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A Review Of

Christmas:
Rhythms of the Holy Land

by Desert Wind

 

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Summary

This is a collection of Christmas music, mostly religious in nature, performed by the band Desert Wind. The percussion includes some Middle Eastern drums, including riqq (Arabic tambourine), tabla (doumbec, hourglass-shaped drum), and tar playing Middle Eastern rhythms underlying familiar melodies. Christmas Rhythms of the Holy Land Album Cover

 

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Fact Sheet

Musical Style Christmas (mostly hymns)
Instruments Flutes, piano, mandolin, harpsichord, recorder
Dance Style Best Suited To... Fusion, Liturgical
Recommended Dance Skill Level All levels
Length of Music 75:09
Number of Songs 15
Packaging Standard

 

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Description

This is a collection of Christmas songs, mostly Christian hymns, played by the band Desert Wind. These arrangements incorporate drumming by Middle Eastern percussion instruments such as riqq and tabla, playing Middle Eastern rhythms. The melody lines are played in Desert Wind's signature style, on instruments including assorted flutes, piano, mandolin, harpsichord, recorder, and others. Out of 15 songs in the collection, 3 were composed by Alan Scott Bachman and the rest are traditional Christmas music.

For the most part, the use of the Middle Eastern percussion is very subtle. Although there's an occasional tabla accent, for the most part the drums keep a low profile and often I can't really discern which rhythm the percussion was playing. It's there, but it's very understated. Most people probably wouldn't even notice it was there, unless they were told to look for it. I find this to be a valid artistic decision, compatible with the songs that are used.

In general, the format for each song opens with a bit of lead-in, followed by the main melody of the song played in a reasonably straightforward way. After a time or two through the verse and chorus, the musicians then transition into an extended improvisation section. These improvisations tend to be entirely different melodies, rather than variations on the original, so if you were to come into a song in the middle of one of these you would probably not be able to identify which song was currently playing. I enjoy the improvisations - they are musically interesting, and well executed. But they also dilute the Christmas-ish feel of the songs, which could be either a benefit or an issue, depending on what you're intending to use the music for.

I found the arrangements of all these songs to be fairly mellow and low-key. For belly dancing, I might be able to envision doing a quiet-mood piece such as a veil performance or balancing a candle on my head to one of these songs, but none of the songs were high-energy enough for me to choose them for an exciting entrance or a powerful finale. Since most of the songs are Christian hymns, they might be appealing for a church Christmas pageant or liturgical dance presentation.

 

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Songs Included

 

Song Title

Length

Music Clip?

Comments

Joy to the World 4:10 No Instrumental. Spirited, one of the more joyful arrangements I've heard.
Little Drummer Boy 5:08 No Female vocals.
Gaudete "Rejoice" from 1582 3:30 No Instrumental. Uses masmoudi rhythm. Pleasant.
God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen 4:39 No Yes
Dance of the Angels 5:18 No Written by Alan. Pretty song, but doesn't evoke "Christmas" for me.
Silent Night 4:25 No Instrumental. Extensive improvisation to the point where it isn't recognizable at times.
What Child Is This? 4:56 No Instrumental. Extensive improvisation.
Pachel Bells 4:10 No Instrumental.
Scarlatti Bachman 5:50 Yes Instrumental, overlaid on top of Saudi/Khaleegy rhythm. I found it to be musically inventive - I liked it!
Hark! The Herald Angels Sing 5:53 No Instrumental. Overlaid on top of maqsoum rhythm.
O Come All Ye Faithful 5:44 Yes Female vocals. A fairly standard-sounding arrangement..
Christmas Peace 5:38 No Instrumental. Composed by Alan. Smooth and flowing, could be pleasant for veil work.
Amazing Grace 5:05 Yes Female vocals. Spirited maqsoum rhythm. Had the flavor of an African-American gospel choir. I enjoyed this one very much.
O Holy Night 5:19 Yes Instrumental. Melody played on flute. Quiet and meditative style.
Tikkun Olam (Healing the World) 5:24 Yes Composed by Alan. Female vocals. Flowing melody.

 

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Is It Right for You?

You Will Probably Enjoy This Music If...

  • You enjoy listening to traditional Christmas hymns and you would appreciate a fresh new arrangement.
  • You're enthusiastic about Desert Wind's style of music.
  • You need some Christmas music to play in the background for a Christmas party or other holiday event and you'd like it to have a slight Middle Eastern flavor.

This Music Probably Isn't Right for You If...

  • Your taste in Christmas songs runs more to secular music such as "Jingle Bells".
  • You're looking for Christmas songs with a more obvious Middle Eastern influence to use in a holiday belly dance performance.
  • You're looking for something you can use for Christmas choreography for your students. The long duration of the tracks (mostly 4-6 minutes) would lead to a large amount of material to memorize unless you cut them

 

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What I Liked, What I Didn't

What I Liked:

  • Skilled musicianship
  • Creative use of Middle Eastern rhythms with Western hymns
  • Beautiful arrangements
  • Contains a collection of a relatively large number (15) individual songs, so even if you don't like a couple of them, there are still enough others to make the album worth having if you like the general style of music.

What I Didn't Like:

  • The fact that the song "Little Drummer Boy" is included. (Sorry, I've always detested that song!)

 

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Conclusion

This collection of songs is certainly suitable for the typical things that people use Christmas music for, such as background music while driving in a car, mood music in a restaurant, etc. The use of Middle Eastern percussion provides a tie-in to Middle Eastern music, but is so subtle that most people probably wouldn't notice it's there. Although performed by a band that also plays Middle Eastern music, I wouldn't describe this album as being "belly dance music" at all. It's Christmas music.

I personally wouldn't use the Christian hymns for belly dance performances unless it was within the context of a liturgical dance or Christmas pageant, with folkloric costuming. But the more secular songs such as Alan Bachman's own compositions could be fun to use for a belly dance performance at a holiday hafla.

 

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Disclosures

I've had minimal contact with Alan Bachman. I have had brief conversations with him while buying his music at local dance festivals, but I've never had a chance to get well-acquainted with him and I've never had an opportunity to work with his band for a performance to live music.

 

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To Buy It

Christmas Rhythms of the Holy Land Album Cover

Artist: Desert Wind
Album Title: Christmas - Rhythms of the Holy Land

Desert Wind
P.O. Box 3722
Salt Lake City, UT 84110-3722
U.S.A.

Telephone: (+1) (801) 274-8818
Fax: (+1) (801) 278-3141
Email: info@desertwindmusic.com

Web Site: www.desertwindmusic.com

Amazon Store: U.S. Canada U.K.

 

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