Every band has a story - but none has the story of Dudu Tassa and the Kuwaitis, the Israeli band that opened Coachella festival last year and was chosen by Radiohead as its support act for 2017’s spring tour of the USA. With the release of new album El Hajar, Dudu Tassa & The Kuwaitis are ready to enter the global stage.
Dudu Tassa, one of Israel’s leading rock stars, is the grandson of Kuwaiti musician Daoud Al-Kuwaiti, whose musical collaborations with his brother Saleh as the Al-Kuwaiti Brothers became famous in the Arabic world between the 1930s and 1950s. Their music was later banned in Iraq by Saddam Hussein during his regime when he discovered that the singers were not Arabic, but Jewish. Being of Iraqi-Jewish (and Yemeni) descent, Tassa’s exploration of his roots revealed an amazing musical history.
Having spent the last two decades gaining a reputation for his own original work, Tassa one day came across a box of old tapes by his grandfather and great-uncle. The Al-Kuwaiti Brothers were among the greatest composers and musicians in Baghdad during the first half of the 20th century, considered innovators and creators of modern Iraqi music, who also helped to establish Bagdad’s original broadcasting authority. They were among the King’s favourite singers at that time and regularly performed at palaces and stadiums. Their songs remain popular in the Arab world today. In the 1950s they emigrated to Israel, where they resorted to a humble existence, selling appliances in a market by day and playing music mostly in private and on rare occasions at a wedding.
Tassa, who hadn’t known his grandfather, listened to hundreds of Al-Kuwaiti Brothers’ songs on old records and tapes of his mother’s and began choosing tracks he felt he could modernise and combine with his own sound. His project resulted in first two albums: Dudu Tassa and the Kuwaitis (2011) and Ala Shawati (2015). ‘Wen Ya Galub‘, the lead off single from debut album Dudu Tassa and the Kuwaitis, was the first Arabic song to be playlisted on the largest, premier radio station in Israel.
Both recordings, helmed by Tassa and his musical partner Nir Maimon, salute the Al-Kuwaitis legacy, revive their songs and integrate Iraqi, Middle-Eastern, and rock music in a unique style. The songs were recorded in Iraqi Arabic, which Tassa learnt especially for the project. On both albums, Tassa hosts Jewish and Arab singers and performers, from Israel and Iraq (including the notable singer and champion of Iraqi music, Ismail Fadel). Now, El Hajar marks the third album in his series and the first to be released in Europe.
Dudu Tassa & the Kuwaitis is not merely about the powerful voice, musicianship and energy of the performers, but also about doing justice to an important chapter in the history of popular Arabic music.
The recording of the first album was documented in “Iraq’n’roll” (2011), a film which tells the story of reviving the Al Kuwaiti Brother’s music and was screened at many international film festivals. The project received praise from all around the world, including the countries that serve as the roots of this music, Iraq and Kuwait. Since then, the band, also featuring Adel Jubran (Cello), Ariel Qassus (Qanun), Barak Kram (Drums & percussions), Loay Naddaf (Violin), Nir Maimon (Producer & Bass Guitar), and Nissren Kadre (Vocal), has performed at the Babelmed Music Showcase in France, toured in the United States, including a SXSW Showcase, and played at Womex, the Sziget Festival in Hungary, and a show at the United Nations building in New York celebrating the cross-cultural nature of the project.
An intriguing story and a marvellous set of music, Dudu Tassa & The Kuwaitis’ new album El Hajar gives us a great taste of history and a hopeful, inspiring and fascinating look into the future.