Rabih Abou-Khalil: Mourir pour ton decollete

Posted: Feb 24, 2024   6:30:17 PM   |   Last updated: Mar 5, 2024   10:35:43 AM
by Pascal-Denis Lussier

Lebanese oud player, composer, and band leader Rabih Abou-Khalil has long been a favourite of mine. His work marries traditional Middle East forms with Western jazz ones. His music pulsates, drives listeners into an Arabian mysticism that conjures familiar phrasings whilst taking them on explorative journeys shaped by eerily-simple or bafflingly-complex singular voices that rise out of the tight, collectively expressed themes. 

Seeing one of his larger ensembles live, which included trumpetist Kenny Wheeler and bassist Steve Swallow, remains one of the more memorable concerts I've attended out of the thousand+ experienced, this also being true for the centuries-old musical tradition embodied in the Moroccan trance music of the Master Musicians of Jajouka. Music that liberates. Profoundly.   

The album I'd like to draw your attention to, his 2007 Songs for Sad Women, features a stripped down ensemble of only four musicians, with Rabih Abou-Khalil on oud, Gevorg Dabaghyan on duduk, Michel Godard on serpent, and Jarrod Cagwin playing standard and frame drums.

The whole album is worth a listen—as for the rest of his discography—but it's the chart titled "Mourir pour ton décolleté" I wish to share.

In this particular piece, it's the duduk voicing that gets me (starts at ≅ 3:35); it's absolutely hauntingly beautiful. It has a way of reaching inside me, completely disharming me, making my heart swell with a generalized sense of melancholia that manages to simultaneously fill me with a deep sadness and joy.  

French avant-garde jazz and classical music tubist, Michel Godard, adds an important, resonant layer, playing the tuba's precursor on this album, a serpent, named as such for its—you guessed it—serpentine shape.   

No matter how many times I've heard it, I still get goosebumps.

Music so beautiful it hurts to hear it.

Anouar Brahem's 1998 Thimar, with jazz greats Dave Holland and John Surman, is another such album.

If I'm not mistaken, the duduk air is from a traditional, folk wedding song. I'm pretty sure I've a source recording in my archives that dates from the 1930s, but I wasn't able to locate it quickly, and if I dive too deep, I'm not coming out of there for hours and I've things to do and prepare...

The album is a type of protest against the regional radicalization that saw women's rights being reduced, including the right to dispose of their bodies and to dress as they wish. The title, "Mourir pour ton décolleté" directly translates to "Dying for Your Cleavage", which is to be understood as "dying for your slightly unbuttoned shirt."

Given the times and the events in the region, nothing seems more appropriate: 

Posted 3 months ago  Last updated: Mar 5, 2024, 10:35 AM