Artist: Soni Sfardati
Release Date: 17 March 2014
Genre: Improvisational Ethno-Jazz / Rock
License: CC BY-NC-ND
Label: La bel
I was recently offered the opportunity to listen to this release, and immediately leaped at the chance. Just seeing the title: Soni Sfardati – Saqiya grabbed by attention. If there was no other reason than this part of the description:
Music scores written by amanuenses. Tarantellas intertwined in baroque
embroideries, in a game of disguise, on allusive grooves.
But then, the description became even more intriguing:
Virtuous words drawn from an endless dictionary at
the crossroads of cultures: Arab, French, and above all Spanish.
Now this was certainly a way to grab my attention! I will explain a bit more as I take a closer look at this release by Soni Sfardati.
This is not my first journey into recordings that have mixed cultural origins. In fact, you could say it is difficult to avoid cultural mixtures today. However, most often cultural influences are filtered through the lens of western music. Or rather, they are forced to fit western musics domain or dialect. However, I have encountered music where the opposite is true: western cultural influences are hammered into forms to fit within other cultures, or even completely re-invented. A few examples come to mind:
Ekova was an electronic music trio that freely mixed Persian influences and textures with lyrics written in their own language. Diedre Dubois would invent a “language” for each of Ekova’s songs to fit the ambiance and texture of sounds in each piece. The overall effect is quite other-worldly: sometimes simply sublime, and other times a bit unnerving, but always engaging and completely different.
Rabih Abou-Kahlil, took American Jazz music, and fused it with Arab styles in ways that true transcend both cultures. He is a master of walking the lines between numerous cultures both in his life, and in his music.
And, of course, possibly the most noted group that fused different cultural influences within their work is Oregon. While many would say they are pretty firmly rooted in western style and influences, there is no doubt they studied and understood as much of the cultures they could when working on their fusions.
All of these groups, and others have given me a different perspective on mixing cultural influences with western music forms. Especially given me a frame that is different the more common method of forcing eastern cultures to fit into the western style(s).
Soni Sfardati – Saqiya
So, this is why Soni Sfardati intrigued me when I read the description of the release. The fusion of French, Arab and Spanish cultures was something that I needed to hear. But, above that, I saw in the description that they define their music as progressive rock, jazz and improvised, and that got my blood rushing.
To say that I was disappointed would be a misleading statement. I can say that I have been thrilled listening to this release. But, in some respects not for the reasons that I initially thought I would be thrilled to listen to it.
Yes, the fusion of Arab and western cultures is clearly all over this release. And the vocals by Gaia Mattiuzzi are evocative, moving and gorgeous on many levels. But at the heart of this release is the music of Enrico Cassia and Antonio Quinci is front and center of this release. Sometimes they are intertwined, wrapping rhythms around each other, building intricate webs to ensnare Mattuzzi’s vocals. Other times they are at opposite ends of the music, in a duel with each other to find a common ground.
As a trio Soni Sfardati explore many ranges of expression, texture that are as varied as the world around us. And, their transcriptions of the world into audible form are informed from their perspectives. They each bring something new, different and exciting to the compositions on this release.
It’s something that is worth experiencing. Each of these musicians is outstanding in their own way. They are definitely masters of their instruments, and have their own special relationship with music. But, when these strengths are combined, the music becomes something more than the sum of their individual contributions. It’s that special quality that demands this release take a special place in my collection, a space reserved for only a few musicians thus far, like Ekova and Rabih Abou-Kahlil. Now Soni Sfardati joins this select few.
[Ed. Note: There are two links below, one for La bel and one for the artist’s BandCamp release. The La bel release is only an EP. The artist page is the full release.]