EMI, 2002
07243 540492 2 4
label website
Born in 1961 in Nainawa, Northern Iraq, and today with 16 albums and more than 30 Million albums under his belt, Kazem Al-Saher (or Kadim Al Sahir) is regarded as the biggest vocalist to come out of the Middle East yet. He enjoys veneration commensurate with the famous diva Oum Kalthoum. Having studied oud at the Baghdad Music Academy, he's fluent in Pop as well as classic Arabian maqams. Working extensively with the poet Niza Qabbani, he eventually settled in Cairo and performed "Tathakkar" for the US Congress and United Nations in a post-Gulf War cultural exchange. Fond of massive symphonic accompaniment, he's also allowed Transglobal Underground to remix "La Titnahad", his popular song from 2000's El Hob Moustahil which was released as The Impossible Love and his first American release on Mondo Melodia [186 750 016 2].

He recently cut a duet with Sarah Brightman entitled "The War is Over". It will be released both on Sarah Brightman's new album, and Al-Sahir's latest, expected in the winter of 2003. After
Habibati Wal Matar, Fi Madrasat al-Hob, Baad Al Hobb, Al Hob Al Mustaheel and Live Kadim, it will be his 6th album, in one single year that also saw an American tour during which his acclaim was demonstrated by being joined by 15 of the biggest Middle-Eastern musicians living and working in the US. He performed with representatives from the famous Lebanese Merhej family, as well as with Bassam Saba, Saad Fahmi, Butrus Hanna, Ramy Antoun, Carlos Fakhoury, Elias Lamam, Jamal Sinno, Roberto Riggio, Hanna Khuri and Khaled Khalifa.

Kadim's unique appeal even for Westerners? There's his very strong, flexible, penetrating voice which uses heavy vibrato merely for emphasis. There's a solid classical background and concomitant sophistication in how tunes are approached and interpreted. There's access to the best tune smiths and poets currently working in the Arab-speaking domain. There's a fascination with complex, dense, far-reaching songs that can span nearly nine minutes as the central "Kan Sadiki" of last year's Qusat Habebain, and which contain conceptual parallels with some of the most epic Bollywood soundtrack productions, as well as tightly executed vocal octave-doubling as practiced in Turkey.

Unlike Amr Diab, Hakim and Ragheb Alama who focus nearly exclusively on Pop, Al-Sahir's appreciation for and command of classical Arabian music treads more lightly on synthetic elements and thus places him far closer to lyrical Azerbaijani legend Yaqub Zoroofchi. In profound emotional depth, he recalls my favorite Arabian vocalist, Parisian resident Abed Azrié. However, Al-Sahir's farspread popularity is clearly due not to a steadfast refusal of modernity, but rather, his unique grasp of blending past and present in a balance that creates both accessibility and profundity. With lyrics about romantic love in its myriad forms, Al-Sahir's past brush with politically charged songs and consequent problems seems to have turned, from commenting on darkness per se to celebrating that which ultimately overcomes it. Qusat Habebain additionally sports production values and recording qualities far ahead of many parallel popular Arabian releases. It thus makes enjoyment of its artistic content a more complete audiophile experience. For anyone keen on taking the measure on current international super stars, Kadim Al-Sahir becomes a must-know destination, and this album -- carried by Borders -- is a most excellent way to make his acquaintance.