Omar Khorshid - Giant + Guitar Music Album Reviews

Omar Khorshid - Giant + Guitar Music Album Reviews
A new reissue of the Egyptian guitarist’s 1974 breakthrough showcases his virtuosic playing and groundbreaking blend of styles.

In the early 1970s, Egyptian guitarist Omar Khorshid left Al Firka Al Masiya, one of the most celebrated orchestras in Egypt, and set off to form his own band. When asked about this decision years later during a TV interview, he replied, “Most composers who wrote for the guitar gave it the maximum they could imagine it could do.” Khorshid, on the other hand, wanted to be free to explore the electric guitar’s full potential.

The Arabic title of his first solo album, then, is a fitting one: Boss Shouf, Omar Byamel Eh!!! —Look and See, What Omar’s Doing!!!. Recorded in Beirut’s Polysound Studios with renowned engineer Nabil Mumtaz and released on the Voice of Lebanon label in 1974, the album is rooted in a deep knowledge of traditional Arabic music while experimenting with electronic instruments. The album was also released with the English title Giant + Guitar and marketed with the name Rhythms From the Orient and cheesy, Arabian Nights-style artwork to satisfy the burgeoning exotica market.

On this new reissue, the Paris-based label We Want Sounds have opted to go with the original (and much cooler) Giant + Guitar artwork, which depicts a striking Khorshid on his motorbike, guitar in hand, riding around Beirut’s famous Hamra street, where he held a residency in a local club. The release is also accompanied by enlightening liner notes from Lebanese DJ and researcher Ernesto Chahoud, and it follows the reissue of 1978’s With Love and Sublime Frequencies’ comprehensive compilation Guitar El Chark.

Khorshid was a well-known figure in Arabic pop music before striking out on his own. He built a reputation as a talented guitarist playing Beatles and Shadows covers with popular rock band Les Petit Chats in the mid-1960s. After catching the attention of composer, musician, and conductor Ahmed Fouad Hassan, Khorshid began playing in orchestras and backing pop stars like Oum Kulthum and Abdel Halim Hafez. The introduction of the electric guitar to such traditional outfits was timid at first, but the pioneering Egyptian composer Baligh Hamdi, who worked with Hafez, pushed to explore the possibilities of modern Arabic music by incorporating electronic violins, keyboards, and guitars in harmony with Egyptian folk melodies and rhythms. The move divided critics but was a popular success, and Khorshid’s guitar became increasingly central to the orchestra’s sound.

Giant + Guitar marked the beginning of a period of freedom and experimentation for Khorshid. It was the first of a series of groundbreaking albums that showcased his talent for fusing the style of Arabic oud players with electronic instrumentation and innovative arrangements. The album was released shortly after Khorshid moved from Cairo to the more vibrant and culturally progressive Beirut in 1973.

Even in these early recordings, Khorshid was already daring and self-assured. On his own composition, “Taqasim Sanat Alfein,” he plays scales on electric guitar, embellished with touches of understated synths, building an atmospheric solo that picks up speed and shows off his characteristic fast-picking technique. Elsewhere he interprets the work of other composers, such as Lebanese musician Nour Al Mallah’s “Rakset El Fadaa,” which opens the album with a long intro before giving way to a clamor of percussion and sinewy organ.

Elsewhere, Khorshid takes on hits like “Leilet Hob,” originally sung by national icon Oum Kalthoum, and gives them a psychedelic makeover. The sound is bold but not overwhelming, and by alternating between intricate guitar solos and delicate synth with faster, fuzzed-up arrangements, Giant + Guitar not only showcases the range of Korshid’s talents and influences but also makes for a cohesive listen from beginning to end.

A testament to his exquisite talent, the album is also a document to a time of cultural exchange and artistic openness. As a young guitarist in Cairo, Khorshid grew up immersed in traditional music, but he also absorbed the raucous guitar of the Shadows, the psychedelic experiments of the Beatles, and Baligh Hamdi’s subversive approach to composition. Giant + Guitar was his first attempt at carving out his own identity: The record’s constantly shifting arrangements would define his sound and leave an indelible mark on the future of Arabic music.

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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

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Omar Khorshid - Giant + Guitar Music Album Reviews Omar Khorshid - Giant + Guitar Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on December 08, 2021 Rating: 5


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