Sunday, February 17, 2013

Albums of 2012 # 1: Celt Islam – Baghdad

When I was posting a short series of ‘Just Browsing’ posts to highlight a few of my own favourite downloading sources a while back, I had fully intended to include Celt Islam’s Soundcloud page but never quite got around to it. Here’s a guy with virtually no commercial profile whatsoever, yet he’s making some of the best electro-dub-world crossover tracks you’re ever likely to hear. He calls it Sufi Dub, and he gives most of it away.

Celt Islam (aka Muhammad Abdullah Hamzah) is a Manchester-based composer and producer with an extraordinary talent, and the album Baghdad – released digitally in late 2011 – is perhaps the ultimate example of his widescreen musical vision thus far.
I say widescreen, yet ironically it is probably only the niche market appeal of his work that has held him back from wider acclaim. I suspect some of this stuff is not all that accessible to an awful lot of people, a situation not helped by the limited marketing scope of a self released album.

But it’s widescreen in the sense that it blends so many different genres to produce something of a genuine world music hybrid. No single style dominates an absorbing mix of dub, electro, drum’n’bass, and dubstep, with African flavours and Middle Eastern influences being the most prominent.

I picked up my copy of Baghdad mid-year, having previously compiled a pick and mix playlist of some of his earlier output. It blows me away every time I listen to it. So much so, it soon became the irresistible and only option when it came to selecting my number one album of the year. I can’t say for sure that it was my “most listened to”, but it is the one that made the most impact on me.
It somehow all feels very international, very global. The absence of vocals (for the most part) probably helps. I don’t really know whether having some sort of global vision is a key philosophy behind Sufi Dub, but it feels good. It feels like it connects a wide range of musical strands, something that’s open to all colour and creed, just patiently waiting to be embraced as a theological and meditative blueprint for a better world.

At a time when global unity feels like a forlorn hope – even if it remains every bit the main ideal we should all aspire to – Baghdad offers a brief reprieve from concepts like xenophobia and ethnic difference. A journey across a border-less world, no less.

If only more people knew about it.

Highlights: ‘Tribernetikz’, ‘The Silk Road’, ‘Sarayda Dub’ (clip below), ‘Presence’, and ‘Sinking Sand’.


  1. It saddens me that such soaring talent should be viewed as 'niche' music when i am often finding my ears assaulted with electro pap. Celt Islam is easily on par with bands like Afro Celt Sound System in terms of intelligent beautifully produced music, i can only hope that a record company will give this amazing sound a chance to be heard on major radio stations.

  2. Spot on. People should get to know this stuff. But the reality is you have to go looking for it. You're right, it shouldn't be "niche" but mass marketing of the mainstream means it ends up being swamped. As you say, sad.