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Jewish Journal

Spectator - A Hand in Global Harmony

by Gaby Friedman

August 18, 2005 | 8:00 pm

The Middle Eastern fusion music on "Hamsa" is so insidiously infectious and rhythmic that you will not only be humming along but tapping your feet, as well.

"It was never intended to become an album," said Carvin Knowles, the CD's creator. "It was how I felt at the time. But I kept hearing from people I had given it to as a gift about how much they loved the music, so I put together this collection."

Knowles, 41, a native of Long Beach who now lives in Hollywood, has been scoring films since 1991 -- perhaps his best-known track is from the infamous pie scene in "American Pie." His creative flair, though maybe not his name, is best known to Jewish Journal readers through the award-winning covers he designs for the publication.

Knowles, who is not Jewish but a student of Jewish culture and mysticism, wrote "Ghita" and "Taqsim," the first of the 12 songs that would eventually make up "Hamsa," for a documentary about Egyptian archeology that was in production prior to Sept. 11, 2001. The unique sound was an amalgamation of musical influences, such as klezmer, Egyptian pop, hip-hop and Rai (a combining of Arab classical music with R&B).

In the aftermath of Sept. 11, the documentary was never released, and Knowles temporarily lost his taste for Middle Eastern music.

"For a full year I didn't listen to Middle Eastern music at all, because I was really angry," he said. "Working in the media, I saw images of Arabs celebrating our loss, and I was angry."

Knowles' anger dissipated when he started hearing from music scene friends about how many Middle Eastern artists were concerned, rather than gloating. Some artists canceled concerts to show solidarity with the victims; others used their fame to promote peace and dialogue. Newly inspired, Knowles picked up his ud (like the oud -- a round backed string instrument -- but smaller and Turkish) and started recording again. The result was "Hamsa," a mostly instrumental CD.

In concert with his desires for global harmony, Knowles produced and played rhythms that borrowed from many cultures (North African, Turkish, Lebanese) -- then fused them together.

He titled the CD "Hamsa" -- a hand-shaped amulet, thought to represent the hand of God, which is used to banish the "evil eye." He also designed the beautiful, filigreed, earthy-red hamsa that appears on the cover. "Part of what the hamsa means is 'Go away Westerner. We don't want you here,'" said Knowles. "But the hamsa is also a signpost marking where East and West touch. It is a symbol not just of the conflict, but the meeting, the cooperation."

For more information, go to href="http://www.carvinknowles.com" target="_blank">www.carvinknowles.com. To order "Hamsa," visit www.cdbaby.com.

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