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Song of Songs (EP)
Artist: Inbar Bakal
Label: Electrofone Music / TuneCore
Time: 6 Tracks / 26 mins
Inbar Bakal is a Yemenite-Iraqi Jew, who grew up in Tel Aviv surrounded by music and devotion to the Torah. Her classical training (as a child she was in a choir that played in the Schindler’s List soundtrack) has given her a warm, smooth voice that can be gently insistent or simply gentle, depending on what she has to sing. She moved to Southern California in 2003, where she has been remodelling biblical texts, edging them into old Yemenite melodies. This move, and her work, have done much to break down political barriers, as she has spoken with many Palestinians in the States and has Muslim-raised band members, whose families love her music.
She was trying to make mainstream music, until producer Carmen Rizzo (Seal, Jem, Coldplay & Paul Oakenfold) persuaded her to use her rich heritage to set her apart. So this release features psalms and ancient wedding songs fused to light electronica.
Despite the beats that dress it, the core of Bakal’s music on this mini-album is ancient. The opener to this début release, “The Battle of Jerusalem,” starts with a twangy, plucked oud and tabla, and after Bakal’s haunting and pure voice has started to sing in Hebrew, and a forceful beat starts up, the oud comes back in, along with sparse, wandering, shiny synth notes. Its mix of treated piano sounds and strong textures even reminded me of late Talk Talk in places.
“Song of Ascendance” has her again singing slowly, showing how much power there is in restraint. Carmen Rizzo uses all frequencies: simple, sustained low notes keep the sub-woofer happy, while floaty resonant high notes dance among serene string effects. This is unhurried, propelled only by the main beat, and swirling in so much space.
The title track is marginally faster. It has the feel of Israeli dance and an ambience that seems to bring out her Iraqi side, the ambience shifting further east, but the melody pulls towards the west. The bouzouki-led music is as highly sensual and exotic as the scriptural book, and we get a hint of the lyrics as she breaks into Dido-sounding English to sing of her lover and the scents of Lebanon.
It’s a shame that this is not a solid CD with liner notes and a translation of what she is singing because it sounds so deep, rich and heartfelt. It would also be good if it were longer than 26 minutes, because such dreamy music – especially after the more chilled “Meditation” at the end – creates too peaceful a mood to be broken so soon. It’s lovely stuff, and I’m already looking forward to what she does next.