Album Review

Al-Shayeb, Shayma – “Singing Songs of Umm Kulthum” – [Unknown]

Thurston Hunger   8/30/2013   CD, International

A score by Surfer Rosa traveling to Jerusalem, where a
shopkeeper offered her this collection featuring a young
Tunisian girl covering some of Umm Kulthum’s signature songs.
Like the mighty Umm, Shayma was the daughter of musically
inclined parents, but Shayma unlike Umm has not gone on
to be heralded as the supreme queen of Arabic music. In
fact it seems as if her second release garnered so little
response, that Shayma may have walked away from her musical
pursuits. I hope not, her singing on here (possibly
recorded in 2001 when she was 15) is stirring. The lead off
track is a take on the incredible “Enta Omri” or “You Are
My Life.” While Shayma may not explore it for over an hour
as Umm would to riveted audiences, she does capture the
surges, breakdowns and rebuilding moments. I don’t even
no what “Ili shuftu” means, but as Shaima stops and repeats
it, it feels like an indictment. Check out the isolation
of just her voice at 16 min. Throughout this CD, the musicians
cover much territory, the stark oud to begin, contrasts with
moments like the beginning of #3 that feels like Rhythm
Heritage and USA 80’s radio. But then there are moments
of feathery ck??n??on (dulcimer) or some ragged strings cut
through the glossier charted sounds. And the compositions
have a lot of great moments that halt and turn in a
different direction, or uncover a lost earlier melody.
Check #4 for a short example of that. Also I dig how the
longer pop songs take their time to introduce the music
before the singer finally shines forth. Shayma’s voice
I suspect was often singing an octave higher than where
Umm once ranged in her latter years, the spryness of
her voice through belies the torture and passion of these
songs, and somehow she captures that. The heart is first
built on innocence, but breaks over and over on these
sublime songs.

-Thurston Hunger

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