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Cream of The Crate: Album # 153- Omar Khorshid & His Group: Live In Australia 1981


  • Cream of The Crate: Album # 153- Omar Khorshid & His Group: Live In Australia 1981

    "This live set (Live in Australia) showcases both his outrageous fretwork and commitment to traditional musical forms." (David Maine - Spectrum Culture)
    "While we never got to hear where Khorshid might have taken his music had he lived, he had already taken it plenty of interesting places before his death."
    (Joe Tangari - Pitchfork reviews 2010)

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    This is album review number one hundred and fifty three in the series of retro-reviews of both vinyl and CD albums from my collection.

    The series is called Cream of The Crate and each review represents an album that I believe represents significant musical value, either because of its rarity, because it represents the best of a style or styles of a music or because there is something unique about the music, the group or the particular production. The first fifty reviews were based on vinyl albums from my collection, with the second fifty on CD albums from my collection and the third fifty being a mix of vinyl and CD albums. Links to all these reviews can be found at the bottom of the page.

    This week I am looking at an artist who is largely unknown anywhere in the world, outside his legion of fans. His music is not strictly Rock, Blues or any easily identifiable western music styles.

    The artist is
    Omar Khorshid who along with his group, visited Australia in 1981. The album is simple titles Live In Australia 1981 and for reasons outlined later, this album was released in the vinyl format in 2014 and was released on the American Sublime Frequencies label and it has the identifying code of SF 091. The album has 9 tracks.

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    Although Omar could not be classified as a "rock" artist, his tragic death certainly fits in well with the many stories of unfortunate and premature deaths of many artists who came before him.

    Born in cairo in 1945, the young Omar was bought up with the sounds of Egypt all around him. Like many well off homes his father had a piano and to the amazement of his father, the young Omar managed to play the piano without sheet music.

    That encouraged his father [ Ahmad Khorshid who was a noted cinematographer] to promise Omar a guitar if he passed his exams with happened and Omar got his first guitar. While teaching himself to play, and continuing to teach himself piano, he also took up and became self taught on violin.

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    First guitar

    Yet it was the guitar that really attracted Omar and he spent so much time with it his studies slipped, seriously! The result was that his marks dropped dramatically and in a fit of anger his father took away the guitar and smashed it.

    Despite the family being well off his father refused to replace the guitar and Omar didn’t have the resources to buy one outright, so he managed to convince a music shop to sell him guitar and pay it off monthly.

    While his school studies improved again it was music and the guitar that dominated Omar’s thoughts and when he was old enough to make his own decisions, he didn't hesitate and joined a private music institute in downtown Cairo for further instruction.

    Even though he lived in Cairo and was immersed in the Egyptian culture, the music changes that swept the world in the 1960’s also swept up the 21 year old Omah, and influenced by the rock & beat music in 1966 he formed a group with members called Le Petits Chats [The Small Cat’s].

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    The teenage Omar Khorshid

    Playing to growing audiences in sport clubs, universities halls and later on at hotels the group became quite successful with few bands in competition as “pop” music groups were still rare in Egypt.

    His fame reached the ears of Umm Kulthum, who was not just a family friend but was known as the first lady of song of the middle east. To his amazement on hearing him play she invited him to play guitar in her orchestra and when he accepted he became the youngest member to ever join her.

    However what this mean was a switch from the western pop/commercial music to playing more traditional arabic/oriental music. Not only did Omar rise to this challenge he was able to adapt his unique style on the guitar to play the “arabic music” in a most unique manner. This switch from western to middle eastern music proved to be a wonderful choice and set him up for what appeared to be a wonderful international career.

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    Playing a Vox Phantom

    From here he was invited to play with many illustrious artists such as Abdel Halim Hafez and from 1973 to 1977, Khorshid moved to Lebanon and began recording albums under his own name for Lebanese record labels such as Voice Of The Orient and Voice of Lebanon. Working with audio engineer Nabil Moumtaz at Polysound Studios in Beirut, Omar Khorshid worked harder to progress his musical style. However, due to the Lebanese Civil War, Omar was forced to move elsewhere to continue his career. In 1977, Egyptian president Anwar Sadat invited Khorshid to perform in America at the White House for American president Jimmy Carter. Though many saw this performance as peaceful, conservatives in the Middle-East who saw the United States as Zionist viewed it as a betrayal. Omar had no interest in politics, except for the politics of music.

