(via Nadah El Shazly)
Think of anything that sounds as strange and avant-beautiful as Egypt’s Nadah El Shazly. The closest I get is early Björk, though she hasn’t made anything sounding this urgent in years. Portishead too, but there’s more color in Shazly’s voice and Miles Davis-like cut-and-paste instrumentation. Maybe it’s what this photograph sounds like. All are true to me, and I believe Nadah El Shazly is one of my new favorite Egyptian musicians.
“Starting out singing Misfits covers in a local punk band, then moving onto producing her own electronic tracks and making a name for herself in Cairo’s underground scene, Nadah El Shazly’s backstory is not that unusual. Her debut album on the other hand, is an entirely unexpected story.
Two years in the making, Ahwar (Arabic for marshlands) is an otherworldly record, not unlike an abstract mythological story-tale. Opening with the mangled and filtered vocals of the album’s lead track Afqid Adh-Dhakira (I Lose Memory) like an alien dream, the drones of a bowed double bass lead us into a drum groove that lays the groundwork for El Shazly’s sultry and captivating presence, singing: “(I am) coming, from a time far away. Going, escaping. Alone in the wilderness”.
The Arabic prose lingers over interjections of slap-back delayed guitar twangs and an avant-garde arrangement of dissonant winds, horns and seemingly random drum fills, ending with an eerie soundscape that wouldn’t feel out of place in a Giallo classic. A daring and potent statement that sets the foundations over which the rest of the album can unravel.
Composed, written and produced by El Shazly herself in collaboration with The Dwarfs of East Agouza’s Maurice Louca and Sam Shalabi on co-composition and arrangement duties, the album was crafted across two continents, between Canada and Egypt, and features the crème of Montreal’s contemporary-classical and improvised music scene, most of whom are members of Shalabi’s own Land of Kush ensemble.
In between El Shazly’s five original tracks, we are treated to an abstract cover version of Sayyid Darwish’s classic Ana ‘Ishiqt (I Once Loved). El Shazly’s haunting vocal floats over broken Kalimba and Harp arpeggios which slowly intertwine with a free, bowed double bass improv to nestle within the breaks between Younes Al-Qadhi’s early 20th century verses of love and betrayal.
More than that, it is difficult to really describe, but imagine the worlds of Nico, Björk and Annette Peacock with the Arabic language as their mother tongue, re-approached through acoustic avant-jazz harmony and re-constructed with a dash of Kamilya Jubran’s modern styling of Arabic maqam and you may be somewhere close.”
(via Project Youth)
Sure we all want to be The Clash and Sex Pistols, but how about actually sounding like them? To have that same sense of urgency and smirk? That’s the classic British punk sound and feel I hear from Istanbul’s Project Youth. I really enjoy all of Middle East for its politicalness and its desire to sound fun and alive. It feels like this group is on a mission to do something, even if that mission is just to destroy or declare that nothing matters. How punk.
“Veins of ’77 punk and early British Oi! Featuring members from two local punk bands; Poster-iti & Sabotage.”
Palestine rapper Stormtrap, also known as Asifeh, takes me to a Cowboy Bebop-like world with distorted beats carrying jazz-like grooves and asserted rapping. I’m especially drawn to 2012’s Iradeh, but I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve heard so far.
“[A] beatmaker and rapper from Palestine. Experimenting with old samples, instruments, and field recordings, and combining all that with hip-hop beats. His lyrics deal with different themes inspired mainly by his personal experiences in Palestine. [He] played a fundamental role in forming the band Ramallah Underground, with which he has performed worldwide.”
(via Racha Rizk)
What a voice. Racha Rizk is a singer from Damascus now based in Paris. “Sakru Shababîk” is my current favorite Rizk track for that soulful, powerful voice and bonus electric guitar – something I don’t hear too often in Arabic pop. Check out her interview with Onorient from earlier this year, and check her out via Facebook.
From Onorient (translated):
“Passed far too unnoticed, the first album of the Syrian diva, “Malak” released early 2017, deserves to be widely presented on new scenes.
