Against The Day
For the past five or so years Shalabi has also been writing and arranging sprawling compositions for large ensembles, the most recurring of which is Land Of Kush, modeled on classical orchestras from late Nasser-era Egypt. Incorporating some 30 Montréal players and vocalists, Kush includes string, brass, woodwinds, guitar, and percussion sections, in addition to electronics and Shalabi’s oud.
In June of 2008, Land Of Kush debuted a new piece as part of Suoni Per Il Popolo, an annual festival that runs in Montréal throughout the month of June. In a capacity-filled Sala Rossa, with the too-large-to-fit-the-stage orchestra spilling off the stage and splayed across the front third of the venue’s floor, Land Of Kush – with Shalabi conducting and playing – delivered a euphoric performance that was widely hailed as a festival highlight.
Shalabi has described earlier hybrid compositional work as “protest music about Arabophobia” (Osama, 2003) after 9/11 and an attempt at modern Arabic pop (Eid, 2008) inspired by an extended stay in Cairo in 2006. Land Of Kush combines both of these impulses, to our ears, while also rallying Sam’s long obsessions with psychedelic music (viz. Shalabi Effect) and epic literary fiction.
Fearing that yet another ephemeral Shalabi masterpiece would be lost to all but a few esoteric live mini-disc recordings, Constellation helped Sam bring the Land Of Kush orchestra into a studio environment to document a proper recording of the work. Gathering a group of extraordinary players as large and busy as this one should be a daunting task, yet Sam did it with ease, not because he’s an organisational genius or is able to financially remunerate anyone, but because musicians genuinely want to work with him.
Inspired by and named after the Thomas Pynchon’s novel Against the Day, the music is broken into five sections, named for the book’s chapters. The three primary movements are centred around solo vocalists (Jason Grimmer, Molly Sweeney, Radwan Moumneh) who composed their own lyrics for the piece. In between vocal performances, Shalabi gives the orchestra ample opportunity to strut its stuff, including solos and long instrumental passages that display Sam’s unique balance of composition and ‘expository’ or improvisational instruction.
Against The Day is a complex, intense, but accessible hour of hybrid, genre-defying music. The marriage of middle-eastern, north African and western modes and influences yields a recording that evades categorization. Constellation is proud to be releasing this new work by one of Montréal’s most challenging and prolific musical iconoclasts.