Middle Eastern Heavens: Ihsan Al-Munzer - Sonatina for Maria
Al-Munzer’s sixth solo release, the first entirely composed of his own original works, ‘Sonatina for Maria’ takes a step away from the sound of his earlier ‘Belly Dance Disco’ album (reissued by BBE in 2020). This innovative library album features eight synth-driven instrumentals that effortlessly flow through psychedelic pop, cinematic soundtracks and disco music.
Taking in a range of styles, the album illustrates Al-Munzer’s skill in composition and arrangement that saw him become one of the busiest arrangers of Lebanon’s 1980s pop scene. The record goes deeper into the Western rhythm Al-Munzer explored at the beginning of his career and brought to his Middle Eastern fusion productions, with the synthesizer still taking centre stage, and the electric guitar, bass and drums ever more present.
When Al-Munzer entered Copenhagen’s Sun Studio in 1985 to record ‘Sonatina for Maria’, the composer thought it would be his last ever album. Diagnosed with mouth cancer, he had travelled to Denmark for treatment and decided to make one final work while awaiting his operation. The composer wrote the record during a particularly challenging period in Lebanon too – the country was buckling at its knees: destroyed, bankrupt and beaten after 10 years of civil war. “When I made the album, I had a sad feeling because of the war in Lebanon and it was hard for me to be away from my country at that time” reflects Al- Munzer. Hence, the album has a particular originality and energy across its eight tracks, wrapped up in melancholy and nostalgia for a troubled homeland, as well as showing a lust for life.
Dedicated to his then five-year old daughter, title track ‘Sonatina for Maria’ is an up-tempo disco instrumental with a classical theme. Several pop ballads feature on the album, as well as trippy 1980s TV-style soundtrack ‘Dindolo’ and Arabic disco instrumental ‘Mishwar’ (Picnic), revolving around a punchy Middle Eastern melody. The album includes the main theme from the 1983 Lebanese film ‘Al Makhtouf’, one of three films for which Al-Munzer wrote the soundtrack. Directed by Clauda Akl, the film starred iconic Lebanese singer and actress Sabah. ‘Streets of Beirut’ captures the atmosphere of the Lebanese capital’s deserted streets in wartime and the album closes on fast-paced Euro-disco instrumental ‘Gipsy Nights’.
Al-Munzer’s five releases from the 1970s and 1980s are part of BBE Music’s Middle Eastern Heavens reissue series, a collection of ground-breaking productions from Lebanon, curated by Lebanese DJ, compiler and music researcher Ernesto Chahoud.
Notes by Natalie Shooter, edited by Will Sumsuch.