Ali Khattab has invented his own style, giving his group of Egyptian musicians the space to breathe and to move naturally.
A perfumed alchemy emanates from this magical distillation, which is entirely hand-made.
- Artist: Ali Khattab
- Title: Sin País
“Sin país” is the creation of an Egyptian traveller in love with flamenco. Back in the nineteenth century, when fantasy images of Andalucia and flamenco were conceived, the romantic tourists added a layer of mystery to what they discovered or imagined they were discovering in Andalucia.
The eighteenth century Polish Count Jan Potocki, and in the following century the American Washington Irving, the Frenchman Prosper Mérimée and George Borrow from England, all of them educated men of letters, reached Andalusia and painted a tableau which, over time and in their own way, the Andalusians have ended up adopting. The flamencos as well. “The magic and mystery of flamenco” was the name of the celebrated documentary which Edgar Neville filmed in 1952.
That fascination for the Orient which attracted the romantic travellers to Andalusia created fantasies which are today almost as tangible as the real world inhabited by the Andalusians. Let’s not forget what the literary theorist Edward Said (because there’s always a party pooper) denominated “Orientalism”: that constellation of unfounded prejudices which form the basis of Western attitudes towards the East. In the wise words of the poet and scholar José Luis Ortiz Nuevo “the purity of flamenco is a hoax”. So let’s shed our misgivings and open our arms to a traveller of the twenty-first century, a traveller who came from Egypt to learn to play the guitar. Ali Khattab (Cairo 1977) arrived in Jerez de la Frontera in 1998 fascinated by flamenco. There he discovered the “secrets” of these styles and rhythms. In 2010 he recorded his first disc “Al-Zarqa” ( literally a dark-skinned woman with blue eyes, i.e. of mixed Arabic and European race) in which he found a space for the cohabitation of flamenco styles and Arabic rhythms. Now “Sin País” arrives to broaden this terrain. Could there be anything more quixotic than a Cairoan, countryman of the protesters in Tahrir Square, playing tangos, rumba, bulerías and alegrías?
Flamenco is a child that has come of age. I don’t like the current use of the word “fusion” because it seems worn out and lacking meaning due to the trivialising effect of marketers. Ali Khattab has invented his own style, giving his group of Egyptian musicians the space to breathe and to move naturally. A perfumed alchemy emanates from this magical distillation, which is entirely hand-made. And these hands have, between them, more than enough acumen to paint in dream-like colours on Ali Khattab’s flying carpet: the oud of Hesham Essam, the violin of Mohammed Sami, the nay of Laith Suleiman, the accordion of Wael el Naggar, the double bass of Josemi Garzón and the percussion of Ramadan Mansour and Wael el Fashny. Fascinated by the great Egyptian music of the twentieth century, Ali has given pride of place to Abdou Dagher in the song “Maestro”. The virtuoso violinist and improviser gives this piece a physical and spiritual connection with two great legends: Oum Kalthoum and Mohammed Abdel Wahab. We are accustomed to the timbre of flamenco voices: the voice of Wael el Fashny is keening, charged with emotion and as magical as a story from the Alhambra.
Anyone thinking flamenco has its wings clipped is mistaken; it hasn’t all been said already. From Cairo Ali Khattab has brought a work of such romance and authenticity that it expands the cosmos of flamenco. “Sin País” is a new place where all friends of flamenco can meet and can feel at home.
Pedro Calvo, May 2014
Sin País” is not an album of flamenco nor of Arabic music: it doesn’t follow a fixed path, it is born from an accumulation of influences that have been with me since my birth. The flamenco culture, Arabic music, the music of the Egyptian people, the African music of my roots, religious dance and tribal music in general.
All these musical traditions are expressed through instruments such as the oud, the violin, the Egyptian flute, the double bass, and in the rhythm section with the duff, the darbuca, the palmas, the req and the cajón. All of these are embraced by the guitar which carries the melodies, the harmony, the rhythms and the different dynamics of this project.
I think true fusion happens when you know where to place yourself in other musics and cultures. A flamenco singer doesn’t have to learn Egyptian music to sing to it, they only have to know where to place themselves and vice versa. This is what I wanted to do with this album “Sin País”.
