Junun—an album from composer/musician Shye Ben Tzur, guitarist Jonny Greenwood, and the Rajasthan Express, a group of Indian musicians—was recorded in a makeshift studio inside the 15th-century Mehrangarh Fort in Jodhpur, India, with Radiohead's producer Nigel Godrich. The album comprises Ben Tzur’s compositions, which feature devotional Sufi qawwal musicians who sing in Urdu as well as in his native Hebrew. "One of the most inspired releases of the year," says the Times of London. "Intriguing, sinuous, and essential listening."
Nonesuch Records releases Junun—an album from composer/musician Shye Ben Tzur, guitarist Jonny Greenwood, and the Rajasthan Express, a group of Indian musicians—on November 20, 2015. Recorded earlier this year in a makeshift studio inside the 15th-century Mehrangarh Fort in Jodhpur, India, the album was made with Radiohead's producer Nigel Godrich, who worked with the ensemble to create this two LP/CD album. The album comprises Ben Tzur’s compositions, which feature devotional Sufi qawwal musicians who sing in Urdu as well as in his native Hebrew. Junun is an alternate spelling of "junoon," which means "mania," or "the madness of love."
The filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson, a friend and frequent collaborator of Greenwood, came along to document the recording sessions as well as daily life and the close camaraderie of artistic collaboration. Anderson's resulting impressionistic film, also entitled Junun, debuted at the New York Film Festival on October 8 and streamed exclusively on MUBI from October 9 through November 7. The film is available on iTunes.
Greenwood made a guest appearance last year during Ben Tzur's London concert, where they previewed some of the music of Junun, and this summer, the two were joined by the qawwali party for two performances at the Jerusalem Sacred Music Festival. Further concerts are being planned for the future, as are additional screenings of Anderson's film.
Shye Ben Tzur is an Israeli composer/producer/poet and performer who lives in India and Israel. He composes qawwalis—instrumental and devotional music—in Hebrew, Urdu, and Hindi. A concert by Zakir Hussain and Hariprasad Chaurasia that Ben Tzur attended as a young man was life-changing. "It touched my heart so deeply," he says. "It was at the time the deepest musical experience I had gone through. It moved me so that I could do nothing but go find out what it is. I feel I'm still in that spot. I don't think I have achieved it. Indian music is so vast and so deep and the more I learn different things about it, I realize how ignorant I was. It just doesn't stop."
"When I was in the Negev desert in southern Israel a couple of years ago, I heard a band playing a song using an Arabic violin called a rehab," Greenwood told London's Evening Standard. "It was a strange mix of Arabic and traditional Indian music, one that I'd never come across before," He continued, "The best song, I found out, was written by Shye Ben Tzur, an Israeli musician who had been living in India until this year. I set out to discover more about him … I'm always a little wary of rock bands half-heartedly dabbling in world music—itself a slightly greasy term—but there are exceptions. Damon Albarn is one: his work with musicians in Mali is something he's clearly fully committed to. And I think Shye Ben Tzur is another."
Widely known as the guitarist for Radiohead, Jonny Greenwood also is a highly respected composer. In addition to his soundtracks to Paul Thomas Anderson's Inherent Vice, There Will Be Blood, and The Master, Nonesuch also released his score for Norwegian Wood and his collaboration with Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki.
All music composed by Shye Ben Tzur
Arranged by Shye Ben Tzur & Jonny Greenwood
Produced by Jonny Greenwood
Recorded, mixed and engineered by Nigel Godrich
Recording engineer: Sam Petts-Davies
Mastered by Robert C. Ludwig
Original project conceived by Sharona Katan
Managed by Brian Message & Jake Leslau for ATC Management
Poetry by Shy Ben Tzur except "Junun (Madness of Love)" by Hazrat Nawab Khadim Hasan Gudri Shah Baba III; "Chala Vahi Des (Let’s Go to That Land)" by Meera Bai; "Kalandar (Ascetic)," Julus (Procession)" Traditional Sufi
Art directors: Shin Katan & Ian Patrick
Cover photos & art by Shin Katan
Design & booklet photography by Ian Patrick
Project wallah: Arne Warmington
Production manager: Pippa Robinson
Production assistance in Jodhpur: Sanjay Badnore
Special thanks to Paul Thomas Anderson
Patron of the Project: His Highness Maharaja Gaj Singh II of Marwar, Jodhpur
This album is available from Nonesuch Records for the world outside of Israel.
Shye Ben Tzur, vocal, guitar, flute
Jonny Greenwood, guitar, bass guitar, drum machine & computers, ondes martenot, keyboard
Aamir Bhiyani, lead trumpet
Ajaj Damami, trombone
Sabir Damami, tuba
Soheb Bhiyani, trumpet
Bhanwaru Khan, tuba
Zaki Ali Qawwal, Qawwali vocal
Zakir Ali Qawwal, Qawwali vocal, harmonium
Gufran Ali, Shazib Ali, Qawwali chorus
Ehtisham Khan Ajmeri, Qawwali chorus, dholak
Chugge Khan, percussion (khartal, bhapang, manjeera)
Nihal Khan, dholak
Nathu Lal Solanki, Narsi Lal Solanki, nagara
Asin Khan, sarangi on "Hu"; vocal on "Ahuvi"
Dara Khan, kamaicha on "Hu" & "Ahuvi"
Afshana Khan, vocal on "Chala Vahi Des"
Razia Sultan, vocal on "Chala Vahi Des," "Allah Elohim"