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Sand Enigma Land of Kush

Release date: 8 November 2019

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Renowned Montréal/Cairo-based composer Sam Shalabi returns with his exhilarating and utterly genre-bending big band Land Of Kush. The trenchantly-titled Sand Enigma is the orchestra’s long awaited fourth album – its first in six years, following 2013’s The Big Mango, Shalabi’s critically-acclaimed love letter to Cairo, written and recorded during the Arab Spring. While the intervening years have obviously been devastating and disenchanting in so many ways, Sand Enigma bristles with defiant exuberance, restless creative energy, and electrifying cross-cultural expression. The album is a wildly diverse and hugely compelling tour de force of modern composition that pulses with emotion and experimentation, blending avant-garde, psychedelic, Middle Eastern, out-jazz, electronic and improv/free music tropes to stunning effect. Sand Enigma is peak Land Of Kush: the band’s most accomplished, acute and accessible album to date (though don’t expect ‘easy listening’ from this boundary-pushing hydra-headed entity).

“Sam Shalabi’s combination of Arabic traditional motifs and instruments with jazz, free improvisation and electronics truly stretch any notion of genre to breaking point.” – Brainwashed

“Sam Shalabi has raised the bar for modern psychedelic music with the Land of Kush orchestra, utilizing Middle Eastern, jazz, rock, and folkloric sources to weave a seamless montage of styles in a transcendent way that is rarely, if ever, achieved.” – Alan Bishop (Sun City Girls / Sublime Frequencies)

Click here to read live concert review of the Sand Enigma premiere at the Aga Khan Museum

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Tracklist

1. Aha
2. Domyat 1331
3. Safe Space
4. Broken Maqams
5. Sand Enigma
6. Ssssss
7. Recuerdo
8. Bone Mass pt I
9. Bone Mass pt II
10. Bone Mass pt III
11. Ana
12. Trema
13. Dol
14. Tensor

Packaging Notes

Deluxe double 180gram LP pressed at Optimal (Germany) comes in a wide-spine jacket printed on heavy uncoated 24pt/450gsm paperboard with the inside of the jacket finished in black ink and the 2 vinyl LPs housed in audiophile polylined black paper dust sleeves. The 2x180gLP edition includes a pair of full colour 12”x24” pull-out art inserts featuring photography by Hicham Chadly (Nashazphone) and Frédéric Oberland (Oiseaux-Tempête), printed on uncoated140M archival paper. Includes digital download card.

CD comes in a custom mini-gatefold jacket printed on uncoated paperboard with an an inner dust sleeve for the disc. Artwork by Hicham Chadly (Nashazphone).

Description

Renowned Montréal/Cairo-based composer Sam Shalabi returns with his exhilarating and utterly genre-bending big band Land Of Kush. The trenchantly-titled Sand Enigma is the orchestra’s long awaited fourth album – its first in six years, following 2013’s The Big Mango, Shalabi’s critically-acclaimed love letter to Cairo, written and recorded during the Arab Spring. While the intervening years have obviously been devastating and disenchanting in so many ways, Sand Enigma bristles with defiant exuberance, restless creative energy, and electrifying cross-cultural expression. The album is a wildly diverse and hugely compelling tour de force of modern composition that pulses with emotion and experimentation, blending avant-garde, psychedelic, Middle Eastern, out-jazz, electronic and improv/free music tropes to stunning effect. Sand Enigma is peak Land Of Kush: the band’s most accomplished, acute and accessible album to date (though don’t expect ‘easy listening’ from this boundary-pushing hydra-headed entity).

Premiered at a rapturously-received concert in spring 2018 at the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto, Shalabi entered Montréal’s Hotel2Tango studio later that year to record Sand Enigma with producer/engineer Radwan Ghazi Moumneh (Jerusalem In My Heart, Matana Roberts, Suuns, Big Brave, Sarah Davachi) and a cast of over twenty of Montréal’s finest out-music players, many of them veterans of Kush and of Shalabi’s various other projects. This 75-minute work (spread across two slabs of vinyl in the deluxe 2x180gLP edition) brilliantly captures a band on fire, flowing through composed set-pieces, improvisational turns, harmolodic gestural and textural interplay, bursts of fervent groove, and fearless, feral experimentation. As Alan Bishop (Sun City Girls/Sublime Frequencies) raves: “Sam Shalabi has raised the bar for modern psychedelic music with the Land Of Kush orchestra, weaving a seamless montage of styles in a transcendent way that is rarely, if ever, achieved.”

As with previous works, the music on Sand Enigma also shifts between instrumentals and vocal-led pieces, with various singers contributing their own lyrics and taking the lead on different songs – including long-standing Kush members Elizabeth Anka Vajagic, Katie Moore and Elizabeth Lima (also a virtuosic extended technique clarinetist), and the newly drafted Tokyo-to-Montréal émigré Maya Kuroki. And while the bounty of heavy-hitting instrumental players are too numerous to call out here, Sand Enigma notably features two new international collaborators, and leading lights of Cairo’s burgeoning avant-electronic scene: Nadah El Shazly (vocals) and Maurice Louca (keys/synths). Among other accolades, both were recently featured as avatars of the Egyptian ‘new wave’ in a cover story in The Wire (along with Dwarfs Of East Agouza, the epiphanic trio of which Shalabi is a member) and both are perfect fits for Shalabi’s compositional sensibility and the idiosyncratic performative spaces he seeks to open up in his big band works. Shazly takes the vocal lead on three songs, including the simmeringly strange slow-burn of the superb album opener “Aha”, and the more traditionally-rooted (though suitably tweaked) maqam-based groove of “Trema” – both highlights on an album that truly bursts forth with them, like relentless fireworks set off from several corners of the world, converging over a Montréal twilight sky, inscribing a celebratory celestial score that innately resists every facile, orthodox or prevailing idea of ‘fusion’ music. Thanks for listening.

Credits

Sam Shalabi – composition; arrangement/lyrics on “Sand Enigma”

Amir Amiri – santur/vocals
Ivan Bamford – percussion
Pierre-Guy Blanchard – percussion
Michel Bonneau – percussion/vocals
Dina Cindric – piano
Patrick Conan – drums
Jonah Fortune – acoustic bass
David Gossage – flutes
Geneviève Heistek – viola/vocals
Adam Kinner – tenor saxophone
Maya Kuroki – vocals/lyrics on “Safe Space”
Elizabeth Lima – clarinet /vocals
Maurice Louca – keyboards/synthesizer
Vicky Mettler – electric and acoustic guitar
Mark Molnar – cello
Katie Moore – vocals/lyrics on “Recuerdo”
Sarah Pagé – harp/vocals
Anthony Von Seck – setar and lap steel guitar
Jason Sharp – baritone saxophone
Nadah El Shazly – vocals/lyrics on “Aha” + “Trema” + “Dol”
Alexandre St-Onge – electronics/vocals
Elizabeth Anka Vajagic – vocals/lyrics on “Bone Mass”
Devin Brahja Waldman – alto saxophone
Joshua Zubot – violin

Recorded and mixed at Hotel2Tango in Montréal, Canada by Radwan Ghazi Moumneh
Assistant engineering by Ky Brooks
Nadah El Shazly recorded in Cairo, Egypt by Adham Zidan
Mastered at Grey Market Mastering in Montréal, Canada by Harris Newman
Cover images by Hicham Chadly and Frédéric Oberland

Reviews

“Contemporary Album of the Month ” – The Guardian ★★★★

“Land Of Kush return with their best record to date. Sand Enigma is a work of enormous ambition with many incredible highs. In blurring the line between traditional and contemporary, as well as the distinctions between musical genres not usually known to keep company, Sam Shalabi has delivered a modern psychedelic masterpiece with ancient overtones.” – The Quietus

“Never fails to defy expectations… a truly enthralling musical picture.” – The Arts Desk ★★★★

“Western and Middle-Eastern instrumentation coalesce here in a stylistic mosaic traversing free-jazz, noise abstraction, psychedelic rock and traditional Arabic idioms, whilst vocalist Nadah El Shazly imbues the tableau with dreamlike qualities, her voice alternatiating between incantory balm and ululating assault… Land Of Kush employ intense juxtapositions of beauty and bombast as mediums of recall, contemplating both temporal and spiritual elements to realize a truer evocation of people and place.” – Record Collector

Sand Enigma is a cutting-edge fusion between experimental jazz and traditional forms of music. Merging the sounds from Montreal’s avant-garde rock and post-punk improv scene with Arabic classical instrumentation and free jazz — Shalabi ingeniously delivers a nuanced, sonic expression of the explored musical themes, friendships and relationships between Montreal and Cairo. It is experimentalism at its finest.” – Scene Noise

Sand Enigma Land of Kush Release date: 8 November 2019 Prices in CAD; currency converter in menu bar Physical goods ship via air mail from Montreal Shipping cost estimate

A Journey to the Land of Kush – The Land of Kush

We were looking for something a bit different and my wife has some food issues so I thought a vegan/vegetarian place would be just right for her – and I would suffer through it. We arrived, found a parking space right across the street (there is a big municipal garage right across the small street but not needed.)
It turned out there was a brunch special with pancakes – and I am a pancake aficionado – so we ordered up two brunch specials.
Five minutes later two plates appeared, just loaded with food. Smelled good, the pancakes tasted out of this world. They were far from the pallid things at most restaurants, they were big grainy, tasty chunks of heaven – with fresh blueberries mixed in. I like no loved everything with the minor exception of the potatoes which had too much pepper for my taste (I don’t like pepper at all and any is too much for me.)
The place is small and probably seats 15 or 16 people and I had a good look at many of the plates; everything looked and smelled good. The restaurant was fresh and clean, the restroom immaculate.
It is easy to get to and in a quiet nice neighborhood.
All in all, a great find for us and a new place to try the extent of their menu.

The Land of Kush: A Journey to the Land of Kush – See 243 traveller reviews, 88 candid photos, and great deals for Baltimore, MD, at Tripadvisor.