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Omar Khorshid - Guitar El Chark (Guitar of the Orient)

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Artist: Omar Khorshid

Album: Guitar El Chark (Guitar of the Orient)

Label: Sublime Frequencies

Review date: Apr. 6, 2010

Omar Khorshid is one of the greatest middle eastern electric guitarists, with a tone like spun gold and the chops to shred with the best of them. Born in Egypt, he cut his teeth in the underground rock clubs of Cairo in the 1960s. Eventually, he ended up working with the cream of the Egyptian musical crop, playing in the bands of such legendary figures as Oum Kalthoum, Abdel Halim Hafez, and Mohammed Abdel Wahab. Through his work with these singers, Khorshid introduced Western-style electric guitar into traditional Arab music.

But Khorshid was more than just a groundbreaking guitarist, he was also a bona fide movie star and soundtrack composer. He spent much of the 1970s in Lebanon and Syria and released a slew of wonderful music from blazing reverb-saturated versions of middle eastern classics to weird western lounge tunes. He died in a car accident in 1981 at the tender age of 36 shortly after his return to Egypt and the release his most acclaimed film, The Fortuneteller.

In recent years there’s been a minor surge of interest in Khorshid’s music in the West, but the music has been somewhat hard to come by. One of his most notable fans is Sun City Girls founder and eminently venerable guitarist Sir Richard Bishop. Bishop’s last album, The Freak of Araby, with its eccentric surf guitar along the Nile sound, bears Khorshid’s unmistakable (and thoroughly acknowledged) influence.

Until this welcome 2xLP set on Alan Bishop’s Sublime Frequencies label, Khorshid’s music has not been easy to find outside of Egypt, Lebanon and Syria. Guitar El Chark collects instrumental recordings that Khorshid made in Beirut from 1973-1977, which was one of the most prolific and creative periods of his short career. The collection centers on music by Arabic composers, ranging from traditional songs to tunes by contemporary songwriters like Nour al Malah and Khorshid himself. The playing is peerless: Khorshid’s reverb-mad middle eastern surf guitar mixed with intricate hand percussion, serpentine accordion and sci-fi synth sounds. Some of the finest moments come when Khorshid lets loose on the Moog, injecting a singularly alien glow over the proceedings — this is perhaps most notable on the scintillatingly propulsive title track. But even on a more straightforwardly sensuous song like "Habitaty (My Beloved)," Khorshid’s guitar work is out of this world.

My one quibble with this excellent collection is that it presents a unnecessarily narrow picture of Khorshid’s work by not including any non-arabic covers, a few of which, such as his cover of the Gershon Kingsley chestnut "Pop Corn," are truly inspired.

By Susanna Bolle

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