Thursday, February 10, 2011
Walter Aziz "Assyrian Nation" (Nineveh Records, 1980)
On the north end of Devon Ave. in Chicago there are two Assyrian video stores across the street from each other (and a block north of them the only Georgian bakery in the US). Each of them also sells CDs and cassettes of popular and classical music (there's a third category, for which we don't really have a name. You might call it "popular art music") from the Middle East, mostly Iraq and the Levant states. Only one of them, the one on the East side of the street, sells LPs, which are mostly European pressings of the same schlock you find clogging thrift store record bins. The single exception was this Walter Aziz record, which I bought based on the Nineveh Records logo. Ancient Nineveh sits in modern-day Mosul, Iraq. It was the capital of Assyria in Biblical times, founded by Ashur, whose Art Deco-style apotheosis you see on this label. I did not know those things at the time but I did know that Nineveh was where Jonah was ordered to go on mission, that his reluctance landed him in a whale's belly and that he ultimately got out and was able to convince the Ninevites to repent, thus sparing them God's wrath. I also remember that Mosul was the site of intense fighting a few years ago, the ruins of ancient Nineveh were imperiled (destroyed?) and thousands either died or fled. That's a lot more than most labels conjure up for me. You also get to see Assyrian script for the first time and the song titles read like a short, weird poem.