HUZAM is a profound Arab maqam musical scale that starts and ends on a microtone, with no penchant for Western harmonies. It is widely used in Arab traditional music and has a mystifying & ecstatic temper. Karim Nagi composed these pieces all in maqam Huzam, using classic Arab art music forms such as Dulab, Samai, Tahmila, Istihlal & Longa, intended to be performed on traditional instruments. These forms make up the Turath Arabic music legacy, but are infrequently employed in today's musical era. A revival is needed, one that honors both tradition and progression. So rather than rigidly replicating past formulas, Nagi uses a fertile approach to the rhythms, sections, arrangements and modulations.
The Huzam project was recorded by four Chicago based native Arab musicians, who continue to perform as a quartet. Karim Nagi (Egypt) is the composer and percussionist, using a fish skin riqq Arab tambourine. Ronnie Malley (Palestine) performs on the oud lute, and was crucial to the album recording process. The ensemble is completed by Naeif Rafeh (Syria) playing the nay flute, and Emad Roushdy Ibrahim (Egypt) on the Arabic-tuned keman violin.
Arab music is not only an ethnological study, it is a contemporary practice. The music is both regional and cosmopolitan, possessing a depth and delivery that is universally appealing. Through Huzam, one can experience our tradition's connection to the intimate ensemble aesthetic of Chamber Music, the microtonal & hetero-phonic timelessness of Early Music, and the extemporaneous adventurism of Jazz. By making new compositions in traditional styles, we are participating in the continuum of our beloved Arab tradition, and sharing it with the larger listening community. We are asserting that this music is both historic and current.
By choosing maqam huzam we are decolonizing our aesthetics. This Arabic mode, in a family with maqam Sikh and maqam Raht al-Arwah, defies Occidental musical practices. The Westernisms of harmony and counterpoint are fended, in favor of the endemic intonation and hetero-phonic richness of our Eastern sharqi music. We are indulging in something un-imperial, unoccupied, and distinctly ours.
The Huzam album will be released in early Spring 2022. It will be available on all streaming platforms, plus some exclusive & limited CD pressings. The ensemble will debut the work in Chicago, followed by select concerts around the USA. Email Karim Nagi if you wish to share in the proliferation of this distinctive creation.
Below are two examples of the Huzam compositions. DULAB was recorded January 2022 at Narwhal Studios. SAMAI was performed live on Zoom for the Arab Dance Seminar.
In addition to new compositions, the ensemble is highly versed and experienced in multiple genres of traditional Arab music. They know hours and hours of traditional and regional repertoire from the Arab world. Each member has decades of experience performing for Arab diaspora communities and Arab cultural festivals. They particularly enjoy taking an emblematic song passage and regenerating it into imaginative improvised excursions. Below is a video of the ensemble improvising on the muqadim overture of a song by the late Egyptian singer Umm Kalthoum.