— Ali Khattab
[The album tracks described by their composer]
1 – Derviche – por tangos
This number combines the tango rhythm from flamenco and the Arabic ayub rhythm. It’s the story of a Dervish dancing his dance and spinning around but this time to the tango rhythm. With a lot of dynamics and black notes, this number combines Arabic melodies played by the oud, the violin and the flute, with the tango rhythm played on the guitar.
2 – Alejandra – por alegrías
Alejandra is a conversation between the guitar and the oud played to the rhythm of alegrías from Cádiz, but with a very Arabic form. For me it’s the piece which best demonstrates the relationship between the guitar and the oud: it’s very technical but very romantic at the same time.
3 – Sin País – fantasía
Sin País is a message, a protest on two levels: the human and the universal level. On the human level it is about the nomadic people who never cease travelling between countries like the Dervish. They are considered foreigners in their own country and in the countries they travel to, but for them the land is their country and they try to live in contact with the land, like a grain of dust or a wave in the sea. Countries are names and maps are artifices created by man. This is a fantasy that doesn’t follow a set musical style. It ends with the singing of the Arabic poem which my friend, the writer Ahmed Abul Hassan, wrote specially for this song.
4 – Maestro – por bulerías
This number introduces a dialogue between flamenco and Arabic music, represented by the guitar and the oud, swimming in the ocean of the bulería. Questions and answers are exchanged between the two instruments, which are never copied or repeated, like two parallel lines. They change mode and return to the original mode, until the moment of truth comes when they finally unite to introduce and form the basis for the violin of the maestro Abdo Dagher and he tells a story through a solo with an unmistakeable sound; entirely Egyptian.
5 – Al Osba – por tangos – (The Clan)
This is the result of my old desire to compose a tango to be played by oriental instruments. It’s a very dynamic number from beginning to end. Here the guitar provides the tango rhythm for the Arabic musicians, with the help of the percussion: the Egyptian duff which plays the ayub rhythm and the darbuca which plays the falahy rhythm. The three rhythms unite and above them the accordion plays in a purely Egyptian style with the Egyptian flute and the oud. This is an Egyptian flamenco party.
6 – Layla – rumbas – (The Night)
This is a very romantic song about two intimate lovers, playing and enjoying a night under the full moon. Here the guitar, the violin and the oud play a flamenco rumba with an oriental flavour, playing gently with the notes until the climax of the song when the accordion enters and we finish joyfully.
7 – El Secreto (Sufi Trance)
This is a call, a “hadra sufí” (trance) which begins with a melody on the guitar that continues throughout the whole number without changing. The other instruments such as the violin, oud and the flute enter, each one playing a harmony above the guitar melody, until the singer Wael el Fashny enters, singing the poem “Sin País” to end the song. He sings in a very religious style that is completely personal, inherited from his family in the south of Egypt.
8 – Mawlana – por bulerías – (The Sufi title of the great sheikhs such as Jalal el Din el Rumi, Ibn Arabi)
With the bulería rhythm from Jerez combined with the Arabic ayub rhythm, this tune has a very Andalusian flavour but with a unique flavour. Given that the bulería from Jerez is based on six beats and the ayub is based on four, they come together on the twelfth. This is Arabic music meeting its flamenco cousin in one of its most intimate forms.
Ali Khattab flamenco guitar, percussion (cajón, palmas & duff)
Hesham Essam oud
Abdou Dagher violin # 4 (Prestigious Egyptian Master)
Mohamed Samy violin # 1, 3, 6, 7, 8
Josemi Garzon double bass
Layth Soliman nay (Egyptian flute)
Wael el Naggar accordion
Ramadan Mansour percussion (darbuca & duff)
Wael el Fashny voice, percussion (req, duff & dweira)
Composition & arrangements: Ali Khattab
Poem “Sin País”: Ahmed Abul Hassan
Drawings & paintings of the cover : Ammar Abo Bakr
Calligraphy: Mahmoud Atef
Graphic Design: Hanifa, Cairo.
Graphic Carrousel, Madrid.
Recording, mixing & mastering: Tarek Hassanein |Click Studio, Cairo
Recording in Madrid: Roberto Visús
Produced by Ali Khattab