In a region whose history is as rich and conflicted as Israel's, the cultivation of an artistic identity can be political. Since their beginnings in 1979, the group El-Funoun has defied the Israeli government in their dedication to researching and preserving centuries of traditional Palestinian song and dance. The group members have endured arrest, detention, and bans from the Israeli government. Now, with the release of their album "Zaghareed," they've earned the rebuke of Palestinian purists by redefining traditional music for a contemporary context.

While maintaining Palestinian cultural integrity, El-Funoun also makes a statement about our need to define ourselves. "Zhagareed" expresses this need with grace and dignity. The album's name comes from the traditional cries of joy, called zaghareed, or ululations, heard at Arabic weddings and celebrations. In its interpretation of a contemporary wedding, El-Funoun questions the Islamic tradition of arranged marriages, conveying the story of a young woman as she dreams of the right to choose her own lover. El-Funoun has drawn inspiration from traditional celebrations, incorporating their contemporary, narrative twist to create a rich collection of folkloric Arabic songs.

The opening track, "Tulbah," builds softly from a single, reverential voice to a quiet groove and a chorus of zaghareed that captures simultaneously the solemnity and joyful energy of a wedding procession. In contrast, the nasal drone and percussive bass line of "Dal'onah" drives forward with a surprising hook that resonates long after the song is finished.

The only downside to "Zaghareed" is length: The CD runs just shy of 40 minutes, and the average song is only 2.5 minutes. It's a testament to the transporting quality of the music that the brevity of the songs leaves the listener wishing for more.

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