Dudu Tassa & Jonny Greenwood: Jarak Qaribak review – engaging reworkings of love songs from across the Middle East

On their debut album, Israeli bandleader Dudu Tassa and Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood fashion their own imagining of a modern Middle Eastern songbook, enlisting guest vocalists to produce new arrangements of tracks from Jordan, Algeria, Egypt and Morocco.

The pair have form in updating folk traditions. Tassa’s group, Dudu Tassa and the Kuwaitis, have been performing versions of Iraqi standards since 2011, while Greenwood’s 2015 collaboration with the Rajasthan Express, Junun, paired sufi vocals with north Indian brass instrumentation and drum machines. On Jarak Qaribak (Your Neighbour Is Your Friend), the duo harness this experience to create an enduring and engaging take on the love songs of the region.

The album gradually introduces new instrumentation across its sequencing. Opener Djit Nishrab – a lament to lost love by 1940s Algerian singer Ahmed Wahby – features the melismatic vocals of Egyptian singer Ahmed Doma, sticking faithfully to the song’s melodic arrangement with the addition of Greenwood’s trilling, fractal strings creating an underlying tension. Drum machines then enter the frame amid the chopped, dancefloor-adjacent samples of defiant love song Taq ou-Dub, as well as somewhat obscuring the choral harmonies of Leylet Hub.

As the instrumentation fills out, the record gains momentum, featuring singer Safae Essafi soaring over synth-funk backing on Ahibak and transforming mid-20th-century violinist Daoud Akram’s yearning ballad into a hopeful romance. Jordanian folk song Ya ’Anid Ya Yaba sees Greenwood channel Radiohead’s frenetic King of Limbs-era percussion as Tassa marshals synths and oud to give new urgency to the song’s keening melody.

Rather than jar the listener, these instrumental additions largely uplift the essence of their originals. Sitting somewhere between remixes and reimaginings, the songs on Jarak Qaribak illustrate the elasticity of this songbook, highlighting how its longing melodies can be reapplied into new voices, transmitting similar emotions through unusual settings.

Also out this month

Soweto protest collective BCUC release their debut album, Millions of Us (On the Corner). Combining polyrhythmic percussion with defiant vocals and thundering basslines, it is a distillation of the seven-piece group’s formidable live presence, producing an irrepressibly energetic record.

Brazilian quartet Bala Desejo produce a luscious debut in Sim Sim Sim (Mr Bongo), traversing 70s tropicalia to samba, horn fanfares and funk, all anchored by the group’s soft, collective harmonies.

Kora virtuoso Seckou Keita releases an ambitious orchestral suite with the BBC Concert Orchestra, African Rhapsodies (Claves Records). The west African harp merges seamlessly with the orchestra’s sweeping strings, a highlight being Simply Beautiful Miro, featuring the dramatic melodies of cellist Abel Selaocoe.