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- Posted on Jul 31st 2007 11:00AM by Steve Hochman
But for all the meticulous research Baron Cohen has done, he couldn't care less whether people listening to his music even notice. "The thing with music is, either people dig it or they don't," he says. "If they want to explore it and find out what these weird sounds are, they can. There's a lot in this music, some unusual sounds. So if they want to explore Arabic and Middle Eastern music, it's great. But it's not necessary. A lot of hip-hop and stuff is influenced by world music. Does anyone know what that is? They just think it sounds cool."
The credits on the new CD don't even mention anything about sources and inspirations. There are no references to what cultures, countries or styles are highlighted, no pointers to fans who do want to explore. His only hint: Pay attention to the guests.
"A lot of this album has to do with the people we were working with," he says. "Everyone from the Buddha Bar DJ Claude Challe to Tunisian singer Amina Annabi to Zena Edwards, the U.K.-based spoken-word soul poetess, to the incredible qawwali singer Riffat Salamat. Very inspiring." There's little to quibble over with that roster. Paris-based Annabi (generally known just by her first name) has been a mainstay in the Maghrebi-European music world. Edwards is one of the most respected young poets in the English underground. And Salamat (often billed as Riffat Sultana) is part of the royal lineage of Pakistani music -- she's the daughter of qawwali master Ustad Salamat Ali Khan and is a pioneer as one of the first females to publicly perform in what had been a male-dominated form for centuries.
With that, 'Do You Have Any Faith?' is a little different from Zohar' s 2001 debut, 'One.Three.Seven,' which at times layers samples of Jewish cantors, Muslim muezzins and Byzantine priests (the name "Zohar" and the album's title were drawn from the Kabbalah). The new album, however, is all original recordings, built from the ground up.
"It's all new territory," Baron Cohen says. "It's quite an interesting compilation, the way it's put together. We've got these amazing voices, dance and electronic elements, jazz- and groove-based music, all put together with tinges of Middle Eastern sounds. The way it all fits together is unusual -- and familiar in some ways." But again, the goal was not to make something about the elements but about the whole -- and as such it's also a reflection of the artist. "Yeah, my influences are pretty wide-ranging," baron Cohen says. "But I hope it all comes out in different ways when I write music."
As for the artist, if his name seems familiar, well, yes, he is one of those Baron Cohens. He's the brother of Sacha Baron Cohen, the provocateur of Ali G and Borat fame. Erran, in fact, composed the score for the controversial 'Borat' film. Yet as contentious as the film was, for, among other things, its negative portrayals of the fictional Borat's supposed native Kazakhstan, the music earned respect from at least some of the otherwise mocked Central Asians: The classically trained Erran was commissioned to compose a piece for the Turan Alem Kazakhstan Philharmonic Orchestra incorporating elements of traditional Kazakh melodies, which was a very gratifying experience for the musician. The piece, titled 'Zere,' is not satire at all (despite news editors being unable to resist headlines such as "Borat's Brother Makes Glorious Composition for Kazakh Orchestra"). The work was performed in London in May, and a recording made at Abbey Road studios will be released by Sony BMG later this year.
And now Erran Baron Cohen continues his own journey to expand his musical horizons. "There's always stuff I happen on by chance," he says. "I'm listening to [Polish classical composers] Gorecki and Penderecki, Philip Glass. I listen to electronic stuff, a whole range of things. Mile Davis is a big influence. You can find music anywhere now."
Just don't expect him to draw you a map.