Listen to the mind-blowing last track Reupped by reader request in 320 HFS-level KBPS, here. [Originally posted in May 2010.] On July 4 of 2009, my [now ex-]wife and I spent the day wandering around Atlantic Avenue and Flatbush in Brooklyn, a tad southish of downtown, an area we almost never get to in the normal course of our daily lives. At one point, we stopped in at an Arabic-run phone card and doo-dad store on Court Street, a couple of doors down from Rashid Music, which is perhaps the oldest, and certainly one of the greatest Arabic music stores in the country. I'm pretty sure that this especially unflattering photograph of me: was taken in this very phone card and doo-dad shop. Note the hookahs to my right. But, far more importantly, note all of the CDs in glass cases and cassettes against the wall. You're seeing less than 1/3rd of the bounty this place held. Rashid may have the reputation--and the staying power--but the doo-dad place sure did have an impressive heap o' steamin' mess o' music on your choice of polyester film with magnetic coating or polycarbonate plastic. As I've claimed a number of times on this blog, there are really two kinds of store keeps: (a) those who are puzzled but absolutely thrilled to see people beyond their usual customers interested in "their" music; and (b) those who view such intruders as though they were Vikings, there to do what Vikings are generally known, and not terribly much adored, for doing. The woman in the back of the phone card and doo-dad place was, happily, one of the friendliest shop keeps I've ever met. She wanted to know what we were doing for Independence Day--not, mind you, July 4, but the next day, July 5, Algerian Independence Day. She, as an Algerian immigrant, had a number of ideas of how we might want to spend AI Day in America, all of them involving cutting out coupons for discounted "whole lamb" from the Arabic newspaper she brought forth and proceeded to spread out on the glass casing housing the CDs. She thought it was nothing short of crucial for us to buy a lamb--"they are so cheap for you if you buy the whole thing at one time"--and invite all of our friends out to whatever park we, as White People, clearly lived within walking distance of. (Prospect Park, duh.) Where, presumably, we'd find a grill big enough to accommodate a whole, dead, skinned lamb. Our conversation, like a fat summer fly, hovered around lambs and elaborate Independence Day picnics for a solid fifteen minutes, and then I started getting--I'll just fess up to it--a bit impatient, frankly. I mean, we were lying, Nada and I; we were not actually going to celebrate Algerian Independence Day, just as we had not actually celebrated U.S. Independence Day. And, even if we were, it was pretty to super doubtful that we would do so in a way that might involve the purchase of a whole, mid-sized mammal--however cheap. I tried to steer the conversation over into the realm of music. We had just seen a film starring Abdel Halim Hafez, and one scene in particular, with Hafez in a boat on the Nile with some friends, singing to the object of Hafez's romantic obsession, had been much on our mind. The song was terrific and haunting. We could almost hum it for her. Did she know this movie or song and whether or not the song might be on CD somewhere in the shop? No, she was Algerian, she reminded us, BUT she had a friend who was Egyptian who knew everything about the movies. Everything! She called her. Within 6 minutes she had our film and song titles (both of which I've since forgotten) and, after flipping through a series of CDs, determined they didn't have the song anywhere in the store. Did we want the coupon for the lamb? I asked her to recommend a more-or-less recent CD that she really, really, really loved. She stared at me blankly for a few moments, then suddenly smiled. "Aha!" she said, disappearing beneath the horizon line of the CD case for a bit, then reappearing with the CD you see above. "Have you heard Asala Yousef?" she asked. I flitted through my memory banks. Asalah Nasri, yes. Yousef? No. "Who is she?" I asked. And here, things get a bit hazy. I'm almost positive that she said that Asala Yousef was from her home country, Algeria. Like, 89% so. But I'm probably totally wrong about that, as I've found nothing online to suggest this is the case. There's almost nothing about Asala Yousef online--just links to MP3s and YouTube videos. In one list of famous Druze singers, she's included as a Syrian. In the comments of several YouTube videos, people are claiming she's either Palestinian or Israeli--mostly Israeli. There is at least one YouTube video of her where the person who uploaded it is writing in Hebrew as opposed to Arabic. And, really, that's extremely rare. So it's possible she is Israeli--though she's obviously singing in Arabic. Which is less rare, but still not super common.
Asala Yousef vid, uploaded by Hebrew speaker
Asala Yousef vid, uploaded by Arabic speaker So, I'm at a loss. Who is Asala Yousef and where does she come from? The music sounds Lebanese to me. Anyone out there know? [Update: Someone out there did know and left the answer in the comments.] Meanwhile, she's got an incredibly powerful voice and you really should be downloading this shit, since it's free & all and double-since the phone card and doo-dad place where I bought this? Not there anymore.
Soon after I moved to New York City in 1997 I began to notice that bodegas run by people from around the world sometimes stocked CDs and DVDs of music and film from the countries they had come from.
The music I've collected from these bodegas can almost never be found in the "World Music" sections of the few remaining places to buy CDs in the U.S.; nor, for that matter on iTunes (or cheapo MP3 sites like Soundike).
If you are an artist or publisher and do not want your music here, just let me know and I'll remove it.