Last year’s Land of Kush “Against the Day” was phenomenal. A psychedelic trip into classical Arabic music with amazing songs and lots of free playing. I was struck with the transitions between each song on this record. It literally got me on my feet to see how well this was scored by montrealer Sam Shalabi. Shalabi is a namesake in the Montreal underground music scene. He’s been exploring the oud (oriental lute) for some time now, incorporating it in various experimental outfits, the most known being Shalabi Effect. But he’s also a great guitar player, electronicist, arranger, improviser and composer. A few years ago, Shalabi undertook a trip to his native Egypt, to meet with his family and also to perfect his oud playing. Things didn’t go as planned, and Osama (Sam’s full name) ended up playing in an Egyptian jazz band for some time, mostly exploring Arabic standards. When he came back to Canada, his music took a particular twist. The first release after this voyage is a record released under his own name, titled “Eid”; a sublime collection of pop songs, sonic explorations and field recordings, summarizing his stay in Egypt. He then started to gather some of his friends around him, to perform orchestral experimental Arabic music. Land Of Kush and Egyptian Light Orchestra are actually two different entities under which he performed live; we can presume that they kept the first name on this release for commercial reason.
“Monogamy” starts with ecstatic chants and a robotic voice telling us that he’s “got pustules on my cock”. Shalabi teamed up with Gavin John Sheehan to create the voice of “Junior”, a narrator accompanying us into this sexually charged head-trip, exploring realms of sexuality in relationships. Legend says that Junior started as an email exchange between Shalabi and Sheehan, both challenging each other to see who would come up with the best insults. Others say these are actual quotes, picked up form hardcore bands lyrics… Knowing that these two gentlemen’s are pranksters and musically knowledgeable, both theories are plausible. In the end, “Junior” utters sentences related to the disgust sexuality can arise when met in its perverted forms. The use of Junior seems to make up for the lack of compositional arrangements, especially in the transitions. But this is a minor flaw, more related to one’s personal taste than to the music per se. The orchestration on this record is abundant, with two dozen musicians directed by a skillful conductor. The timbre and palette oozing with oriental psychedelia: groovy percussions, woodwinds, electronic drones and keyboards. All this held together with oud, strings and a healthy dose of free-jazz.
But the music is also focused on songs, with the presence of four different singers throughout. Maybe it’s the whole idea of monogamy that made Shalabi pick only female singers for this release. Elizabeth Anka Vajagic, Molly Sweeny, Katie Moore and Ariel Engle are the vocalists invited by the composer to share their voices and writing skills on his peculiar relationship between sex and music. Each performed and wrote a song with gripping results; beautiful voices combined with well-thought lyrics, following the conceptual thread of this release. On the title track Molly Sweeny warns us that we’ll “reach for paper towels/ to clean up all your spills”. Because this is what this music is intended to, provoke some kind of orgasm in the listener’s body, and it works. The closing track of the record is so beautiful that it almost made me weep. Just another kind of semen being expelled from my body, by an oud and a classical guitar intertwined underneath some distant recording, credited to the people of the Syrian Arab Republic, of a male singer either reciting a verse of the Koran or singing about his lost lover. This, in both cases, serves the same truth. 9/10 -- Frédérick Galbrun (30 June, 2010)