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Badawi: Clones and False Prophets

Chris Toenes


Clones and False Prophets

Label: ROIR
US Release Date: 2003-11-18
UK Release Date: Available as import

Reflecting multiple cultures in one's music can often be a trying task. To tie neatly the threads of disparate lifestyles, their traditional music, and ceremonial religious mantras, can often be like fastening boulders together with thread. These things are bound to come apart or never fit in the first place. In the case of Raz Mesinai, the man behind Badawi, the stitching is not a process of matching whole pieces of sound-fabric, but taking those preferred small elements and meshing them fully. Mesinai, born in Jerusalem to Israeli and American parents, moved to New York City at only a few years old, but made many trips during his upbringing back to Israel and the Middle East. He later got deeply involved in the musical aspects of religion, eventually studying at a Yemenite synagogue. During this time, his ongoing obsession with his primary instrument, the drum, blossomed as he also encountered club music, turntablism, and dub reggae. He went on to start deejaying himself, formed dub production project Sub Dub with John Ward in the early '90s, and had his String Quartet for 4 Turntables performed at Lincoln Center in 2000. In many cases, attempts to fuse these varied influences would result in a big mess, an amorphous lump of lifeless music. Mesinai's methodology avoids these pitfalls by remaining true to the link ultimately holding the music together, the beat.

In the liner notes to Clones and False Prophets, Mesinai is listed as playing flute and piano, with his main work being the creation and manipulation of percussion itself. Using mostly drums, samplers, and electronic equipment to tinker with the acoustic source of the beat itself, Mesinai creates stirring moods and maintains them, intensely in some cases. On this record, his convictions show themselves, even as he includes a prayer-like "myth" in the CD booklet. An excerpt gives clues to the foreboding nature of Clones and False Prophets, with its bass-heavy dub wormholes and roiling, angry excursions, "Greetings heretics, etherics, clones, and false prophets, this is the myth unfolding before your very ears. If you come in peace, then drink from the bass within. But if you come with questions like, 'Who are you?' and 'Where are you from?' then drown in it." Where Mesinai is "from" is unimportant in many ways, as this Badawi project renders a wholly new voice and sound world, without maps or references. Listen to the opening track, "Enter the Etherics", for the flute that sounds as if it is calling villagers of some far away land, resting in their dusty huts, to prayer. As the song progresses, the flute gently wafts over a processed beat, deep bass rolls in forming a tribal rhythm, and the flute is stretched into long, cascading sheets of white light.

From this introduction, it is obvious Mesinai is not working in any so-called world music, with unlikely matchmaking going on between musics, (like Afro-Celtic songs, for instance). His work in the downtown improvisors scene has led to releases on John Zorn's label Tzadik, and continues with Mesinai's partnership with guitarist Marc Ribot on Clones and False Prophets, who is a frequent Zorn collaborator as well. Ribot's guitar is used both as a method of texture throughout and as a formidable lead instrument, as on "Battle Cry" or the centerpiece track "The Circle". In "The Circle", everything comes together, with the deep percussion providing a base from which all the other musicians can launch distinct tendrils. Ribot fires up some edgy electric lines, clarinetist Doug Wieselman blows weaving lines, and it all swirls together like some midnight sandstorm.

The concept of a story winds throughout the record, with characters entering the narrative in other songs, like "Enter the Tomb Raider" and "Enter the Clones". The meaning of the play is never fully resolved. But listeners can refer to Mesinai's notes for some pointers towards characters at once timeless and all-too current, "Then one day came a clone who was a false leader who stood on a throne that was built on greed and fear and he called on his advisors of words to create fear in the minds of the people and the fear spread throughout the land..."

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