Album Review: Stefan Christoff & Osama Shalabi – родина (Howl! Arts Collective)
Stefan Christoff is a writer, social justice activist, CKUT show host and free improvising pianist. If you want to know how those varied activities fit together, then check out his new CKUT show dedicated to the interaction between arts and activism, Free City Radio, which airs 11:30 AM on the last Monday of each month. While waiting for that, you can listen to this LP where similar worlds collide.
Equally interested in the relation between music and politics (are they ever separable?) is guitarist and oud player Sam Shalabi. Well known to the Montreal scene but now based in Cairo Egypt, a psychedelic feel pervades much of his work, whether it be with the Shalabi Effect or his large Egyptian flavoured big band, Land of Kush.
Родина is the second release in Christoff’s St. Laurent Piano Project (following Temps Libre), and features three duet tracks as well as a short solo piano piece. According to the liner notes, the music is intended to reflect “the endless search for home in North America, a place of lands and people continuing to struggle against the legacy and current reality of colonialism.” родина (or Rodina) is Russian for “homeland.” This is reflected in the floating atmosphere found here.
While this album is the first full length recording of the duo, Shalabi played on one track on Christoff’s Duets for Abdelrazik release, and the music here starts where that dialogue left off. The sound is rawer and rougher edged compared to Duets for Abdelrazik, perhaps because it was recorded live on a cold winter morning at the Sala Rossa. Christoff’s piano provides a bed of hanging trills and chords upon which Shalabi’s oud spins out motif after motif, resting on one for a spell before darting off in another direction. If an analogy can be drawn between the music and the theme of homeland and restlessness, then Cristoff’s piano is the unsettled ground upon which Shalabi’s oud stays for a while before moving to another area.
You can let this music float by on a melancholy meditative cloud or listen more deeply to hear all of the subtle twists and turns within the melodic travelogue. In other words, in concert with the best activism, the music supports dreaming of a better place and traces out a roadmap to get there.
The first track on the album can be listened to here.