Land Of Kush
Photo by Thomas Boucher
Land Of Kush is a large orchestra assembled and directed by composer and musician Sam Shalabi, who has been widely recognized as one of Montreal's most unique and prolific players for over two decades. Shalabi performs constantly on electric guitar and oud, with regular appearances in numerous jazz and free improv ensembles, membership in a kaleidoscope of avant rock bands, and at the compositional helm of various musical assemblages large and small.
Shalabi has released dozens of albums over the years under his own name, with Shalabi Effect (on Alien8 Recordings), and as a member of The Dwarfs Of East Agouza, Karkhana, Jane And The Magic Bananas, and Moose Terrific. He also has ongoing projects with Nadah El Shazly, Maurice Louca, Matana Roberts, Brahja Waldman, Radwan Moumneh, Oren Ambarchi, Tamara Filyavich, Eric Chenaux, and many others. As a collaborator, he has worked on albums with Jerusalem In My Heart and served as an arranger, producer, and musician on Nadah El Shazly's debut album Ahwar. In addition to the genre-defying compositions for larger ensembles captured on his eponymous albums, Shalabi has also mounted several live performances and commissioned compositions for hybrid orchestras that have gone largely undocumented.
Land Of Kush is among the most ambitious and impressive of Shalabi’s projects: the group involves over 20 musicians and two dozen different instruments, including a cluster of strings, horns and woodwinds, joined by bass, guitar, piano, santur, darbouka, oud, electronics, and synths, as well as multiple vocalists and percussionists. They have performed a handful of mesmerizing shows in Montréal over the past ten years, premiering six different hour-long works over that period. Three of these were recorded in studio at the invitation of Constellation and subsequently released in 2009 (Against The Day), 2010 (Monogamy), and 2013 (The Big Mango).
After a five-year hiatus (during which Shalabi took up residence in Cairo), Land Of Kush was asked to play in Toronto at The Aga Khan Museum in March 2018. This request eventually led to the creation and recording of Sand Enigma, the fourth Land Of Kush album, released on 8 November 2019. Sand Enigma is a culmination and consolidation of various musical themes, threads, relationships, and friendships between Montreal and Cairo. The current version of the ensemble now features two of Shalabi's closest musical collaborators in Egypt: Nadah El Shazly (vocals) and Maurice Louca (keyboards/electronics), plus Adham (Eddie) Zidan, a producer and musician Shalabi works with regularly in Cairo. The ensemble also picked up new members from North America (including guitarist Vicky Mettler, saxophonist Adam Kinner, santur player Amir Amiri, cellist Mark Molnar, harpist Sarah Pagé, and vocalist Maya Kuroki) along with longtime Kush contributors Jason Sharp, Dave Gossage, Josh Zubot, Pat Conan, and Liz Lima. Together, the ensemble has opened up a new sonic palette and brought life to Sand Enigma: the most complex, nuanced, and ambitious composition to date for Land Of Kush.
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