Hijaz Mustapha is not a political man. As the stringed-instrument specialist in 3 Mustaphas 3 -- bouzouki, violin, guitar, it's all the same to Hijaz -- he would rather ponder the mysteries of Hindi film music or high-life guitar styles than pour over the latest international news dispatches. World music not worl affairs, is his interest.
Even so, as war rages in the Persian Gulf and ethnic strife simmers in Europe, Africa and Asia, Hijaz can't help but think that 3 Mustaphas 3 has a positive influence on its audience.
"We are a force for uniting, not for dividing," he says, over the phone from a tour stop in Portland, Ore. "We are very positive, and try to indicate the different wealth [in the world's music]. But that wealth isn't there for stealing, it is there for sharing."
And share they do. After all, not only does the Mustaphas' repertoire draw on everything from Macedonian wedding dances to South American ballads to urban African pop, but the group takes great pains to mix and match its music. Thus, "Soup of the Century," its latest album, is full of numbers like "Soba Song," a tribute to noodles that backs a Japanese melody with a country beat and klezmer instrumental accents.
"It makes all kinds of fusions," says Hijaz. "It's what they call in the ethnomusicology world 'the syncretic process' -- two things that come together do produce a third. Something that is of both, but new.
"We play planetary local music, local music from all over the planet. We are just fans who like a certain kind of spirit to the music."
Although maintaining such a diverse repertoire requires a certain amount of expertise, Hijaz cautions that 3 Mustaphas 3 are by no means archivists. As much as the group respects its sources, the Mustaphas believe in moving beyond mere reproduction.
"To me, the main point for Mustapha is finding Mustapha's own voice," he says. "So that it really is becoming Mustapha music, what we're doing. Not: Mustapha plays a piece from this country, and you recognize it as a good [imitation]."
That may be why the group's albums are no longer as jokey as they once were. Whereas early efforts made much of the Mustaphas' mythical origins in Szergerely (in truth the group hails from London; Szergerely is a place they made up, just as Mustapha is the fake last name each has assumed), recent releases emphasize the music.
3 Mustaphas 3
When: Tonight at 9.
Where: 8x10 Club, 10 E. Cross St.