Dudu Tassa and Jonny Greenwood's new collaborative album "Jarak Qaribak" out today
Dudu Tassa Jonny Greenwood (photo credit: Shin Katan)

Dudu Tassa and Jonny Greenwood’s new collaborative album “Jarak Qaribak” out today

DUDU TASSA & JONNY GREENWOOD’S NEW COLLABORATIVE ALBUM JARAK QARIBAK OUT NOW VIA WORLD CIRCUIT

June 9, 2023—Celebrated Israeli singer, musician and producer Dudu Tassa and award-winning composer and guitarist Jonny Greenwood (Radiohead, The Smile) today release their brand new collaborative album Jarak Qaribak via World Circuit Records. In celebration of the release, a new video for “Ahibak,” an Israeli song featuring guest vocals from UAE singer Safae Essafi, will launch on Monday June 12.

Produced by Tassa and Greenwood and mixed by Nigel GodrichJarak Qaribak translates, more or less, as “Your Neighbour Is Your Friend.” It’s an expansive, inclusive sentiment. The songs on the album, and the singers, are drawn from all over the Middle East—and, in keeping with the theme established by the album’s title, each singer takes a turn at a tune from a country other than their own. The album is preceded by two singles, “Ashufak Shay,” featuring guest vocals from Lebanese singer Rashid al-Najjar, and “Taq ou-Dub,” a defiant love song featuring Nour Freteikh from Ramallah. 

Tassa and Greenwood will tour in support of Jarak Qaribak in November, including appearances at Le Guess Who in the Netherlands and Pitchfork Music Festival in London and Berlin. A full list of dates can be found below. 

What’s going on is a remarkable collaboration between two remarkable musicians. Israeli rock star Tassa and Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood have known each other a long time. They’ve collaborated before; Jonny played guitar on “Eize Yom” (“What A Day”), a track on Dudu’s 2009 album Basof Mitraglim Le’Hakol (“In The End You Get Used To Everything”). Asked what he likes about Jonny’s playing, Dudu replies, “It’s everything I can’t do, and don’t know how to do.” Jonny, who is married into an Israeli family hailing originally from Iraq and Egypt, remembers hearing Dudu’s music twinkling amid the prevailing gloom of mid-noughties Israeli rock when Radiohead first visited. “What Dudu was doing had its roots in the Middle East,” says Jonny, “and I just found that more interesting. I was hearing that music at home a lot, as well.”

Jarak Qaribak is scarcely the first time that Jonny has stepped beyond the boundaries of guitar rock. He has had a parallel career as a solo artist going back 20 years to his soundtrack for Bodysong; he has since composed the soundtracks for Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be BloodInherent VicePhantom ThreadThe Master and Jane Campion’s The Power Of The Dog, among others. He has twice been nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Score.

But while Dudu grew up with this music, Jonny had to learn it, which meant unlearning a lot about being a rock guitarist—a challenge he’d previously confronted when working with another Israeli musician, Shye Ben Tzur. “Jarak Qaribakpresented a similar set of problems,” says Jonny, “in that you have all these scales which don’t conform to western major/minor scales, and have notes which involve quarter-tones, and it’s very hard to impose a chord sequence on these melodies. It usually makes them collapse. It’s like reducing the resolution on a color photo until it’s just squares.” 

When assembling the tracks on Jarak Qaribak, Jonny reflects he was “trying to imagine what Kraftwerk would have done if they’d been in Cairo in the 1970s,” which is actually a pretty deft characterization of the overall sound of Jarak Qaribak. The singers mostly recorded their contributions wherever they happened to be, which presented some logistical challenges. Dudu recalls that trying to locate a functional studio in Beirut so that Lebanese singer Rashid al-Najjar could do his vocal for “Ashufak Shay” was something of a struggle. There were other difficulties peculiar to the region whose music Jarak Qaribak celebrates. Dudu acknowledges that some singers they approached were uneasy about working with an Israeli artist. “And,” he says, “it’s not like all the Arabic countries of the Middle East are friends among themselves.” Getting the Iraqi singer Karrar Alsaedi to Tel Aviv to record the Yemeni song “Ya Mughir al-Ghazala” was a considerable bureaucratic feat. “I think,” says Dudu, “he was the only Iraqi passport holder in the entire country at that moment.”

Praise for Jarak Qaribak:
“An enduring and engaging take on the love songs of the region. ****” —The Guardian
“Sultry, mellifluous songs… harmonious stuff, in every sense. ****” —MOJO
“That Jarak Qaribak manages to combine that respect—for the songs, the singers, and their various cultures—with a free-flowing, light sense of exploration that feels joyfully current, is its triumph. 8/10” —Uncut
“Behind the traditionalist vocal and Middle Eastern flute and violin are plenty of Radiohead touches: bass lines, spooky piano tones and drum machine all tugging separately against the beat, heightening the tension.” —The New York Times

“When people listen to this music,” says Dudu Tassa, “I really love to imagine them thinking, ‘What is this? It sounds 1970s, but there are drum machines, there are guitars but they’re singing in Arabic; what’s going on?’”

 

Though Dudu says that he scrutinized every lyric as carefully as he could for even the vaguest hint of a political subtext and insists—accurately—that Jarak Qaribak is an album of classic love songs, the romance and heartbreak they chronicle exclusively personal, neither Dudu nor Jonny are naïve enough to believe that nobody will project their own political prejudices onto this project, favorably or otherwise. “We didn’t want,” says Jonny, “to make out that we’re making any political point, but I do understand that as soon as you do anything in that part of the world it becomes political, even if it’s just artistic. Actually, possibly especially if it’s artistic.”
Dudu, however, believes that it would have been an act of bad faith to make Jarak Qaribak any other way. “Israel,” he notes, “is a small country between all those countries, so we’re very influenced by those cultures and by that music. And a lot of us in Israel—like my family—are descended from people who came here from elsewhere in the Middle East, so everything gets mixed up.”
That said, neither are keen for the multi-national nature of Jarak Qaribak to be read as some corny, mawkish exercise in attempting to teach the world to sing. Both stress that every decision they made was in the interests of serving an extraordinary songbook (and they have already started swapping ideas for a sequel). “That was never a conscious ambition,” says Jonny. “It wasn’t the starting point, anyway. It’s maybe a by-product, if you’re lucky. Otherwise it’s just: aren’t these songs great, aren’t these musicians amazing, and what a singer, what a voice. That’s all it’s about, really. But if the songs are from all over the Middle East, why shouldn’t the singers be?”

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June 9, 2023 12:00am
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