Album Title: Toola
Performer: Moddathir Aboul Wafa
Label and album #: Nesma 0701
Play Time:
Recorded: 2006

Toola is that rarity of a modern recording of classic Egyptian instrumental music unspoilt by electronica and freed from the current craze over vocals that unfairly neglects a proud traditional strain. Gathered around oudist Moddathir Aboul Wafa, a small armada of top-ranking performers form a traditional string orchestra with percussion section and qanun, nay and accordion soloists. Even the legendary violinist Abdo Dagher makes an appearance (he can also be heard on his own Harmonia Mundi-distributed l'Egyptien album issued by Ad Vitam records).

That's because the Spanish Nesma label out of Madrid has dedicated itself to traditional Arabic and Oriental Dance music and realizes many of its projects in Cairo to there tap into the cream of the crop of current artists. Toola turns to the middle of the last century for inspiration where the production team felt this particular art form had enjoyed a zenith. That's except for the closing title tune. A high-octane hybrid that successfully crosses over into Latin Salsa and Jazz, "Toola" becomes a brisk uptempo dance-floor number where a rhythm piano goads Moddathir's oud into some far-out Jazz improv.

The first five tracks however are recognizably programmatic Nile music that depicts desert scenes, soaring nightingales embodied by the ney, cruises up the river, gay wedding celebrations and such with plenty of darbuka percussion carpets, sweeping strings, jagged accordeon, qanun trills and melismatic solo violin. But center stage is the metallic timbre of the Arabian lute often in a question/answer dialogue with the string orchestra against voluptuously limping Oriental beats. As befits a specialty label championing a very particular art form, recording quality is high to save us from the scratchy brightness that bedevils the shaabi thrust at you in the open markets. Recommended.