24 March 2007

Dazkarieh
Incógnita alquimia
musical magic that won't stay hidden for long...
Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
With Incógnita alquimia, their third full-length album, Dazkarieh ably demonstrate that they are a musical unit possessed not only of ideas and desire, but of immense talent – and an audibly growing maturity. Founded in 1999, they have undergone many changes in personnel – in fact, from their last album (released in 2004) to this newest one (released in 2006), there is only one group member remaining, with one ‘guest’ carrying over as a full-fledged member – everyone else is ‘new’. What gives the group the continuity I hear when I listen to these two releases (I have yet to acquire their first album – it’s only a matter of time, trust me…!) is the spirit that pervades both recordings – it’s a delight to experience. Even the packaging is unique – this new recording comes in a folder made of cork, with six high-quality cardstock inserts bearing photos, lyrics and other information. The previous album was available for a while in a hinged balsawood box, and is now in a more standard packaging...but it's the music that matters, of course.
Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
The current band is made up of Vasco Ribeiro Casais (nyckelharpa, bouzouki, assorted bagpipes); Luís Peixoto (bouzouki, mandolin); Baltazar Molina (an incredible array of percussives, including but not limited to cajón, tar, darabukas, riqq); and Joana Negrão (vocals, adufe) – these are the instruments listed on Incógnita alquimia, but I suspect it’s an incomplete inventory. I can hear sounds that are hard to pin down on the recording – for instance, there’s an instrument that almost sounds like an electric guitar, which could be coming from either a bouzouki or a nyckelharpa – but that’s all part of the Mystery, I suppose.
Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
The tracks are divided evenly between vocals and instrumentals – every one is a stand-out track. Joana’s voice is a wonderful instrument – she can caress notes as tenderly as one would the heart of a lover on one tune, then wave the lyrics like a firebrand on the next, always in control, always compelling (even if one doesn’t speak Portuguese). Vasco and Luís interweave delicate melodies and inspiring rhythms on their stringed and air-driven instruments – a swirling path that lifts me off the ground when I listen to them. Baltazar’s ever-changing but steady percussive touches provide a heartbeat that can be powerful or subtle, always giving to the music, never taking anything away from the total effect.
Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
The band remains true to their Portuguese heritage and roots – illustrating vividly to listeners that there is more to the music of Portugal than fado (not to diminish the value of that gift to the musical world in any way!). Their original compositions sit comfortably alongside their arrangements of traditional songs and tunes – and here and there, one can hear echoes from other traditions: the percussive touches from North African and the Middle East brought into play by Baltazar; the Swedish nyckelharpa of Vasco lends its voice, and now and then distinctively Celtic melodies fly from both that instrument and Luís’s bouzouki. The amazing – and delightful – thing is that through their love of the music, combined with their sensibilities and talent, Dazkarieh makes the mixture work – the various cultures at play in the tunes never clash or sound out of place. It’s not something that’s easy to pull off – Radio Tarifa (from Spain) and 3 Mustaphas 3 (from Szégérely…I’m not sure exactly what planet that’s on, but that’s their story and they stuck to it for the length of their wonderful existence…!) come to mind as far as bands who combined multiple cultures with respect, energy, fun and beauty. Stephan Micus is a great example of a master who manages to combine instruments from all over the world (many of which would never be played together otherwise) with great success, usually on a more ‘meditative’ level than the others I’ve mentioned.

None of the above ‘name-dropping’ is meant to imply that Dazkarieh actually sound like any of these great musicians – or that they are derivative in any way. This band sounds like no one else – and I can’t wait to hear where they go from here. They’re relatively young, immensely talented and apparently deeply inspired – I can hear them maturing just in the space between their second and third recordings, and I think it’s safe to bet they’re not going to stand still.
Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
Check out their website (link below), listen to some samples – but if you pass them up, you’re missing out on something wonderful and moving.

