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Ibn Battuta: The Traveler of Islam
Hesperion XXI/Jordi Savall
rec. 2014/16, l’Emirates Palace-Auditorium d’Abu Dhabi & la Cite de la Musique-Philharmonie de Paris
Texts included
ALIA VOX AVSA9930 SACD [78.49 + 68.15]

This superb disc-and-book set charts the peregrinations of the Moroccan traveller Ibn Battuta, who was born in Tangier in 1304 and undertook a pilgrimage to Mecca in 1325, the year after Marco Polo died. In so doing, he visited numerous countries and viewed the Seven Wonders of the World. The two discs in this set present the story, with narrations (in English for the narrator and in Arabic for Ibn Battuta) setting each scene, and the music played appropriate to the scene depicted. As well as following Ibn Battuta’s journey, other important historical events are also included, such as the deaths of Marco Polo and Othman I, founder of the Ottoman Empire; the battle of Pelekanon; the beginning of China’s colonisation of South-West Asia; and various other situations concerning China and the Mongols. We start in Tangier and travel via Egypt to Jerusalem and Damascus, after which Ibn Battuta pays his respects at Medina and Mecca. From Mecca, he visits Baghdad and then Yemen, before travelling on a dhow along the Horn of Africa, via Zanzibar to the Mozambique channel, and then back to Oman. He then returns to Mecca for his third Hajj before travelling through Syria to Anatolia and thence to the Ukraine, Constantinople and Samarkand. 1334-1335 saw him visiting Afghanistan, Khosran in Persia and Kabul. He then resided in India for seven years, during which time he was the guest of the prince of Delhi, and travelled to the Maldives and Goa. In 1345, he was sent to China as the Indian Sultan’s Ambassador, where he finally experienced homesickness, and headed home to Morocco via India, Persia, Syria, Palestine, Alexandria, Cairo and Sardinia.

These incredible journeys, along with descriptions of the sights that he saw and the people he visited, are accompanied by music that will be mostly be unfamiliar, although the odd well-known melody does crops up, such as the Lamento di Tristano that accompanies the telling of the death of Marco Polo. The musical episodes are always gloriously atmospheric and beautifully performed; they capture of the essence of the places mentioned in the narration superbly. For instance, we have a Raga for the Indian years; an Ottoman chant depicts the  death of Othman I; a Sufi Dance follows the description of Ibn Battuta meeting the mawlawis; a Byzantine chant provides the musical episodes for when he meets Christians in Constantinople; we have a song-dances from Kabul, and traditional music from Shandong province in China. Needless to say, the line-up of instruments is impressive, ranging as it does from ouds, rebecs, duduks through to tablas, zheng and sarods.

The book (into whose sleeves at the front and back the discs are inserted) fully equals the extremely high standard of music-making and choice and range of musical works; what we have here is a hard-back book of just under 500 pages, full-colour, lavishly glossy, with thick paper, and with all documentation reproduced in seven different languages. Photographs of the artists combine with reproductions of paintings and images from the times presented to create a full picture of both the fourteenth century and the recording itself. Oddly enough, there are no artist biographies, yet full texts are included (for both narrations and any songs), and of course translations of these are provided wherever necessary. In addition to an introduction from Savall, there are bibliographies, reproductions of letters sent to Ibn Battuta, and essays on “Diversity and dynamism of Arab Culture” and on the traveller himself, with discussions, for instance, on his rihla (travel narrative) and his religious views. On the whole it is a splendid set – beautifully produced and presented, with wonderful music-making epitomising an incredible journey undertaken by a remarkable individual, and brought vividly to life by musicians of the very highest standard.

Em Marshall-Luck

CD 1 1304-1335:
Taksim; narration [2.00]
Bismillah ir-Rahman [1.00]
Taksim [0.30]
Kouroukanfouga [4.47]
Lamento di Tristano; narration [1.17]
Greek lament [3.31]
Taksim, narration [1.24]
Taksim, narration [1.47]
Kevoque [2.05]
Taksim; narration [2.05]
Qays ibn al-Moullawwah [4.31]
Taksim; narration [2.05]
Ni havent [2.27]
Taksim; narration [0.48]
Danse de l’aime; Taksim; narration [2.41]
Sallatu Allah [4.07]
Taksim; narration; Chahamezrab [3.07]
Taksim; Nevser [4.21]
Taksim; narration [1.03]
Vero; narration [1.22]
Percussion music; narration [0.20]
Der-makam Huseyni Sakil-I Aga Riza [3.10]
Taksim; narration [0.58]
Taksim; Talaa’ al-badr ‘aleina [5.19]
Taksim; narration [4.11]
Sufi Dance [4.10]
Taksim; narration [1.26]
Taksim; narration [1.32]
En to stavro pares tosa [3.25]
A clear moon is coming up; narration [1.34]
Tabla music; narration [1.31]
Laila Djan [4.10]

CD 2 1335-1377:
Taksim; narration [2.06]
Laila Djan [2.32]
Taksim; narration [2.02]
Maddhu gare Yashoda [4.07]
Taksim; narration [1.29]
Instrumental Dance [2.42]
Gao shan liu shui [2.06]
Taksim; narration [2.11]
Jiao Chaung ye yu [3.04]
Arab dance song [2.17]
Taksim; narration [1.23]
Quant ai lo mont consirat [2.56]
Taksim; narration [2.23]
Fiyachia [3.03]
Taksim; ‘Al maya, ‘al maya [3.26]
Taksim; narration [2.43]
Imperial Dance [4.03]
Isabella [4.13]
Tian shan zhi chun [3.24]
Taksim; Der makam Cargah sirto [3.55]
Cerco de Baeza [2.12]
Xing jie [3.59]
Taksim; Arabian lament [5.52]

Meral Azizoglu (voice)
Waed Bouhassoun (voice and oud)
Driss El Maloumi (voice and oud)
Ahmed Al Saabri (voice)
Marc Mauillon (voice)
Katerina Papadopoulou (voice)
Manuel Forcano (reciter)
Dr Habib Ghloum Al Attar (reciter)
Lluis Vilamajo (tenor)
Furio Zanasi (baryton)
Lingling Yu (pipa)
Xin Liu (zheng)
Pierre Hamon (cornemuse and flutes)
Dimitri Psonis (santur)
Pedro Estevan (percussion)
Guillermo Perez (organetto)
Bakary Sangare (reciter)
Jordi Savall (director, viele and rebec)

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