Since 2005, Jerusalem In My Heart has been Radwan Ghazi Moumneh (all music) and Charles-Andre Coderre (all visuals). This is only their second album, however, because they were always more of a live band.
Obviously there’s no real visual component to the record.
Since I don’t know all that much about this band, I rely on the Constellation records website for my information. Thus:
Moumneh expands his compositional palette on If He Dies, If If If If If If, exploring new deconstructions and juxtapositions of both traditional and popular Arab musical currents, with an album that oscillates between powerfully emotive vocal tunes and instrumental works that primarily make use of Radwan’s expressive acoustic playing on buzuk as a point of departure.
The album’s first song “Al Affaq, Lau Mat, Lau Lau Lau Lau Lau Lau (The Hypocrite, If He Dies, If If If If If If)” opens the disc with a short piece of processed vocals. The Arabic traditional voice is mildly auto-tuned which sounds kind of cool. [FROM CST: One of Moumneh’s finest melismatic a cappella vocal performances].
Track 2, “A Granular Buzuk” is a 7-minute instrumental piece of Moumneh on buzuk with pulsing electronic background music. [CST: the buzuk is processed, re-sampled and otherwise disrupted through Radwan’s real-time custom signal patches]. As with a lot of this record, pretty instrumental passages are interrupted and taken over by noise—this time a kind of mechanical scratching. It ends with some quietly ringing percussion as the electronics all slowly drift away.
“7ebr El 3oyoun (Ink From The Eyes)” is a vocal track with an electronic drone. It sounds traditional and mournful, but about 3 minutes in, a drum and buzuk keeps time and the song grows a bit more upbeat. [CST: languidly plaintive vocals set against a gradually accelerating riff underpinned by hand percussion].
“Qala Li Kafa Kafa Kafa Kafa Kafa Kafa (To Me He Said Enough Enough Enough Enough Enough Enough)” has incredibly loud static with a buzuk playing in the background. After a minute and a half the static drops away and the background is filled with a quiet pulsing kind of static. You can finally hear the instrument being played in all its glory. [CST: a scabrous white noise intervention wherein the entire audio mix is fed through a contact mic placed in Radwan’s mouth].
“Lau Ridyou Bil Hijaz (What If The Hijaz Was Enough?)” is mostly synth–again an old sound with metronymic electronic percussion and quiet vocals. It’s all kind of muffled and very retro. [CST: Moumneh continues to channel his love for Arabic pop and Casio/cassette culture with this silky lo-fi dance].
“Ta3mani; Ta3meitu (He Fed Me; I Fed Him)” is a faster piece. Echoed vocals and drones rest behind a fast buzuk melody. [CST: he pays homage to the until-recently-exiled Kurdish poet and singer Sivan Perwer on this traditional-minded, unadorned folk tune].
“Ah Ya Mal El Sham (Oh The Money of Syria)” opens with a loud vocal and a flute mirroring the voice. It runs for seven-minutes and ends quietly. [CST: a tour-de-force drone piece built from Bansuri flute (performed by guest player Dave Gossage)].
The disc ends with “2asmar Sa7ar (The Brown One Cast A Spell),” a fast buzuk solo played over the relaxing sounds of oceans waves. It has a cool melody and runs quickly and then calmly for some five-minutes before the disc ends with more waves lapping against the shore. [CST delicate acoustic number set against the sound of waves recorded on a beach in Lebanon].
As with the previous record, song titles employ the transliterative characters used in Arabic phone texting, which I think is pretty cool.
[READ: March 30, 2016] Jerusalem
With a title and subtitle like that you know this isn’t going to be a fun and lighthearted story. And it is not. The introduction explains how this is the story of a family, but it is more about the land and the strife that has been there for generations.
A lengthy history of Jerusalem is given, but for the purposes of this story the most recent action is the 1929 dispute over prayer rights which led to riots. And then the British imposed the White Paper of 1939 which blocked Jewish immigration and was in place as the Nazis were riding to power. This led many Palestinian Jews to regard the British as hostile. And yet many Palestinian Jews joined the British army to fight the Nazis in Italy and the Middle East. At the same time there were underground forces of Palestinian Jews who were attacking the British.
The action of this story takes place in 1945.
There is also a history of the Halaby family about whom this story is concerned. Yakov Halaby was born after a series of girls were born in his family. His father vowed that if they had another son they would move to Jerusalem. After Izak was born they did so. But Yakov was jealous from the start. And he made Izak’s life miserable. Eventually Izak left and married an Egyptian woman and they both moved back to Jerusalem.
Motti Halaby is the son of Izak. He has learned his French well. Meanwhile David, son of Yakov, is in Motti’s class and refuses to do anything that the British teachers teach them–especially the part about not speaking Hebrew. He is rebellious and often punished. Despite their differences, the two are friends, and while Motti behaves in school he is a hard aas in the neighborhood–telling off British soldiers.
Then we get to Motti’s house where his family are auctioning off their belongings. His father, Izak, is mellow, often smoking and reading the paper, while his mother is an angry-looking shrewish woman. She perpetually has an angry look and an ugly face compared to her daughter who is quite pretty. While the man is trying to quantify their possessions, it is up to David, the eldest son, to step in and fight for his family. David wants to fight for the British army–which upsets his mother.
Meanwhile the middle son, Ezra is a hard-working boy but he has joined the militant underground. And Avraham, who was out fighting in the war, has just returned and is angry with Motti already about his becoming a hoodlum. It is Avraham who gets Motti a job working behind the scenes in the local theater.
We see a lot of action in the streets and behind the scenes in which all of the brothers advance their own stories–mostly through violent means. And then we see that Yakov has sued Izak for back rents even though Yakov is extremely wealthy and Izak is kind to Yakov’s daughters.
Before the end of the first part, Ezra has set off a bomb in the British officer’s club.
In 1946 the house receives a visitor, Sylvia Halaby. She claims that David is the father of her child (even though she is Italian and not Jewish). They don’t turn her away but they all say that when David comes back he will clear things up.
Meanwhile Ezra is buying weapons from the Arabs and Avraham catches him–which leads to Avraham’s getting bloodied in a fight and his promise to turn Ezra in.
In a brief scene with the daughters, we see that Devoraj really likes her new aunt who is sweet she says that her aunt kisses her children while her mother has never kissed her once.
Izak was sent to jail because he couldn’t pay his brother and Sylvia sold her earrings to bail him out–just intensifying the conflict between Izak and his wife
By Nov 1947, the baby was born and the vote on the partition of Palestine was taking place. And that’s when things get even more violent–the amount of death in this story is staggering. Children are killed, soldiers are ambushed, there are grenades and machine gun attacks. It turns children into thieves and killers. And it has turned family members against each other.
They are all fighting until Sylvia has to yell at them and talk about what family really means–she has a devastating family story of her own. Amid the bombing and strife, two young people agree to spend their lives together (in a rather disturbing ceremony). And one of the family is killed. And one of them officially becomes a man–which is only going to cayuse more trouble between the family members .
The only place of solace for anyone is in the theater where Motti worked hard. Even though he was stage crew, he had learned all of the plays that they are performing–showing his scholarly bent from earlier in the story. It may be the only moment of peace he gets before more bad news is bound to come.
This story was really good and very powerful. Another successful book from First Second.
The only problem I had with the story was keeping everyone straight. The brothers while distinct when together were hard to tell apart during the action scenes. Especially since David and Avraham both wore military clothes. There were also other characters who also sowed up. I wish that people addressed each other by name a bit more to be able to keep the boys straight. But other than that this was a really good, really dark story.