The Arabic word shusmo is a place holder for something whose name you can't think of, similar to the English "whatchamacallit." That makes it a good fit for the New York band Shusmo, whose combination of traditional Middle Eastern instruments and Western funk can be tough to classify.
Led by the Palestininan-born Tareq Abboushi, Shusmo has a new album titled Mumtastic. Abboushi tells Weekend Edition Saturday guest host Jacki Lyden that he grew up hearing both Western and Arabic music in his hometown, the West Bank city of Ramallah.
"There was a lot of classical Western music in the house because my mother taught piano," Abboushi says. "And when you're in town, when you're in a taxi, when you're in the marketplace, you're going to hear lots of classical Arabic music — and whatever was pop at the time."
Abboushi says he was heavily influenced by his parents' collection of Western rock music, which included records by Led Zeppelin and The Beatles. That influence is easy to hear in the Shusmo song "Longa Nakreez," which features plenty of complicated riffing. Other songs on Mumtastic dip into jazz and Latin sounds, which stem from Abboushi having studied jazz in New York. That's where he met his Peruvian collaborator, Hector Morales, who plays drums, congas and cajon (a box-shaped Peruvian percussion instrument).
Abboushi's own instrument, the buzuq, is unusual. He says it comes from the same familiy of long-necked, pear-shaped lutes as the oud, though its arrangement of frets and strings is much simpler. But when he plays it, it doesn't sound simple at all.
Abboushi performed two songs on the buzuq live in the NPR studio, including his own version of the traditional Levantine song "Dal'Ona," which he says is meant to accompany a line dance.
"It's very common in the Middle East, specifically in Syria, Lebanon and Palestine," Abboushi says. "We added some more elements to it — some more funk — to bring it to a new audience. We added a little kick to it."