Album Title: As-Sirr
Performer: Luis Delgado
Label: NubeNegra 1135-2
Running time
: 56'19"

Arabian for secret, enigma, whisper or key, As-Sir plows the exotic Arabo-Andalus fields whose heydays trace back to a time when Moors, Christians and Jews lived in harmony on the Iberian peninsula where they created some of the greatest hybrid art Europe had seen. Muwaxaha is the precise term for a type of courtly poem which here is set to song similar to how Abed Azrié, another Arabian artist (now living in Paris) has dedicated himself to its continued relevance.

Led by Luis Delgado on oud and Mohamed Seghini el Arabi on vocals who are no strangers as predecessor albums El sueño de Al-Zaqqâq, Tanger
and El hechizo de Babilonia prove on the same label (Maria Luisa Garcia Sanchez adds her voice on one track), this collection harvests a 1896 find in the old Fustat quarter of Cairo. There hundreds of documents dating back as far as the 11th century were found, on the medieval life of the Jewish community and their Muslim and Christian neighbors.

History sets the emergence of the muwaxaha into the 9th century, with its first exponent the Cabra poet Muqaddam ibn Mwafa al-Qabrii. The general period of political and artistic tolerance lasted five centuries. Present-day efforts in these general veins can be found with the famous flamenco cantaor El Lebrijano who traveled to Tangiers to head a traditional Arabo-Andalus orchestra on Encuentros; with the Oregon-based Al-Andalus ensemble of Tarik and Julia Banzi; with Emil Zrihan singing Moroccan Mawal on Ashkelon [Piranha]; with Yasmin Levy setting to song the Sephardic melodies and texts her father collected. In a liturgical context, there is Soeur Marie Keyrouz to mention but a few. Viewed against our ongoing struggles in the 21st century to cultivate a working base level of tolerance between Muslim, Hebrew and Christian religions, artistic recollections of a time when this was already practiced are supremely relevant. As is often the case, musicians live what to political leaders is only lip-service theory. In this context, one fondly remembers also the brilliant Bustan Abraham ensemble.

Listening to As-Sirr, one perceives echoes of roaming troubadours and German minnesänger while literary historians find parallels with 14
th century poems by Franciscan monk Jacopone da Toddi. One hears Moroccan and Algerian influences and behind those, Medieval airs. One imagines Marie del Mar Bonet in some of the settings, Dhafer Youssef in others. One definitely feels transplanted into a slower epoch and a pervasive desert flavor moves our attention to the Straits of Gibraltar. The music becomes programmatic both geographical and temporal by moving us to a different place and time like a good soundtrack.