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May 21, 2009

Munir Bachir - In Concert in Paris

Until his death a dodecade ago, Munir Bashir was considered by many to be the greatest oud player alive. Or, rather the best musician who plays the oud. Quite frankly, even now most would argue he was the best of all time. Imagine a combination of John Fahey and John Coltrane, and you'd have some sense of Munir's importance in the field of Arab classical music, a sense of his mastery, mystery, and originality. And haunting. God, is it ever haunting.

You see, Munir doesn't just play the oud, he inhabits it. Or more accurately, he inhabits the music, be it maqam or taksim or whatever, and he molds it to the shape of his dreams, a cathedral made of shifting desert sand. And there are dancing shadows on the walls of the cathedral, and the walls are floating, and when you listen, you'll float on your shadow too. This music will transport you to another dimension; it will bend and fold your senses until time disappears. The magic of Munir Bashir is this: when you listen to him - I mean really listen, beginning to end - you begin to hear music in the silence, and all the silence around you becomes pregnant with a quivering life, about to leap into being.

Munir bachir was born in Mosul (Iraq) in 1930 into a long established family of musicians. His father taught him to play the Oud at a very young age. He then spent six years standing at the Baghdad institute of Music, directed by Serif Muhiddin Targan. Later he completes a doctorate of musicology in Budapest. Munir bachir, passionate defender of Arab music is in constant rebellion against the misrepresentation of this music and its use for commercial ends. More recently he has fought to establish his lute as a solo recital instrument. He travels the world as a true ambassador for Arab classical music, bringing it to specialists as well as to a larger audience, restoring credentials to a music that has become debased though bending to the tasters of colonial nostalgia. Faithful to the letter and the spirit of traditional Arab music Munir Bachir improvises from fully authenticated sources. As much creator as performer, his music is forever evolving, never repetitive. Munir Bashir died in 1997.

Allmusic Biography by Craig Harris:
A master of the mode-based, raga-like Arabic Taqsim, Munir Bashir transformed the oud (Arabic lute) into an important solo instrument. His improvisations inspired comparison to jazz's most inventive players. According to, Bashir's "improvisations (were) elegantly melodic. He (tended) to favor short phrases and certain moments remind me of the kind of development one might find in unaccompanied saxophone solos by Anthony Braxton and Roscoe Mitchell." Descended from a long line of musicians, Bashir was shown the basics of the Arab lute, by his father, as a child. He continued his musical training at the Baghdad Institute of Music, which he entered at the age of six. Bashir's musical career was balanced by his experiences as an educator. Receiving a doctorate in musicology in 1955, he began lecturing for the folk arts department of Budapest's Academy of Sciences. He eventually rose to directorial positions at the Higher Institute of Music in Baghdad and the Music Service of Iraqi Public Radio. Previously unreleased recordings found by Bashir's children shortly after his death in October 1997 were released as Raga Roots. Bashir's musical legacy is continued by his son, Omar.

Here's an excerpt from an interview with Simon Shaheen, one of the finest living oudists:

"Munir Bashir--I know his playing. This is more the Iraqi school of playing the oud. Now, when we say the Iraqi school of playing the oud, it's not necessarily pure Iraqi. We are talking about the Iraqi musical tradition coinciding with the Turkish way of playing, because there were two excellent Turkish, musicians who came to Iraq and established the school of playing the oud in Iraq. We are talking about the 19th and early 20th century. So what the Iraqis, people like Munir Bashir, did was they took the technical aspects of the Turkish way of playing on the oud, and some of the ahank, which are the musical pulses, not exactly ornaments--colorings, if you will--and he applied them to the Iraqi style of playing. So it was a matter of combining both Turkish technique and color with the Iraqi traditional vocal instrumental style.

But actually, if you want to listen to a really impressive performance, you should listen to Munir Bashir's earlier recordings. Listen to something in the 60s and early 70s. I met his son [Omar Bashir] in Greece. I was giving a workshop and there was a gathering of instruments from around the Mediterranean, and I heard him playing. He is very much a replica of his father, very much influenced by his father's playing. He has good abilities, but we ought to see in the future how he will develop. But Munir Bashir as a player, definitely he was a fantastic player, and of course, he improvised a lot, and he utilizes both worlds, the Turkish, the Iraqi. He uses very much the Iraqi maqam. When we say the Iraqi maqam, it's not necessarily the scale system. The Iraqi maqam is something like a suite. They have very structured compositions called the Iraqi maqam. And each suite has its own modal structure and forms. So he used this in much of his playing and in some of the pieces he composed. He had his own sound. It's very important that we listen to somebody you know it's him. This is his sound."

- read the whole (excellent) article here

Munir Bachir - In Concert in Paris

Year: 1988
Label: Inedit

Review by John Storm Roberts, Original Music

Here's Ud virtuosi of two generations and two traditions. Munir Bachir is perhaps the finest living player in the great Iraqi school. In this Paris concert he concentrates on the high-classical tradition in four maqamaat.

1 Maqam Yekah et Aoudj - 16:20
2 Maqam Nahawand - 14:58
3 Maqâm Bayât - 12:34
4 Maqam Hijaz - 12:32

the shape of silence
mp3 192kbps | w/o cover | 77mb

for more Munir & Omar Bashir recordings, check out WeLove-Music and FolkMusicSMB.
and for more amazing oud music, check out the Hamza El-Din posts in the archives, and also browse around WeLove-Music and FolkMusicSMB.

if anybody has his Quartet album, the Stockholm Recordings, or Concert in Budapest, I'd love to hear 'em. Thanks!


Goofy said...

This is a nice surprise! Thanks.

Bloody Holly said...

great post, thanks!!

I have a worn out vinyl of him, bought centuries ago, but sadly not the ones you requested!

Bloody Holly said...

the Munir Bashir vinyl I have is called "Ud Classique Arabe par M.B.",
an Ocora release, OCR 63, not be found what date it was recorded or released.

Panda said...

Great stuff!! Thank you very much!

Anonymous said...

The guy was a genius, one of the subtlest oud masters. Thank you very much for this!