Album Review: TootArd – Migrant Birds [Glitterbeat Records; May 2020]

tootard migrant birds

Tootard is one of my favourite bands, their combination of Middle Eastern tonalities: the maqqam scales, with Caribbean reggae and western funk and disco – is not only original, but innovative. 

Migrant Birds is their third studio album, out on the hit churners Glitterbeat Records. The brother duo Hasan and Rami Nakhleh are from the occupied Golan Heights – their first two albums pay political homage to this, for example their second album, Laissez Passer, is named after the document given instead of a passport to citizens under occupation. Consequently, the brothers have only managed to travel into four of the 22 surrounding Arab countries with their music…

Whilst still lyrically astute, in this third recorded offering, the spotlight is whipping its leash from the offbeat reggae grooves of the Caribbean – to the middle of an eastern analogue discotheque.

The guys innovatively manipulate their instruments to attain the quarter tones that feature in middle eastern, but not western music. To do this, they add extra frets to their guitars to attain that quarter tone, or they change the functions of the buttons on a saxophone…consequently the sound they make from their instruments differs and is original.

When you combine this with the smooth grooves and offbeat reggae vibe, as well as political and socially aware lyrics, Tootard becomes an important, empowering and  fantastic band to have a jig to – with an absolutely infectious live energy.

Whereas their last two albums were certainly reggae albums and this one might firstly feel electronic with the endless odes to the PSR-62 Oriental Model, or Moog synth keys, only then followed by a shared reggae, soul and disco overtone – that’s what I love about this album.

The band has the courage to step outside the known appreciation they received as a reggae outfit from Syria – and take this motivation to assume that these same people accept a pop pumped synth disco album.

It’s continuing the innovation of contemporary dance and disco music with strong and powerful nostalgic roots.

The first single, “Open Sesame”, is a perfect example for the overall upbeat feeling of the album, the sheer grooving hedonism with middle eastern trills will make any dance floor jump.

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