    In May of 1981 Omar came with his group to Australia and his first show at the Sydney Town Hall was a raging success attracting many ex-pats from Egypt but also locally born Australians. A second show was equally successful and his unique and fantastic playing on his Fender guitar received acclaim and he began appearing on local and national TV programs.

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    The tour came to Melbourne and there were equally successful shows at the Melbourne Town hall and the National Theatre of Melbourne. What Khorshid offered his audiences was a brilliant array of music that represented the best of great artists such as Oum Hhalsoum [Umm Kulthum], Farid al Atrache, Abdel Hail Hafez and the brilliant duo of Fairuz and Mohammed Abdel. These are not names on the lips of most Australian’s but a little investigation will prove that the quality of their compositions transcends international boundaries.

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    In Australia

    So it was that Omar Khorshid entertained with a great selection of Egyptian and Tunisian music but also put into his shows many pop standards of the day. The shows were so successful tour promoters were falling over themselves to book him in all over Australia. However personal issues involving his marriage meant that Omah could not stay any longer having to return to Egypt to get his personal matters dealt with, but he was committed to returning as soon as possible.

    Just 72 hours after arriving back in Cairo, Omar Khorshid was driving in a car with a girl friend when he lost control of the car and crashed into a light pole. His girl friend Dina, survived the accident with major injuries but Omar was ejected from the car suffering neck and spine injuries which killed him instantly.

    So it was that this bright and talented man’s life and career came to a sudden and unexpected halt.

    He recorded 10 albums while alive, and this, his eleventh, was released many years after his death when a tape with tracks from various Australian shows were released by his close friend and second guitarist in his band, Mohamed Amine. While the tape had survived 33 years it had deteriorated but even so, the producer and engineer have done an admirable job in cleaning it up for release. It features some brilliantly played music both with the guitar with Khorshid demonstrates his microtonal Arabesque surf guitar style, and some fantastic interplay between percussionist Ibrahim Tawfiek.

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    The album is released with a very heavy duty gatefold cover and both inside and out are covered with coloured photographs from the groups personal collection, and it has a 160gm vinyl LP.

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    Left hand inner of the gatefold
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    Right hand inner of the gatefold

    Track Listing

    Side 1

    1. Alf Lelila We Liela
    2. Linda Linda
    3. El Rabieh
    4. Sidi Mansour

    Side 2

    1. Kareit Al Fengan
    2. Banadi A Lek
    3. El Fann
    4. Hayert Albi
    5. El Helwa Di

    Bass – Adel Eid
    Drums – Amr Fouad
    Guitar – Mohamed Amine & Omar Khorshid
    Percussion – Ibrahim Tawfiek
    Tabla – Mohamed Helmy

    Let's start this review with track number 1 - Alf Lelila We Liela. A mighty fine choice to start the album with. It is a track that has a very lively rhythm set punctuated with Khorshid's staccato appegio's mixed in with some simply sublime lead lines and all appropriately supported by a rather cutting Farfisa organ. The tempo modulates between a middle step and a very fast dance pulse. It is certainly a track which demonstrates both Omar's ability to use the western Fender guitar and his unique, almost "surf music style", not unlike Dick Dale at times, with a traditional composition.

    By the sound of the excited audience at the end of the track it went down very well with them, and so it should. I'll say it again later, this is not an album that will be to everyone's taste, but for me this track is a great introduction - a calling card to the music of this "arabesque surf guitarist" and his amazing group!

    Alf Lelila We Liela

    Track 2 - Linda Linda was a hit for the group and featured very heavily in many middle eastern disco's. The rhythm section is quite insane and once again the Farfisa organ lays down a magic carpet of sound over which the guitar work of Omar Khorshid is laid with passion and class. It is only a very short track and honestly, leaves you desperately wanting more.

    There is no indication of what "effects" are used by Khorshid but I'd swear there is a flanger in line somewhere and it's subtle use in this track helps provide a "dreamy" effect to what is a driving track.

    Linda Linda

    Track 3 - El Rabieh features more of the interplay between a range of percussion including castanets, drums and the Farfisa and guitar that is sometimes a little distorted on the downbeat of the drums but given the fact that this track is lifted from a cassette recording, we can forgive that. The last part of the track features some wonderful guitar picking that would not be out of place in Nashville.

    The final track on this side of the album is Sidi Mansour- and this might just be the premier track on the album. This is a Tunisian melody based upon a traditional folk song from that country and is played at a frantic tempo on a range of instruments that are certainly not Tunisian folk instruments. There is a magnificent understanding between all the musicians and there needs to be as this track utterly grooves, explodes and pushed us into a twirling state of crazy dancing.

