ORIGIN was composed and executive produced by Elise Lebec, who began recording in Cairo and returned to Egypt several times in the ensuing months. Ancient instruments, expertly played by local traditional musicians under her direction include lute, dulcimer, oud, ancient flutes, Upper Egyptian tablas, and an assortment of handmade drums and percussion. Several Egyptian singers including the very famous Sheikh Mamoud El Tahomy and Arabian vocalists were also included, to round out the project s vivid authenticity. The resultant sessions were then sent back to Los Angeles to four time Grammy Award-winning Producer/Engineer Dave Way. He in turn brought in one of Prince s programmers, Eric Anest, who applied Western song forms to the myriad tracks from Cairo resulting in musical beds onto which a variety of Western instruments were overdubbed. These include over 35 passionate musicians playing violin (most of which were played by Shadowfax s Grammy Award-winning violinist Charlie Bisharat), electric violins, cellos, alto sax, pedal steel guitar, Hammond organ, background vocals and, of course, Elise Lebec s own lead vocals.
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“Taaly Maaya” opens the album in a somewhat foreboding mode, eventually unfolding into a mysteriously powerful arrangement of Arabic instrumentation and tribal percussion blended with distinctive electronica. Providing a majestically beautiful introduction, Lebec soon delivers an ethereally soulful melody evocative of an ancient rite or ceremony that seemingly casts a veil of enchantment upon the listener’s senses. Equally spellbinding, “Queen of Light” ensues with more English-sung lyrics silkily woven into a world groove arrangement accentuated by classical strings, which effectively evoke a cinematic quality of viewing an old film portraying a sojourn across the Sahara. The vivaciously seductive “Cairo Morning” bears distinctive elements of Raï music, as it weaves wordless ethereal vocals around that of a man’s rapping in Arabic. Seemingly slipping back into the scene of an old film where the site of the sphinx and pyramids come into view, “Bolero" is a stunningly beautiful composition and easily my favorite herein, in which Lebec delivers a sultrily sung melody amidst Arabic male vocals echoing in the distance. The equally enthralling “Rumi Song” (named for a 13th-century Persian-born Sufi mystic) features Cairo-based singer Mai whose voice one might easily mistake for that of Natacha Atlas. A powerful blend of lushly layered electronica and Arabic instrumentation, the piece seemingly transports the listener back in time where ancient temple ruins and monuments become fully restored to their glorious beauty and reverence. Named for an ancient Egyptian solar deity, “Sekhmet: The Goddess Awakens” bursts forth with thundering tribal percussion and a spoken chorus of women in poetic mantra that increasingly builds with intensity. Exuding a distinctive pagan flavor, the piece elicits imagery of the women dancing in celebration around a Saharan desert campfire. Another favorite, “The Jam: Luxor, Egypt”, is comparatively more traditional, albeit with deftly interwoven electronic textures and occasional injections of English-sung vocals which work to utter perfection. Taking another slight detour is the positively feel-good “Sufi Dance”, in which funk/soul elements, wah-wah effects and psychedelic organ are joined by English rap lyrics backed by gospel-style singing. Concluding the album is “Hob Elahy: God is Within”, which begins with a tantalizing Arabic male-vocal chant; Lebec’s equally mesmerizing lyrical melody ensues, guided by a driving rhythm that conveys an image of riding off into a desert sunset.
A masterfully crafted effort from an unquestionably versatile composer, Origin takes the listener on an unforgettable experience of sacred magic and soulful mystique that seemingly reawakens a long-forgotten era in the distant past. A top-notch world fusion album sure to appeal to many fans of the genre, Origin is also particularly fitting music for modern, fusion and tribal belly dance!
That laudable statement can also be laid at the doorstep of Origin, the latest offering by Elise Lebec. Each track has been carefully crafted and wonderfully produced and performed, so with that said, let’s take another voyage on our ship of sonic sound as we traverse the realm of Origin.
The start is simply perfect and called Taaly Maaya: Come With Me. The tempo and percussive genius here adds a real rhythm and pace to the piece that is so well sung by Lebec, you can feel an all-encompassing sense of awareness, an imploring desire; this is truly a magical start, one that will guide us along the pathway of musical enlightenment.
Our second place of wonderment is the piece Queen of Light; this is a remarkable track, one that has such a positive message wrapped up in a beautiful song, one that is unique in its construction. The fusion here of instrumentation is sublime; the mixture of violin and eastern percussion is stunning to give but one example.
For a moment I will use my imagination, if I travel just over 300 miles south, I could be in Egypt within hours, a few more miles, I could perhaps sample a Cairo Morning. Once more the pathway to originality has been walked, as Lebec brings an Arabic rap into her composition, now that’s something you don’t hear of at all in New Age based music very often, but within this piece it seems to work majestically and creates a real vista, a true musical narrative of that journey to Cairo, and being part of another warm morning as Ra’s golden globe ascends into the sky once more.
We near the half way point of the journey, and as we do so we come across a familiar offering called Bolero. This arrangement continues its build and empowering sense of rhythm and during that process Elise Lebec weaves such a loving narrative of oneness, its addictive, then when you add in the chant by Sheikh Mahmoud El Tahomy, and the pulsating instrumentation, you once again have a total winner of a track.
There are many who have been touched by the wisdom and works of Rumi, the 13th century mystic and poet. Years later though, I can pretty much guarantee that even the great scholar himself would have never imagined that a song about him would have been created aeons later, and would feature on an album to expand further wisdom. Rumi Song has also been enhanced further into the 21st century medium, with a poignant rap from Mahmoud Abu Zead, the vocals for this piece were performed imploringly by Mai Mostafa.
The global nature of this album and its production quality, which was shared by visits to both the US, and Egypt, should appeal to all. Now take a listen to Sekhmet: The Goddess Awakens. A driving percussive beat joins with a harmonic team of singers, who radiate a chant or a mantra styled composition; this is one piece that will really raise the power and the energy.
The Jam: Luxor, Egypt, well the title reveals all, so pick up your instruments and let’s go for it. This moment of freedom of expression works wonderfully and allows the listener an arrangement that is not to dissimilar from the chill out styled global fusion genre that is so popular in the west.
We have now reached the penultimate offering on the album and this one is called Sufi Dance. Lebec creates an amazing fresh ethic here that has some elements of 70’s Funk, Rap, Gospel and Rock, all wrapped up in the cloak of a global fused moment of sublime genius. This is one of those that you’re going to have to revisit many times over, once is simply not enough. This has to be one of the most original recordings I think I have ever heard.
So our journey now ends, but before we leave this dimension of sight and vibrant sound, Elise Lebec has one more offering for us, this parting gift is called Hob Elahy: God Is Within. This is a clever way to leave the album; the mixture of a one world music ethic proves an all-out winner. The usage of Upper Egyptian instrumentation mixed with a modern unconfined and inspirational ethic, a rap of distinction and simply divine vocals from Lebec, manifests one of the most smooth and exotic ways to leave an album all time.
Origin by Elise Lebec is without doubt the most exclusive, distinctive and exceptional releases of the 21st century within this genre. This album should receive glowing reviews from all those that listen to its quite delightful compositions and arrangements. Lebec’s vocals are heavenly and perhaps even prescient for our times. Origin is an album made with 36 other musicians across thousands of miles, a veritable exploration of a spiritual quest through music that is both profound and captivating.