My mind draws a blank when it thinks of jazz in the Middle East. There aren’t too many names that stand out to me doing notable things in the genre outside the United States, though this has more to do with my own ignorance and bad luck. Lebanese pianist Tarek Yamani has changed that. Yamani, who now splits his time between New York and Dubai, uses jazz to, in his own words, explore the relationship between African-American jazz and Arabic rhythms and maqams.
Check out this great video via Your Middle East on how Yamani approaches jazz and songwriting.
“Born and raised in Beirut, Tarek is an American-Lebanese award winning composer and a self-taught jazz pianist who got exposed to jazz around the age of 19. Since the release of his debut “Ashur” in 2012, Tarek has been dedicated to exploring relationships between African-American Jazz and Arabic rhythms/maqams which is most evident in his second album ‘Lisan Al Tarab: Jazz Conceptions in Classical Arabic’”
Yasmine Hamdan is a Lebanese singer-songwriter who approaches Arabic pop with a Western electronic, pop, and folk mindset, someone who has been immersed in enough styles to blend them all into something unexpected, something familiar, and something quite stunning.
“With her debut solo album Ya Nass (2013), Hamdan introduced her personal, modern take on Arabic pop. In Al Jamilat (‘The Beautiful Ones’), she pursues her musical exploration, while taking a look at the mutations at work within the Arab world. While Yasmine’s vocals are definitely connected to traditions of Arabic music (to which she takes an unconventional and fresh approach), the structures and arrangements of the songs are very remote from its codes, and take in elements from contemporary Western electronic, pop and folk music.”
sandmoon is a Beirut indie pop/folk group led by singer, pianist, and ukulele player Sandra Arslanian. Singing in English and having specific ties to Belgium and Armenia, Arslanian takes inspiration from various music genres around the world and sings in a strong, proud voice backed by minimal instrumentation. She reminds me of Cat Power and “The Man Who Sold The World” Bowie, with a mystic sort of groove that stays with you long after the songs are over.
The group’s third release, the five-track EP #InTheEnd, is out now. Listen to the EP now onSpotify.
Beirut’s Mayssa Jallad and Elie Abdelnour play indie Folk-Pop that wouldn’t sound out of place in Brooklyn. If you’re sick of Brooklyn indie Folk-Pop (like I am), have no fear; Abdelnour’s jazz guitar and the tiny electronic touches keep “Cake” from being just another delightful and forgettable B-side to the 500 Days of Summer soundtrack. Bonus points to Safar for being trilingual and having an actual sense of melody.
Aynama-Rtama is the self-produced debut album from Alif, an avant-garde five-piece from Beirut that offers a taste of Arab independent music. The lyrics are from a poem by the late Iraqi-Assyrian poet and writer Sargon Boulus. Check out the band, read some good poetry, and enjoy the sound of modern Middle East music.