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Various Artists

Choubi Choubi!: Folk and Pop Sounds from Iraq

(Sublime Frequencies; US: 27 Sep 2005; UK: 15 Aug 2005)

That Pop-Friendly Machine-Gun Beat!

Sublime Frequencies, that wonderful strange troubling record label based in Seattle, has scored again with this compilation. How did they get all this pop music from Iraq? Well, they nabbed it “from Iraqi cassettes and LPs found in Syria, Europe and the Iraqi neighborhoods of Detroit, Michigan”. (That’s how they roll up there; sometimes they just go to Asian countries and tape great songs off the radio.) Many of the tracks are by “Unknown Artist”. Is this all ethically sketchy? Um, maybe, maybe not, I don’t know.


What I do know is that these songs are really really cool. Some, like Ja’afar Hassan’s hypnotic tunes “They Taught Me” and “Palestinian”, are psychedelic hippie-rock anthems. (I would have included his “Front My Hope”, but it sounds just like “They Taught Me”.) These were recorded in the 1970s, but they sound like Iron Butterfly and they rock like plenty.


Others are in different cool styles called “Bezikh” and “Hecha”, which I know nothing about. (Although Sadun Jabir’s song “Ashhad Biannak Hilou”, done in a style called “Basta”, is hyperactive candy-pop with 1,001 strings and fake trumpet solos, it’s like what freak-folk should aspire to be, someday, when it grows up.)


But it is the Choubi style that we are mostly concerned with here. This features overdriven quadruple-time synthesized drums that, honestly, sound like machine-gun fire. This is a very interesting development but I have no idea what it means. Sometimes the choubi beat overwhelms the song, like in the one called “Oh Mother, the Handsome Man Tortures Me”. At other times, like in Mohammed Al Madloul’s unnamed song, it lurks in the background and only raises its funky head occasionally. But when this style is in full effect—the best example is the song titled “Ahl Al Aqil”—it makes the song so intensely bizarre and freaky that you have no choice but to try to play along, air-drum-style. But you can’t do it.


Sublime Frequencies rocks, because it helps us understand what actual people in different countries actually hear when they listen to their pop music. By anyone’s definition, this is a great record. It could also maybe help people understand what Iraq sounded like before greedy bastards both inside and outside the country exploited it for its oil and ruined it and broke its people and bombed the shit out of it. Then, it would be an important record. This might be too big a burden, though. So let’s just call it a fun record and leave it at that, shall we?

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