    Khorshid shows his ability to "play" his fender in both the traditional and untraditional manner and while his techniques are not new, they are done with such class and ability. he taps the strings, he taps the bridge, he caresses the strings, he tortures the strings his playing is as much percussive as it is traditional guitar work. Oh man alive the result is a polyrhythmic interplay between him and his guitar and the brilliant percussion work of Fouad, Tawfiek and Helmy. You cannot help but believe that there is a fair amount of improvisation in this track, and it is 8minutes and 40 seconds of sonic and rhythmic delight.

    There are times when it seems like it is going to spin out of control but this is the track where Omar Khorshid demonstrates to one and all his mastery of his instrument and his music. This is a track that would leave any audience anywhere breathless - check this out if you don't listen to any other track. I have to say it - Bravo!

    Sidi Mansour

    Wow, it's almost hard to turn the album over after that last track, lest what comes next spoils the moment. Kareit Al Fengan in fact was palyed straight after Sidi Mansour in the concerts and the group lost non of their energies. Yes it does call on many elements that we were introduced to on side 1, but it is far more melodic and as it settles into it's middle eastern patterns of play and interplay, we are surprised when around half way through we are beguiled by sounds that would not have been out of place in the 1960's surf music - but this is by no means a criticism or complaint, it a nice refrain before the percussion comes back in supplemented by the driving Farfisa and a very very nice, but all too short, drum solo. Then toward the end Khorshid reintroduces his western style of playing and I love it.

    Kareit Al Fengan

    The following track, track 2 - is the closest we get to a "noodling' style of play that runs between a rather boring down tempo 'noodle" and an uptempo style. Not my favourite track by any means.

    Track 3 - El Fann kicks off with Khorshid bending his notes and he once again demonstrates his staccato style of play. Unfortunately the track is a bit noisy, again the result of the recording medium, but yet again after a slow introduction (that is more entertaining than the previous track) we move into a more uptempo style that seems to blend west and east well. There were times when it was very suggestive of a piece of western music but try as i may I just couldn't place it.

    Track 4 - Hayert Alb is a pleasant mid tempo track and I have to say is a relief after some of the more (wonderfully) frenetic tracks.

    The final track is El Helwa Di. By the time we get to this track we understand that the strongest side is indeed side 1 of the album, but Khorshid has finished off with a track that features all the instruments we have been introduced to, but there is also some other middle eastern instruments I am not familiar with that wind their way through the piece of music. The track is only just under 2 minutes long and the a strange fade out suggests there was more to this track, but whether it was faded here because the ravages on the original tape demanded it, or the producer just got tired of it - we will never know.

    So I have provided four tracks for your aural edification and they do represent probably the best tracks. We need to remember that this is his only live album, and yet would never have eventuated if not for his untimely death. I had never come across Omar Khorshid until I was reading an on-line American magazine, the name of which now escapes me, and Korshid was mentioned. Like many rabid collectors, you should always follow any leads, many lead nowhere, but in this case they led to Omar Khorshid.

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    October 9, 1945 – May 29, 1981

    It is difficult to say whether he would have progressed further than his large, but highly specific followers. As someone else described his playing, he demonstrates "liquid gold Beirut surf guitar" and his band exemplified "tight"! the music is stunning instrumental Arabic pieces as Khorshid on this album, let the guitar and the group do all the talking, with no vocals.

    In a day and age where "world music" is fully embraced, Omar Khorshid does deserve better recognition and whether you are a collector of fine music, a collector of all things vinyl, a collector of unusual forms, a collector of world music or you just like a damn finely played fender guitar, then this album is a must.

    It can be ordered through the on-line mail order Forced Exposure or on Ebay for around $50.00 (including postage) or second hand on Discogs for around $35-$40 inc postage.

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    VIDEOS - I did locate some live performances by Korshid on Youtube, and here they are.

    Ya Gamil (1975)

    Korshid playing solo on guitar in 1972

    A b&w clip of Korshid with a full orchestra

    If you are interested in checking out the first fifty vinyl albums reviewed, just click here

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    If you are interested in checking out the first fifty (50) CD's reviewed by me, just click here

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    If you are interested in checking out reviews 101 to 150 (Vinyl & CD) as reviewed by me, just click here

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    Past album Reviews - Numbers 151 onward:

    Number 151 - The Shaggs: Philosophy Of The World

    Number 152 - The Animals: The Animals
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