Joel Dwek & Danny Wiser
OMAN: Ayyar - Salah Al-Zadjali
A passable record with some fun tunes, it may entertain some and leave others unenthused
Joel: Where to start with this album, really. Or, indeed, where not to. It’s fine. I can’t get too excited about it. It’s perfectly listenable, some of the songs are better than others, but not noticeably. It is, to quote The Simpsons, cromulent. I think it is fair to say your mileage may vary with this album, and for those who enjoy contemporary Arabic-language pop music, you may see more in this than I have, but as it stands, it’s an album I find average in every sense of the word. But, it’s from Oman, so it’s getting a review. The Gulf state of Oman proved to be a difficult country from which to find an album, which surprised me in some ways. Albums are readily available from all other states around it, and Oman has a rich musical history. A trading nation whose sailors (and slavers) reached far and wide, musical influences from across Africa’s Indian Ocean coast made it back to Oman. There appears to be little of that in Ayyar, with it sounding like much khaliji music popular across the Persian Gulf. That isn’t a problem, really – Salah Al-Zadjali is under no obligation to make music that borrows ideas from hither and thither just to suit the needs of a world music website – and there are certainly some Western inflections to this album. Where I struggle with the album is the fact that it is just simply a decent album. When listening to it, it passes the time, it is mostly pleasant and diverting, but it does not excite or elicit emotion beyond the most basic enjoyment. The opening track is possibly my favourite, as it is a broadly engaging song in the Arabic pop vein, with a fun synth solo in the middle, whilst the sixth song also has much to commend it as a dance-pop number with a near-catchy chorus. That is, however, as far as I can go in recommending it, but while it may leave me cold, it could perhaps ignite a bit more excitement in others.
“Though Salah Al-Zadjali’s khaliji music has its roots mostly Arab traditions, Al-Zadjali seems unafraid to play with the form and integrate Western styles into it.”
Danny: Unlike some of its neighbours in the region, Oman seems to have a more open-minded approach to incorporating and permitting culture from abroad. This might be partially due to the Sultan’s fairly liberal approach in his support of freedom of religion financing churches and Hindu temples with a relatively positive relationship with the West having even had fruitful meetings with former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. However, some cynics might say that their openness to foreign ideas roots in their role played in the Arab slave trade during its history as a colonial power, controlling land as far south as East Africa in which there were swathes of Bantu people in Oman that contributed to Fann at-Tanbura and Liwa music.
Though Salah Al-Zadjali’s khaliji music has its roots mostly Arab traditions, Al-Zadjali seems unafraid to play with the form and integrate Western styles into it. His 2010 album Ayyar includes a range of influences and stylistic choices that keep it interesting. The title-track that opens the album, is a pop song that speaks of pain and love. He even references listening to Egypt’s so-called fourth pyramid Umm Kulthum, a clear inspiration over many musicians across the Arab world. The record does include other songs that tackle the theme of love with the fourth track Sotik Baeid sung as a ballad and the penultimate track for which he gained a reputation, Asa Ma Yohashek Ghali, has Al-Zadjali pouring his heart out for his loved one who he is far away from.
This does not mean that the album is wholly soppy and there are definitely some songs to dance to. The third track Nadharti includes great percussion keeping the tempo up, meanwhile Tetoon, the seventh song on the album, comprises of the subtle use of electronics which to my mind never overshadow the music but add to it. For me the pièce de résistance on an otherwise cromulent record is the sixth track which begins with the sound of a telephone ringing and has a really fun tune that one cannot help move their body to. As a parting gift, the song is remixed at the end of the album with a really filthy club beat. Translated as Missed Call, I can imagine Al Zadjali filling up the dancefloors in Muscat with either the original or the remix of this banging tune.