Nostalgia, longing and the dream of being somewhere else have always been important in Samer Fanek’s music – but on his new album Call of the Desert, he takes it one step further: into the desert. Fanek was born and raised in Jordan, so this is a climate he knows intimately. Call of the Desert is a spellbinding and heartfelt journey, filled to the brim with mystique, exotic flavors, and – most importantly – Fanek’s one-of-a-kind melodic brilliance.
Samer Fanek is a Polish-Jordanian pianist, keyboardist, composer, and producer of contemporary instrumental music. He moved to the US in 2008 and debuted in 2016 with Wishful Thinking, which earned him several awards – including Best New Age Music Debut Album here on Newagemusic.guide. In December 2018, Fanek released Guide Me, and then Polarized followed in November 2020. In my review, I wrote that “A hallmark of great art is that it is recognizable and has emotional depth. Samer Fanek’s Polarized has such qualities. Just like a well-written novel, it shows life in all its multi-faceted complexity. Fanek has delivered a genuine, heartfelt, and inspiring release.
Call of the Desert – Part I
The album starts and ends with the two-part Call of the Desert. It is, according to Fanek, created with live performances in mind – either for band or orchestra. I love the introduction and how effortlessly the scene is set; we instantly “see” before our inner eye the sunburnt desert landscape. It is as if a mystery is hiding behind every dune. Luckily, Fanek is here to guide us along – this is his territory after all – and not a second is wasted in that regard. You will soon notice the inspired selection of traditional instruments, such as the Oud, Tabla, Riq, Ney, and Qanun. Even the piano sounds Arabic, thanks to the scales used. Part I is, in essence, a fabulous album opener!
Next out is Nighttime Celebrations. As implied by the title; this is a profoundly playful track – which I think is true for the whole album too. The piece is less than three minutes long – but in that time, we get a sense of what desert evening festivities are all about – including trumpets. Already at this stage, we can safely conclude that Fanek’s orchestral arrangement and the Arabic setting, are a match made in heaven.
Where Did the Time Go?
The album changes pace with Where Did the Time Go? It is a nice contrast to Nighttime Celebrations and the first hint of the album’s quite heavy dose of nostalgia. But rest assured; it is a good kind of nostalgia, one that inspires and gives direction – and, in this case, safe passage through the desert. That said, Where Did the Time Go? underlines the fact that the place you once knew is gone and there is no way back. All you have left is a mirage.
There has always been a thin line between the music of Samer Fanek and Yanni (see Fanek’s impressive covers of Yanni’s Nightingale and Keys to Imagination and you’ll understand) – and in this sandy landscape, that line has never been closer. Call of the Desert would have fantastic played live with a grand historical backdrop (like the pyramids; yes, a fan is allowed to dream)! That said, Fanek brings to the table (or should I say piano?) a personal and emotional style that is something very different from Yanni’s.
Sample all the tracks on the album:
Into the Sun
One of the finest pieces on the album is Into the Sun. If you want to know what this album is all about in less than four minutes, check out this piece. I like the way it portrays the baking hot desert; it may turn a cold room warm simply by listening. It is part romantic, part sentimental, with a nice dose of drama too. It is a soul-stirring mix. About The Old Arabic Shop, Fanek says: “I personally think of images of walking down the lively streets of older areas around downtown Amman, Jordan. For a listener who has never visited these parts of the world, my goal is to evoke imagery of wandering around an old lively Arabic bazaar full of friendly locals.” The piece is rich and charged with colors, spices and Arabic finesse. It also serves as an introduction to Dramatic Encounters. It is an upbeat and complex piece with a flute and piano. I’m not going to give any spoilers on how it ends, but it is a wild ride for sure!
Mediterranean Moments shows another side of Fanek’s talent. It is hard to label with its hints of light pop, chill and the usual hint of Arabic influences. It is easy imagining this piece being played live at an upscale Mediterranean resort as the sun is setting in the background.
Pleading to You
The album’s atmosphere once again changes when Pleading to You comes on. It is one of the slower pieces and has Fanek’s fingerprints all over; it is that kind of emotional ballad that made his previous albums so memorable. It is a fine balance since such music often becomes sugar-sweet or rose-red – but that is never the case with Fanek, even when the piece is called Pleading to You. This is a proud, Arabic kind of pleading.
Desert Rush is another treasure, hidden almost at the end of our journey. It has flair, emotional depth and – as implied by the title – speed. The trumpets sound insanely great. Even though this is made on a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation), the listener can sense that this is music meant to be played live. Desert Rush is that kind of music that takes hold of you for a long time. Call of the Desert Part II rounds off the album nicely. Even though it is a somber piece, you know that this is not the end; the desert is still calling your name.
In conclusion: We all have places that we long for and dream about. It may be a landscape, a city or a town from our past, carefully tucked away someplace deep in our imagination. As time goes by, depending on the situation, the idea of that place may reach almost magical proportions. Samer Fanek’s Call of the Desert communicates this idea, or call if you will, splendidly. The album is from start to finish a classic desert adventure. I love its playful and dramatic nature, and how Fanek’s patented sound never loses its momentum. He is a magnificent storyteller!
The album’s perhaps foremost quality is its accessibility. The traditional Arabic instruments are mixed with the modern arrangements with love and skill. Call of the Desert is like a bridge between two worlds of sound. There is also a nice touch of contemporary instrumental and New Age music here – and hopefully, the album may make these genres more accessible to an Arabic audience.
This new chapter in Samer Fanek’s discography is brimming with creative twists and turns. Old fans will feel right at home thanks to Fanek’s unique and personal style, while new fans might be recruited thanks to the album’s theme and setting.
13th-century Persian poet Rumi said that “All language is a longing for home.” Listening to Samer Fanek’s Call of the Desert, I’m tempted to say that this is true for music too.
Call of the Desert is available for pre-order on samerfanek.bandcamp.com.
For more information and music samples, visit samerfanek.com.