During a total eclipse, light is obscured, time suspended, animation stilled, power subsumed. There is wholeness and nothingness — and within that spherical zero, there is everything around which life revolves.
Oakland-based Lebanese-American vocalist, composer, and educator Naima Shalhoub translates zero-sum everything into Arabic to become Siphr, the title of her debut studio album. Nine tracks fuse American blues, jazz, and hip-hop with classical and contemporary Arabic music to form an unbreakable chain linking freedom, captivity, joy, sorrow, pain, separation, identity, political protest, and spiritual power.
The album is a collaboration between Shalhoub and Excentrik (Palestinian-American musician Tarik Kazaleh) and includes cellist Ed Baskerville, and bassist Marcus Shelby. Recorded at Women’s Audio Mission in San Francisco, the compositions are titled numerically, with subtitles indicating the significance Shalhoub draws from each number.
Although Siphr took three years to complete and originated in 2018 in Beirut, during time Shalhoub spent visiting family and traveling in Lebanon, the music seems anchored in relevancy for today’s audiences. Like her first album, Live in San Francisco County Jail, recorded with incarcerated women she led in weekly social justice circles, there is in the music commitment to artistic excellence and to a greater goal: radical restoration and healing.
In a conversation ranging from details of specific tracks to the art of listening, Shalhoub speaks candidly about composing, expanding the definition of classical music, and the beauty of silence and remembrance.