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Kamilya Jubran & Werner Hasler
Wa Luke Cartledge , January 15th, 2020 10:13

Kamilya Jubran and Werner Hasler's Wa is a challenging, expansive record, finds Luke Cartledge

In a great deal of bad writing about Middle Eastern musics we’re subjected to a familiar cocktail of exotic clichés that tend to reflect rather poorly upon the ability of the Anglophone writer to understand non-western art works. Please give me the benefit of the doubt, then – at least for now – when I say that there is something genuinely distinctive, amorphous, and mysterious about Wa, the extraordinary new collaboration between Kamilya Jubran and Werner Hasler.

At forty-five minutes in length, its peaks and troughs better understood as gradual modulations than discrete tracks, Wa (“and” in Arabic) is a gradually-shifting behemoth, whose contrasting national backgrounds (Jubran is a Palestinian vocalist and oud player, while Hasler is a Swiss-Lichtenstein trumpeter and electronic musician) are blended seamlessly with another. Avoiding the pitfalls of other such transnational fusion music, disparate textures are not simply placed awkwardly next to one another, but tessellated and interwoven. On the record’s most intense, muscular passage, for example, juddering, staccato synths and a fairly straightforward four-to-the-floor drum machine melt into Jubran’s increasingly frantic sprechgesang vocal to create a remarkably unsettling – and unsettled – spiral of rasping syllables and spectral harmonisation. Between the cracks, one can discern fleeting echoes of experimental artists like Gazelle Twin and Sharon Gal, but as soon as their silhouettes are traced against the shapeshifting backdrop, we’re transported elsewhere.

Throughout the record, its semi-improvised construction gives the music a sense of life and breath, a spontaneity which gives the listener an easy(ish) access point into its sometimes-oblique to-and-fro between electronics, oud, trumpet and voice. Jubran’s lyrics betray a great deal of precision: though impressionistic and repetitious, there’s a thematic clarity that permeates all of her writing on Wa. Reading through the English translation of her original Arabic, there’s a focus on ideas of displacement and memory which rings true when set against the haunted, restless sound she and Hasler create. It’d be inappropriate for me to project anything too specific onto her words in terms of subject matter, not least because the imagery is so deliberately abstract, but Jubran’s background – as a Palestinian who began her musical career in Jerusalem experimental group Sabreen before leaving Israel for Europe – looms large over proceedings.

Three collaborative albums in, not to mention their long careers as solo musicians and as part of other projects, Kamilya Jubran and Werner Hasler have arrived upon an utterly distinctive sonic approach. Wa is a challenging, expansive record, and all the more rewarding for it.