Dazkarieh – official website

cdRoots
– a great source for Dazkarieh recordings, as well as great music from all over the world...fair prices and dependable service

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

14 March 2007

Stray dogs
Iran – 2004
A moving look at the resiliency of children in crisis

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Marziyeh Meshkini’s latest film, Stray dogs, from 2004, vividly illustrates that her earlier work, The day I became a woman (2001), was no fluke – she is a filmmaker with a unique vision, with the technical abilities to translate that vision to the screen. Great filmmaking runs in the family – Marziyeh is the wife of renowned Iranian director Mohsen Makhmalbaf, who has 18 features to his credit, including Gabbeh (1996), A moment of innocence (1996), Silence (1998), and Kandahar (2001). Their daughter Samira has followed in the artistic footsteps of her parents, directing The apple (1997), The blackboard (1999), and 5 in the afternoon (2003). Their son Maysam and daughter Hana have begun their own careers with shorts and documentaries. The Makhmalbaf Film School was established by Mohsen so that Iranian students interested in working with cinema would have the opportunity to learn their craft in their own country – his family members who are working in film, as well as others, have been given a chance that might well have been outside of their grasp if not for his devotion to his art.
Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
Stray dogs is filled with memorable images – Marziyeh’s eye, spirit, intelligence and skill work together, along with her talented team, to tell this story in such a way as to carve it into the heart and soul of the viewer. The film is set in Afghanistan, after the fall of the Taliban – the two central characters are a sister and brother, Gol-Ghotai and Zahed, respectively. Their ages are never given directly, but I would guess that she’s around 7, and her brother perhaps 11. For all practical purposes, the two are war orphans – their parents are alive, but both are in prison and unable to care for the children. Their father is a Taliban mullah who has been imprisoned by the Americans. When he went off to fight in the war, disappearing without a trace for 5 years, the mother assumed he was dead and, unable to properly provide for her children, remarried – their father reappeared and, finding his wife married to another man, charged her with adultery. Her second husband is now dead – she begs the children, who are at first allowed by prison guards to spend the night in their mother’s cell, to go to their father and convince him to forgive her, so that she can be set free and take care of them. He continues to refuse, saying that ‘she can burn in hell’. Talk about kids being caught in the middle of a domestic dispute!
Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
Gol-Ghotai and Zahed have nowhere to live – they do their best to survive on the streets, foraging for anything salvageable that can be eaten, sold or burned for warmth. One day they cross paths with a large group of boys, brandishing torches, chasing a stray dog. ‘Kill him!’ one boy shouts. ‘It’s a Western dog!’ The boys trap the dog in what appears to be some sort of deep outdoor kiln – it cowers and barks below as they shout taunts at it, now and then tossing down a torch to torment it. Gol-Ghotai slips into a horizontal shaft leading to the area where the dog is trapped – she grabs it and pulls it to safety just as its pursuers toss down the rest of their torches, creating an inferno intended to kill it. The dog becomes the constant companion of the sister and brother – and fittingly, as the two of them have been living as little more than stray dogs on the streets already.
Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
The children are informed by a formerly friendly guard at the prison that a crackdown by the governor makes it impossible for them to spend the night with their mother any more. Desperate to be with her, aching to reestablish a sense of family, they concoct a scheme to commit a crime and get arrested in order to be placed in prison with her. The idea comes, fittingly enough, from the two of them viewing Vittorio De Sica’s classic film Bicycle thieves – an honest and respectful nod by Marziyeh to the great Italian director – and the scene in which Zaheb steals a bicycle and gets arrested is a beautifully realized visual echo of the scene in De Sica’s 1948 film where the father steals a bicycle and is surrounded by a mob of citizens and taken into custody by the police.

In an oft-repeated quote, W. C. Fields once said ‘Never work with animals or children’ – Marziyeh Meshkini has done both here, and brought it off with great success. The two child actors are astonishingly believable and natural – especially Gol-Ghotai. The emotions they were called upon to portray come across as very real, and are never overplayed. While the subject matter and setting are dark, the director and her actors also manage to inject a few elements that are nothing short of playful – in one scene, after having little success in coaxing the dog they’ve adopted into eating from a piece of flatbread, Gol-Ghotai holds it over strips of meat smoking on a grill so that it will absorb some of the odor. Her character (whether by instinct or by direction) is obviously pleased with herself for thinking of this – and the twinkle in her eye shows it, and is very real.
Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
I’m not sure how widely Stray dogs was distributed to theatres in the US – the DVD was released at one point by (I believe) a Canadian studio, but is no longer readily available. I picked up a region 2 copy from Artificial Eye in the UK – their releases are generally transferred to digital media with great care (although they contain few ‘extra items’ as a rule), and this one is no exception (you can check out their catalogue via the link below). It looks and sounds great – one more reason for having a region-free DVD player – and however you can see it, I recommend it wholeheartedly.
links: