Souad Massi

El Mutakallimun

(Wrasse Records)

The honey-laden vocal of Souad Massi is put to stupendous use on ten rhythmically addictive tracks on El Mutakallimun, which translates as masters of the world.

The masters in this instance are Arabic poets, an inspiration for Massi, who was raised in Algeria, to arrange their poetry into what is, even on first listening, pleasurable and immensely gratifying songs in a tongue most of us west of Paris, where she made her name performing solo, will not understand.

Massi’s strength is in her obvious fidelity to the original work, but the music, switching from funk to ballad to reggae to light rock, freights the tone of the words with a sensitivity to the syntax of the poems.

In her career, Massi has had to flee death threats after fronting a political rock band: fed up with the negative headlines associated with Arabic culture, Massi was moved with El Mutakallimun to spread a little enlightenment.

Since 9/11 in particular, as an artist Massi has had to contend with a culture snared between religious extremism and savage political caricature, and this is her riposte: poems, as old as time and as perfect as dew, resplendent with humanity and humility.

Fortunately, Massi has a voice that, whilst singing in Arabic, has an elasticity to be either soft or serrated, passionate or timid, with a shift in mood that can segue the differences between African soul and Fado. There was scant information about the band or instruments with the CD I received, but I understand from a review in The Guardian that El Mutakallimun includes oud, banjo and piano, with guitar work from the inspired Jean-François Kellner.

From Bima El Taaloul to Saaiche, Massi reminds us of the intrinsic value and the magical qualities of Nabati poetry, such as artistic flair, colloquialism and a concern with the ordinary. Beautiful

Dylan’s Shed

 

If you are making haste through South Wales for the afternoon ferry back to Ireland, allot some time to visit the gorgeous village of Laugharne and its sumptuous estuary, synonymous with Dylan Thomas, who spent the latter years of his life living in the Boathouse – now a museum – and writing in a nearby shed, now refurbished but still supported by stilts, facing Taf Estuary. The accompanying photograph I took from Dylan’s shed, and it is easy to appreciate why he approved of its location. There are some places on the planet I would have no hesitation in describing as magical, and this pocket of Carmarthenshire is one of them.

Laura Ellen Bacon

Laura Ellen Bacon’s recently completed Murmuration, which is currently transforming the already beautiful facade of the Holburne Museum in Bath, is visible from without and within, and evokes the patterns of swallows and starlings, hence the name. The material is made entirely from Flanders Red Willow, soaked to retain its pliability before it is knotted into shape, and the installation is quite visible from a distance, such as Laura Place.