A Review of the Milagro Acustico CD
"Poeti Arabi Di Sicilia"

"Poeti Arabi Di Sicilia"
Copyright Milagro Acustico 2005.
Ludos (LDL 18367)

This review is written by Dai Woosnam, daigress@hotmail.com, 9/05

Now Bob Salmieri is a man you don't meet every day. This is a fellow who dances to his own drummer alright: he is very much “sui generis”.

This is the third album of Milagro Acustico that I have reviewed. They are a multicultural ensemble who work under the direction of Salmieri. And I use the word “work” advisedly: because although their albums are wonderfully laid-back and easy on the ear, the truth is that Salmieri takes his colleagues down avenues that probably don't come easy to them. This makes the “finished product” all the more commendable.

For instance, to work on the content of this album can hardly have been a burning ambition to most of the 15 musicians listed. Why? Well, I refuse to believe that more than a couple of them could have been enthusiasts for the Arabic poetry written in the years of the Moorish domination of Sicily: it really MUST have all been down to the powerful influence of Mr. Salmieri.

The poems have been translated into Sicilian by Daniela Gambino and Sharifa Hadj Sadok. And this CD fits the usual Milagro Acustico formula. The music is their usual imaginative and inventive mix. The instruments he has used are all seemingly running the gamut of mainly esoteric (well, “esoteric” to MY British ear, at least!) acoustic instruments like kaval, baglama, darbuka and ney. And the music seems very much in harmony with the poetry. It draws less heavily than usual on Milagro Acustico's avant garde jazz sound, and instead is slightly more redolent of the music of the souk. And the “reason why” is indubitably due to the fact that in order to get the right sound, Salmieri took his group to Istanbul to work with local musicians.

In his notes that accompanied my review copy, Bob Salmieri talks of the Crusades as “the wars of religion”. He does not draw parallels with today: he does not need to, the parallels are all-too-obvious. We have an Arab nation that was once the cradle of civilisation, a country that invented algebra, home to the hanging gardens of Babylon, ruthlessly invaded by a far more powerful coalition of forces. It is only right that in these days when Brits like me are constantly being told that WE are a civilising influence on a seemingly lesser breed of people, that we stop for a moment and consider the FACTS.

A great classic poet like Ibn Hamdis was one of many fine poets writing in Arabic during the Moorish occupation of Sicily. He was forced to leave Sicily in exile, for by the time he lived, the Norman invasion had started to “go wrong”. But let it not be thought that the Normans had originally had contempt for Arabic text. Quite the contrary.

It is illustrative to realise that the Normans invaded Sicily at almost exactly the same time as they invaded my current homeland, England. But what happened in the two countries was markedly different. In England, the Normans had contempt for the local language, and quickly made Norman French the language of officialdom. Not so in Sicily. Such was their appreciation of Arabic, that they kept it as joint official language.

Indeed Roger the Second was fluent in it, and as for his Chief Minister, well, such was his love of the language that he used to pray to his Christian God in the language of the Moors!

The Palermo Cathedral of today used to be a mosque, and to this very day has the opening lines of the Koran on one of its pillars! And many of the buildings that nowadays LOOK Islamic, were actually built in the early 12th Century by NORMANS convinced in the superiority of Moorish architecture.

In 1154 Roger died, and with it came a change in attitude to Muslims. The days of tolerant understanding were now numbered. Eventually, Frederick the Second expelled all Muslims from Sicily in 1272.

But this album of Milagro Acustico recalls those heady days when the three major religions of Christianity, Islam and Judaism could live together in harmony. And it seems to me that such an album is what is needed today and not the “Heavy Metal” belligerent sound that American soldiers are playing in their tanks as they drive into a hell-hole of their Government's making.

Buy it from Bob at milagro@milagroacustico.com
Website: www.milagroacustico.com

Dai Woosnam
Grimsby, England

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