Friday, 16 May 2014

Mayssa Karaa's "White Rabbit" - An Arabian Alice in Wonderland

I really like this. Before hearing Lebanese singer Mayssa Karaa's version of Jefferson Airplane's White Rabbit if you had asked me whether it was possible to cover the song and actually add anything new or positive to it I probably would have just shrugged and said no way. The song is now too iconic and has become embedded in our minds as a kind of musical snapshot of late 60s hippiedom.

Mayssa Karaa
However Mayssa's new interpretation (recorded for the soundtrack of the film American Hustle), and sung in Arabic, brings out something that was perhaps only latent in the original. There were a lot of Arabic, Asian and Flamenco influences on psychedelic rock in the mid 60s. Ravi Shankar is perhaps the obvious example. The Byrds listened to John Coltrane's Shankar inspired India and made Eight Miles High. As a result a thousand shimmering sitar drenched guitar solos were born. The stunning 12 minute East/West instrumental on the Paul Butterfield Band's 2nd album also explored similar territory. Then there was Brian Jones Presents the Pipes of Pan at Joujouka  which was a recording the Rolling Stone made of Moroccan group the Master Musicians of Joujouka playing live in 1968. In the 70s Led Zeppelin probably did the best justice to this kind of "fusion" on Kashmir from their 1975 Physical Graffiti album

The hookah-smoking caterpillar
Musically White Rabbit is inspired by Ravel's Bolero and more especially Miles Davis' Sketches of Spain rather than anything overtly Arabic. However given that there is a Moorish influence in Spanish culture and music, and that these influences can be heard quite clearly on Davis' album, one could say that from a musical point of view (let's leave the lyrics out of this) Mayssa Karaa's interpretation of the song returns it in some way to its eastern inspired musical roots.

So when I first heard this version it seemed so perfect. Not only is it a brilliant vocal performance that transfixes you right from the opening lines but it is imbued with all that middle eastern mystique that was there to begin with but was only hinted at in the Airplane's version. I'd love to know what Airplane singer (and song composer) Grace Slick thinks of it.

Take a listen.

More stranger than known
Asturias > Eight Miles High - Roger McGuinn

Eight Miles High on bagpipes - Rufus Harley 

Horizonte Eléctrico 2 - 10 Flamenco Rock Classics 

Jonathan Miller's Psychedelic Alice in Wonderland

Ten 21st Century Summer Psychedelic Nuggets 

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