The compositions of Racha Rizk tell with troubling softness the destructive consequences of the war in Syria. Her past of prima donna at the Opera is guessed in the elegance of her phrasing and the amplitude of her melodies. With the freedom of the great artists, she sings in Arabic on oriental music tunes, tinged with jazz, pop suspicions, or a few rock riffs.
His enveloping voice has already charmed several generations of moviegoers in France. A few years ago, she had lent her voice to the films of the Lebanese director Nadine Labaki Caramel and And now we go where? From now on, its homage to Syria and the Syrians is a tribute to the web, beyond the borders.”
(via Hoodna Orchestra)
Afrobeat from Tel Aviv? When it sounds this good, yes.
Hoodna Orchestra is a 14-piece group that plays all types of Afrobeat styles, and they play them all well. According to their bio, the group’s mission is to study and investigate the African origins of western popular music.
ALEM (world in Amharic) is the 2nd release in a series of collaborations between The Hoodna Orchestra and artist and performers from Ethiopia. The song was written and sung by The singer and poet DEMISU BELETE to a tune by Ilan Smilan. It is an intense love song describing one’s love as a cure to all pains and woes. BELETE’s singing style is heavily influenced by the great singers from the golden age of ethiopian music, especially Mahmoud Ahmed and Tilahun Gesesse. BELETE’s deep voice, alongside the dynamic and groovy performance by the Hoodna orchestra, creates a powerfull composition that sweeps the listeners away to a different time and place.
The Bside is an Ethio-dub version of the song, that features members of ADYABO Ensemble, a group that specializes in traditional Ehiopian music and Folklore. The song titled ALEM-DUB is an attempt at fusing old and new, tradition and Modernity. The result is a hypnotically groovy track, heavily painted in Bright psychedelic colours. The single will be released in a 7″ vinyl format.
(via The Wanton Bishops)
The Middle East has an established Tuareg blues scene, but American blues-influenced rock ‘n’ roll isn’t as easy to find throughout the Middle East from the states. The Wanton Bishops is one of those rare finds that catches me off guard by how American it sounds and how strong it is; Delta harmonicas, bluesy riffs, and mournful howls are all here, but there’s also a very modern drive and light electronic touch that makes this more than just “American rock.” Listen to the whole album and be prepared to be pleasantly surprised.
“The Wanton Bishops is the vision of one very eclectic man – Nader Mansour. A cultural anomaly, considering the fact that he was born and raised in Beirut, Lebanon, Nader as lead singer is the very epitome of a howling blues man. With a wide range of influences, Nader’s music draws from blues, psychedelic rock, classic rock to the sounds of the Tarab.”
Also known as “the human megaphone,” RiFFRaFF Rap From The Working Class is a Middle Eastern MC who is not that Riff Raff but raps in Arabic and English over steady beats, tasteful saxophone, and sometimes banjo. Socialism and class politics is the name of RiFFRaFF’s game, which he backs up with plenty of energy. Check out more RiFFRaFF via Bandcamp.
Sabir plays sleek, Mediterranean dance-influenced My Morning Jacket, stripped-down, dance beat-heavy Tame Impala, or lively Israeli wedding music. Or all three. Or more. Take your pick. MDM (Middle Eastern Dance Music) can mean different sounds to each person and no one is wrong. This band doesn’t mind bending those rigid genres rules, and they’re all the better for it.
The band’s full-length debut is out September 9th.
“סאביר صابر is an instrumental band of six, playing MDM – Middle eastern Dance Music. [Their] music is a mixture of original Mediterranean pieces with elements of rock, electro, and hip-hop.”
(via Masters Of This Land)
Amir and Youssef, two members of the Cairo post-rock band Go! Save The Hostages!, have started a new band called Masters Of This Land, a deeper dive into the “post” part of their music. And I really like it. At moments I feel like I’m listening to Explosions In The Sky, still with hints of the ambient punk from their former band.
The band’s self-titled EP was just released via the Egyptian Cyrdaeb Music label.
“Debut EP by Go! Save The Hostages! members Amir and Youssef. Wanting to deviate from the typical rock band instrumentation established by GSTH, MOTL instead focuses on blending guitars and synthesizers, creating audio sculptures and soundscapes to write the soundtrack to the stories in your head.”
Masters Of This Land: