Duets for Abdelrazik help keep human rights abuses in spotlight

0 Posted by - July 16, 2012 - Features, Reviews, Sound
Sam Shalabi joins Stefan Christoff on stage at the June 16 launch of Duets for Abdelrazik

Sam Shalabi joins Stefan Christoff on stage at the June 16 launch of Duets for Abdelrazik. (Photo by Thien V.)

To understand the grotesque, inhuman and criminal depths to which the Canadian government will go in order to deny one of its own citizen’s legal rights, one need look no further than the case of Abousfian Abdelrazik.

A Canadian citizen of Sudanese background, Abdelrazik was arrested by Sudanese authorities while on a family visit. The arrest was prompted by a recommendation by the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service (CSIS), and resulted in Abdelrazik’s imprisonment without trial, torture, and repeated questioning by agents of CSIS, the FBI, and Sudanese and French intelligence officials.

Once he was cleared of all suspicion by both CSIS and the RCMP in 2007, Abdelrazik’s struggle became a Kafka-esque bureaucratic nightmare wherein Canadian diplomatic officials, rather than pursuing the correct course of action concerning a Canadian citizen, did all they could to prevent his return to Canada. Their stonewalling tactics were only overcome by the fierce and committed work of Project Fly Home, a solidarity group which against ridiculous odds were finally able to bring Abdelrazik back to Canada in 2009, when the Federal Court ordered the Conservative government to do so without further delay.

Duets for Abdelrazik album art by Nazik Da

Duets for Abdelrazik album art by Nazik Da.

One member of Project Fly Home, Stefan Christoff, wanted to keep Abdelrazik’s struggle in the public’s mind after the initial goal had been achieved. An accomplished musician as well as a tireless activist for social justice, Christoff initiated a recording project, Duets For Abdelrazik, in which he performs with musicians whose works cut across multiple stylistic and cultural lines. Recorded over two years, the CD was recently launched at Montreal’s Casa del Popolo.

The centerpiece of Duets For Abdelrazik is the unique piano work of Stefan Christoff. Eschewing the jagged, atonal or anti-musical approaches of many current jazz and new music keyboardists, Christoff’s pieces are each a cascading series of melodic motifs, insistent and impassioned, that pull the listener below the surface chatter of everyday urban existence, into contact with a sense of flow, of emotional connectedness, and of a kind of eternal return to simple, basic truths.

It’s an enormously flexible style, which is how Christoff is able to perform duets with a broad range of fellow musicians, from the muscular saxophone of Matana Roberts, to the supple and sensual cello work of Rebecca Foon. Christoff’s commitment to listening is clear, whether seeing him perform these duets live, or hearing the recordings on Duets For Abdelrazik.

Recorded at Hotel 2 Tango, each track is a complete musical experience — there is never a sense of anything lacking. Two of the stand-out tracks on the album, the duets with Roberts and with master oud player Sam Shalabi, were recorded in a single take. The track with Norman Nawrocki’s violin similarily highlights the quality of deep listening between the players.

With all the musicians — the others are Peter Burton on contrabass, and Radwan Ghazi Moumneh on buzuq — the interplay is haunting and seductive. Every time I played Duets For Abdelrazik on the sound system at the used book store where I work, customers would ask about it, compliment it, and write down details about it.

Christoff’s artistic philosophy is that the production of creative work is an important means of countering the ugly pall of the corporate machine world. It champions the human spirit over the death trip that has seized hold of our governing elites. This lovingly produced, limited edition CD, with a handmade, screenprinted cover, is a testament to his philosophy.

As for Abdelrazik, he has recently celebrated the removal of his name from the UN’s notorious 1267 list, which had prevented him exercising from most of his citizen’s rights, including the right to work and the right to basic material comforts like health insurance, even clothing! He’s currently seeking restitution through the courts for the multiple wrongs committed against him. In the CD liner notes, he wrote: “Music has played an important role in my life, in the most difficult times I listen to music to find peace and strength.”

Vince Tinguely is a writer and poet living in Montreal. Background information on Abdelrazik came from PeoplesCommission.org.

Leave a reply