Monday, October 13, 2014

Naim Karakand

I highly, highly recommend this article by Ian Nagoski on the Syrian-American violin player Naim Karakand, recently published by Reorient.

It's a pretty incredible story. He emigrated to New York from Aleppo in 1909, and recorded his first side for Columbia in 1912. In 1916, he recorded "Tatos Bishro," which was made famous nearly 20 years later by renowned Egyptian violin player Sami El-Chawa, who also hailed originally from Aleppo.

Among his other recordings is this amazing tune from 1919: "Gazabieh (Pt. 2)," a dance from Gaza. [But see below: added Oct. 14] This one really blows me away. You can find it, and some other tunes by Karakand, on a terrific recording that Ian Nagoski produced for Tompkins Square Records, What Strange Place: The Music of the Ottoman-American Diaspora, 1916-1929.

In the 1930s Karakand went off to Brazil to join his brother. Then in the 1950s, he was back in New York City, where he played with the Kalimat Orchestra, which accompanied the well-known Lebanese-American fifties musician of belly dance, Mohammed El-Bakkar. Nagoski thinks it is Karakand on violin in all those El-Bakkar recordings. And if that is true, then Karakand appears on the soundtrack to Jack Smith's film Normal Love.

Finally, Karakand plays violin on Ahmed Abdul-Malik's 1958 "East-West jazz fusion" release, Jazz Sahara. Abdul-Malik played bass with, among others, Art Blakey, Thelonius Monk, and Randy Weston. But he also played oud on his solo, East-West fusion, jazz albums. Check out the track "El Haris," from Jazz Sahara. It is not a particularly ground-breaking "fusion," but the violin playing is really to die for.

Nagoski makes the following observation about the importance of the Arab music scene in New York City for fifties jazz: "Unwritten in the history of jazz, it had become fashionable during the 50s among some musicians to attend the many ‘Oriental’ nightclubs, particularly up and down 8th Avenue between 40th and 50th Street, where modal music in various time signatures could be heard. It was no coincidence, then, that in the late 50s and early 60s a string of jazz LPs were released that were both modal and featured 4/4 time signatures. As well, the movement of many African-Americans towards Islam further worked in favour of the incorporation of musical elements from the Middle East in jazz. The influence of Middle Eastern musicians on those of New York is, in retrospect very clear, although it has never truly been delineated." Hopefully someone will follow up on this.

P.S. October 14: I posted the song "Gazabieh (Pt. 2)" on Facebook and it elicited some discussion. Based on comments from my friends Reem and Rochelle (to whom: thanks), it appears that the song is probably not from Gaza. The song opens with the spoken lines, "Come on, ladies, here is a dance tune from Syria." word Gazabieh جاذبية  in Arabic means attractiveness, fascination, or charm. And Gazabieh is probably where whoever wrote the notes on the Youtube post got the "Gaza" idea.

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