BRICKWORK LIZARDS – Haneen (Lazima Records)

HaneenYou probably couldn’t invent the way this band came about – but the results are very impressive and the beginning is entirely in keeping with the eclecticism of the music. Ten years ago, Egyptian vocalist and oud-player Tarik Beshir met Oxford rap scene stalwart Tom O’Hawk after a chance encounter at a party [not too unusual so far]. Discovering a mutual love of the 1930s harmony group The Ink Spots [how did that conversation get going?], they dreamed up an entirely new sound that would combine pre-war jazz with Arabic and Middle Eastern music [….and how did that conversation get going?]. From this surreal beginning, Brickwork Lizards began to take shape. The group is now an eight-piece band (oud, cello, drums and percussion, double bass, violin, viola, saxophone, trumpet, keyboards, guitar) and their second album Haneen has just been released.

As far as I know, the music is unique in the UK – and probably in the world. Have a listen to ‘Yah Rayeh’ in the video below (filmed in a church) and you will see how the component parts meld into a smooth sound which really shouldn’t work and actually works beautifully – the strings blending with the oud in the introduction, the lead shared between vocals and trumpet before the rap comes in (from up above in the pulpit, stunning idea), the band maintaining a rhythm which is simultaneously calming and up tempo. There are some remarkable musical brains at work here and there are musicians who have the dexterity to make it happen apparently effortlessly.

Tarik describes the underlying theme of the album as “paying homage to great traditions, some completely disappeared…some that hardly get written nowadays”. They have been described as playing Turkabilly music and there are a couple of traditional Ottoman pieces on the album: ‘Hijaz Zeybek’ and ‘Hijaz Mandira’ (with an introduction which made me smile at its nod to ‘You Can’t Hurry Love’). Equally, the old thirties sound (remember, they started the band because of The Ink Spots) comes across as the main style behind ‘We’re Through’ and the slower ‘Old Fashioned Song’ which closes the album.

‘Toro Mata’ is a slightly scary-sounding track, based on Peruvian traditional music with a rap lead on top of it. If by now you’ve clicked on the video below of ‘Yah Rayah’, you’ll understand that this works; if you haven’t, do it now, it’s the only way.

‘The Hanging Tune’ is a traditional English lament sung at executions. Like much of the album, it would make for a great soundtrack (in this instance, as I listen to the track I imagine scenes of full Christopher Lee Hammer Horror meeting up with 17th Century Puritans at the gallows).

So….Haneen is the second album by Brickwork Lizards, an Arabic jazz-folk ensemble from Oxford. The tracks move across eras, genres and countries to create a sound unique in this country. Hopefully, the notes above have inspired you to have a listen for yourself. I haven’t seen them live and, much as I’ve enjoyed the album, I suspect their true métier is in a live performance (somewhere like The Blind Pig from Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, perhaps?). There are a few gigs coming up in Oxford and west-ish (check their website) but I’m rather hoping that, for all the complexities of getting an eight-piece band on the road, they travel more widely and/or get on the list for a festival I go to in the summer. The album is great and I have high expectations should I get to see them live.

Mike Wistow

Artists’ website:

‘Yah Rayeh’:

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