmas carols in a variety of pop stylistic treatments, including gospel, jazz, rock and blues. Recently I listened to a CD of carols in a style I'll call "New-Age Middle Eastern." Does this sound odd? Not at all, especially when you think about the relationship of the carols' stories to the geographical setting. And the term "New Age" is especially relevant: Desert Wind, the recording group and label, defines its mission as "bringing music of world peace and celebration to the new millennium."
Their 1999 CD is Christmas Rhythms of the Holy Land. The core ensemble, based in Salt Lake City, comprises seven musicians who are specialists in Middle Eastern music and play a large number of instruments. For this recording, two others join them: Rajab Juma from Libya and Rami Ziadeh, a Palestinian Christian from the Bay Area (who happens to have been born near Bethlehem on Dec. 25). Ziadeh was an inspiration for the production.
One of the distinctive features of much Middle Eastern music is its organization around specific rhythmic patterns that derive from spoken poetry. This album demonstrates more than 10 of those patterns, and each one is exotic, hypnotic and "easy listening" — all at the same time. The selections themselves aren't unusual. You'll hear standards such as "Silent Night," "What Child Is This?" and "O Come, All Ye Faithful." But like you've never heard before! They are played on Middle Eastern instruments. There are varieties of drums — tablas, dumbek and djembe — and flutes. Other instruments include a riq (an Egyptian tambourine) and Oriental bells.
Vocalist Amy Faust sings three selections, and Alan Bachman, group leader, wrote several new pieces. The last composition is "Tikkun Olam," a phrase that Jews use for "healing the world." How appropriate at this particular time.
Unless you live in a large city, you're not likely to find this CD in a local store. You can order from Desert Wind at P.O. Box 3722, Salt Lake City, UT, 84110 or at www.desertwindmusic.com or at www.amazon.com.
© 2014 Augsburg Fortress, Publishers