“Shamat” by Ruba Shamshoum album review
by: Bshara Rezik
“Can you play ‘Wish You Were Here’ for me in my graduation? I wanna sing it”
It struck me as a surprise, because I had been friends with Ruba for two years already and she never told me she sang. That mIRC chat message (most of you 2000’s kids should probably google mIRC), sent back in the year 2002, was the beginning of my long and beautiful musical journey with Ruba.
It took Ruba fifteen years since to release her debut album. The wait had been long, but the album made every moment waiting worth your while. It had been slowly cooking, but over a volcano.
“Shamat” is not only Ruba’s debut album, but also the first complete introduction of her unique style. I can only compare the album’s originality to that of Amy Winhouse’s. Ruba’s modern jazz education found friends in her love for and experience in rock music, R&B, Arabic music and oh, fairy tales.
The album does not start with a big blow, no huge chords, no drums, just Ruba’s naked voice, a staccato cello and a simple rhythmic pattern to enter you to the new world of music hidden in the album. The production is simple, clean and true to the instruments recorded.
The opening song, Shamat, sets the ground rules for the listener to the rest of the album: Don’t let the sweet, innocent love songs fool you, it says. This album will mess with your head! After the first few rhythmic up-beat verses of the song Ruba takes off on a harmonic discovery journey, taking her voice as close as possible to its edges, reminding the audience of what jazz really is all about – a journey of musical discovery.
“Hana”, one of my personal favorites, is just as sweet as a song about your grandmother can get. The lyrics are personal and fragile, and so is the singing technique. Carousel of love continues the line of sweet songs, with very strictly, yet freely, plucked jazz chords on the guitar, later to fall into a gloomy mood, Alice falling down the rabbit hole, if you will, not letting that experimental place Ruba wants to keep us aware of slip out of our minds.
“In the depths” is perhaps the most musically and lyrically mature song in the album. The subtle choice of instruments, staccato notes, harmonies and a general feeling of a building-up of a well-arranged, well written song. Definitely a classic – hit material.
Now, part of the songs on the album have already been released before. They were a bit different, but people knew them already. Genesis of the bubble is a smart way of re-introducing the listener to a song they already were familiar with. A bit like “The dark knight” revisited the origins of a super-hero, Ruba built a musical and lyrical world that actually generates the bubble in the listener’s mind. It all makes sense, it all falls into place, and it was all improvised. The bubble then starts, but it’s not the same bubble you had known before. It got a new meaning now, a new layer of logic and mystery. Alice’s Wonderland suddenly became “Underland”. Do I like this bubble? Is it protecting me? Should I keep it? Am I its prisoner? Ruba sarcastically dances with her voice and jumpy music over the two sides of the bubble, a perfect balance between good and evil.
Now, Layla? She’s swag. That upbeat song will get you moving in your chair. It’s R&B, it’s Jazz, it’s funky, and its rhythm will mess with your head keeping it banging. Among the other songs in the album, “Layla” best demonstrates the band’s highly professional and passionate level of artsmanship. (Yes I might have just made a new word. Deal with it).
“Burkan” (Volcano) hits it off with a simple cello melody, followed by a surge of radioheadesque guitar chords and a naughty “ah”. Yet another bold, almost experimental, song with an un-deniable rock music influences. The guitar and vocal motif is somewhere between oriental and prog-rock. The guitar solo is the burst of a volcano (chapeau Orlando Molina), madness in the form of a fuzzed out guitar, a wild vocalist screaming at the top of her lungs and a cello with a bouncing bow. The song ends dramatically, suddenly, just like life.
The album closes with yet another familiar song in a new version. A rich, complete version of a song written for the movie “When I Saw You” – a natural evolution of a song. Although not a lyrical favorite of mine, the new version manages to tell a story, just like every other song in the album.
To conclude, “Shamat” is nothing like you’d expect from a Jazz singer. It’s hard to define the genre the album falls into, and that’s as good as it gets when you’re looking for novelty and originality in music. I can only hope that the wait for the next album will not be as long as the wait for this one, although, “Shamat” undeniably proved that good things come to those who wait. Keep that volcano running Ruba.
- I recommend buying the album, at least the digital version, and downloading the .flac format. The recording is clear and powerful. Don’t settle for online streaming. Here’s a link: https://store.cdbaby.com/cd/rubashamshoum2