Shusmo: Funky New Yorkers With Middle Eastern Roots The sounds of Palestine combine with jazz and Latin funk in the New York band Shusmo. Frontman Tareq Abboushi performs songs from Shusmo's new album and discusses the music that has influenced his career.

Shusmo: Funky New Yorkers With Middle Eastern Roots

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What do you call your band if it just plain defies labeling? How about whatchamacallit? That's the rough translation of the Arabic word shusmo.


LYDEN: Traditional Middle Eastern instruments meet up with western funk in the New-York based band Shusmo. Their new CD is called "Mumtastic."


LYDEN: Palestinian-born group leader Tareq Abboushi joins us from our New York Bureau. And we want to say welcome and (foreign language spoken).

TAREQ ABBOUSHI: Thank you so much, Jacki. (foreign language spoken)

LYDEN: Please tell me about your band. It's really been active this summer. You live in New York. You do blend all of these musical styles. But you grew up in Ramallah in the West Bank and your mom was a piano teacher and you listened to classical Arabic music.

ABBOUSHI: Yeah. I listened a little bit to classical Arabic music - not that much when I was back home. There was a lot of classical Western music in the house, obviously, because my mother taught piano. 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 Arabic and classical Arabic music and whatever. It was pop at the time.

LYDEN: But it sounds like you had both Western and Eastern styles from the get-go.

ABBOUSHI: Yeah. I mean, my parents grew up in the '60s and '70s, so they've had their share of classic rock. You know, they have records of Led Zeppelin and Beatles and all kinds of things like that. So, I definitely got to hear a variety of things.

LYDEN: That Ramallah rocked then.

ABBOUSHI: Yeah. There's always people rocking somewhere.


LYDEN: You went back to the West Bank recently but you also played at the Jerusalem Festival last month. What was that like? That's a big and wonderful festival.

ABBOUSHI: It is. It was a lot of fun. But we also went to a lot of villages during this tour when we went. We went to Anupta, and the festival there had about 4,000 people - much bigger than the one in Jerusalem actually. Huge stage, lighting, everything, I mean, completely beyond all of our expectations. People love it. People are like waiting for a part where they can clap and join in and cheer and, you know, it's so interactive. It was really a lot of fun to play with that kind of crowd.

LYDEN: Not a political moment expressly though in any particular way, right?

ABBOUSHI: No. I mean, not necessarily. When you're dealing with Palestine, there's always sort of a bit of the political or national sentiment that's always there because it's mixed into the everyday life and every aspect pretty much. You can't avoid it. So, just performing in Palestine already is a sort of a statement. It supports...

LYDEN: And it's awareness you want to raise.

ABBOUSHI: Sure, absolutely. Yes, definitely.

LYDEN: Now, Tareq Abboushi, you brought your instrument, which is called a buzuq, with you to the studio there in New York where we're speaking to you. And I'm trying to think if I've ever seen this. It's kind of an Arabic lute. Could you describe it and give us a little demonstration?

ABBOUSHI: Yeah. It's from a family of long-neck lutes. It has the same sort of pear-shaped body. It's fretted, so this kind of differentiates it from some of the other lutes that don't have frets, like the oud. It's a simple instrument. It's a folk instrument. It has three double strings. C, G, C, (plucking buzuq) and that's it. So, it's sort of simpler than the oud. The oud has six. I'll play a little bit for you.

LYDEN: Yeah, would you play something for us?



LYDEN: It's really lovely. Makes me want to go back to the Middle East, like, right now. But instead I can go to New York or just pop in something and listen to you.

ABBOUSHI: There you go.

LYDEN: Are any of these traditional Levantine melodies that you're drawing on?

ABBOUSHI: One of them, yes. We took a traditional song called "Dal'Ona" and it's usually played to a company line dance that's very common called dabke, and this is very common in the Middle East in that area specifically - in Syria, Lebanon, Palestine. And we sort of added some other elements to it, some funk elements to it, just to sort of bring it to a newer audience maybe, add a little kick to it.

LYDEN: Let's hear a little bit of "Dal'Ona," shall we?



ABBOUSHI: (Singing in foreign language)

LYDEN: Oh, that was a fun excerpt from "Del'Ona." I love it. Let's hear how you did it on the CD.


ABBOUSHI: (Singing in foreign language)

LYDEN: So, that is a really dynamic, rocking version of this folk song. What's the reaction been amongst traditionalists?

ABBOUSHI: Well, for that one, usually, it's the one that they recognize because usually when I'm playing other pieces, they're my own compositions so that people don't necessarily know them. But when you're at a concert and they hear this, immediately see people turning their heads, people sort of look up and they start interacting with it because it's a very, very common piece and a common melody. So, usually it's been a very, very good reaction. I haven't really heard anything where they're like, oh, why did you do this to this traditional piece? No, people actually enjoy it.

LYDEN: The update. Tareq Abboushi, aside from the Arabic instruments, I see that you've got congas that you work with, timbales. Is this part of the Latin influence that comes from being part of the New York melting pot where you live now?

ABBOUSHI: Yes, absolutely. We are very lucky to have with us Hector Morales, who's from Peru. And he's somebody that I went to school with when I went to William Patterson to study jazz piano. And so I got to meet him there, and, yeah, definitely, the collaboration started from then and it's an important element, I think, in the music.


LYDEN: I love it that you came to the States to study jazz and now you've got funk and you've got these African beats and you've synthesized so many things. Well, we'd love it if you'd play us out with some music. But before you do, I just want to say shukran. Thank you so much for speaking with us, Tareq Abboushi of Shusmo.

ABBOUSHI: Thank you. It's been a pleasure. Thank you, Jacki.

LYDEN: What would you like to play?

ABBOUSHI: I was thinking I could play "Pickles" is one piece I can play.

LYDEN: "Pickles." Pickles are good.



LYDEN: You can hear full versions of Tareq Abboushi's "Pickles" and "Dal'Ona" and a couple of cuts from Shusmo's new CD at our website, This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Scott Simon returns next week. I'm Jacki Lyden.

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