On Qalaq, Jerusalem In My Heart deliver a record of deliberate bombast and raw emotion, quivers of weakness meeting the polar opposite of pure power. A set of death-robed electronics and spacious electroacoustic elements combine with the haunting calls of spoken and sung Arabic – provided by founder Radwan Ghazi Moumneh – and the addition of the buzuq only adds to its uncertain atmosphere.
A different collaborator appears on every track. Moor Mother, Tim Hecker, Lucrecia Dalt, Greg Fox, Alanis Obomsawin, and Rabih Beaini all feature as guest artists, but it isn’t a disjointed record. The record has been polished and feels complete, slim, and well-maintained. The spoken word sections are more vulnerable, out in the open and waiting to get shot down, and the delivery is a deciding factor in this, while the sung sections regain an inner confidence. Qalaq is an Arabic word, with Moumneh intending for it to reflect ‘deep worry’. Not just on a personal or a local level, but on a planetary scale. Moumneh also specifically recalls the troubles of Lebanon and its capital, Beirut, with its ‘collapsing domestic politics, economy and infrastructure, its adjacent countries and its tragic geopolitics’. Violence has wounded and scarred its topography, and the sung sections cry out in pain, uniting in mourning while also sounding incredibly soulful.
On Side 2, the tracks are all named the same – Qalaq. This represents ‘the degree to which the complex violence Lebanon and the Levant has reached in the last couple of years, from the complete and utter failure of the Lebanese sectarian state that drove the economy to a grinding halt, to its disastrous handling of the migrant influx from neighbouring failed states, to the endemic corruption that led to the August 2020 port explosion, to the latest chapter of Palestinian erasure and yet another brutally asymmetrical and disproportionate bombing campaign on Gaza’.
The rage can be felt in the buzuq’s electrifying pace, and the propulsive drums lined up in stances which promote conflict and war. It not only reflects the turbulence of the area, using music as a creative vessel to channel the troubles and make a statement, but it’s also an outlet and an outburst, decrying the insanity of the world. Skittering, frenzied sections, where the music descends into the intentionally-scrappy sounds of experimentalism, are evidence of regional decay, both music and country being pulled into a black hole from which there is no escape. There is a high degree of dissonance, even when the notes themselves are not, making Qalaq vital music for desperate times.
The trembling of an unceasing worry carries over into its scattered tones and the bomb-battered drums, an assault on the senses but also an indication of the current levels of suffering, an infection reaching beyond the borders, a plague of destruction and death, a pandemic with its feet in the ancient world, but one which has never gone away or had its appetite satiated. Jerusalem In My Heart rise up from the smoke and flames, and have produced an astonishing album. It also includes an appropriate cover image from photographer Myriam Boulous, taken during the Beirut October Revolution in 2019, and the inner sleeve contains photographs by Tony Elieh, covering the Beirut port explosion and further reinforcing a deepening worry – Qalaq.