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November 1998

Hamza el Din
Escalay (The Water Wheel)
Nonesuch Explorer Series

On the subject of timely reissues from the Nonesuch Explorer Series vaults, Hamza El Din's calmly captivating 1971 recording Escalay (The Water Wheel) (Nonesuch Explorer Series 72041; 38:18) is out on CD and well worth adding to any respectable collection of music, let alone "world" music. In recent years, the Nubian musician and composer has gained some popularity as one of the composers whose title work from this album was adapted for the Kronos Quartet, on their best-selling album, Pieces of Africa, featuring the composer as guest on tar, the hand drum. Go back to the source: this spare but entrancing solo recording, for oud, vocals, and tar, evokes an inherent and ancient bluesiness, resonating with the dry sagacity of life along the Nile. It clocks in at less than 40 minutes-therefore fitting snugly on the then-dominant vinyl format-but still packs a punch and profundity worth the price of admission.

Originally published in November 1998
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