Dudu Tassa and Jonny Greenwood
Photo: Shin Katan / Sacks & Co.

Dudu Tassa and Jonny Greenwood Bridge Cultural, Musical Gaps on Stunning ‘Jarak Qaribak’

Israeli musician Dudu Tassa and Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood join forces with various vocalists for a fresh, inspiring interpretation of Middle Eastern music.

Jarak Qaribak
Dudu Tassa and Jonny Greenwood
World Circuit
9 June 2023

Dudu Tassa and Jonny Greenwood approached their new musical collaboration, Jarak Qaribak, very simply and with no preconceived notions or sociopolitical ambitions. It’s simply an interpretation of an extraordinary Middle Eastern songbook, although they understand it may be perceived otherwise. “We didn’t want to make out that we’re making any political point,” explains Greenwood in the album’s press notes. “But I do understand that as soon as you do anything in that part of the world, it becomes political, even if it’s just artistic. Actually, possibly especially if it’s artistic.”

The two artists, who have collaborated several times in the past, wanted to make an album that celebrates music from various Middle Eastern countries, which largely derives from the multinational upbringing of Tassa, a celebrated Israeli rock singer, songwriter, and producer. “Israel,” he notes, “is a small country between all those countries, so we’re very influenced by those cultures and by that music. And a lot of us in Israel—like my family—are descended from people who came here from elsewhere in the Middle East, so everything gets mixed up.”

The multinational slant of Jarak Qaribak is primarily aided by the fact that each of the nine tracks features a singer performing a song from a country other than their own. The first single, “Taq ou-Dub”, is an old Lebanese song that Palestinian vocalist Nour Freteikh sings. It was the starting point for the project and moves along in an almost trance-like state with clean, precise percussion and intoxicating Eastern strings matched with nimble electric bass and subtle electronics, combining classic instrumentation with more contemporary sounds.

Produced by Tassa and Greenwood and mixed by Nigel Godrich, Jarak Qaribak (translating from Arabic as “Your Neighbor Is Your Friend”) constantly and refreshingly brings together a variety of styles – not just in terms of country of origin but also eras and genres. Sung by Moroccan vocalist Mohssine Salaheddine, the Egyptian track “Leylet Hub” incorporates the region’s pop music and distinct jazz elements. Within many of the songs, there lies a wealth of dynamics. The opener, “Djit Nishrab” – an Algerian song from the 1940s sung by Egyptian vocalist Ahmed Doma – builds up slowly from a lovelorn lament to a hip-shaking, almost funk-like number.

While most of the music is part of Tassa’s upbringing, Greenwood – who is married to Israeli visual artist Sharona Katan – learned the styles of the music from scratch, often disassociating or “unlearning” what was so natural to him as a member of a rock band (although Radiohead can hardly be considered a traditional rock outfit in any sense). His collaborations outside that band – including acclaimed film score compositions such as the Oscar-nominated score for Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread – are well noted, but Jarak Qaribak is still a big leap for the guitarist. The closing, “Jan al-Galb Salik” – sung here by Tunisian singers Noaaman Chaari and Zaineb Elouati and written in Iraq nearly a century ago by Tassa’s great-uncle – conquers a variety of styles in a relatively short time, as stuttering strings and bebop-infused trumpet mix with distorted electric guitar and a maddening blend of tempi. Even for a band as ambitious as Radiohead, this takes ambition to dizzying heights.

There’s even an element of mystery behind the execution of a project like this – take the Yemeni song “Ya Mughir al-Ghazala”, sung here fervently and passionately by Iraqi singer Karrar Alsaedi, who traveled to Tel Aviv to record his parts. The bureaucracy involved was considerable, as well as the research in tracking down the track’s songwriters, publishers, and copyright holders. But despite those headaches, the song made it onto Jarak Qaribak and lives comfortably along with the rest of the mesmerizing recordings gathered here.

It’s important to stress that Tassa and Greenwood’s goals for Jarak Qaribak are to uncover and interpret great music. “It’s a letter in a bottle, thrown into the ocean,” says Dudu in the press notes. “Who will get it, who will hear it, I don’t know. But someone will love it.”

RATING 8 / 10