Stormtrap: Beatmaker and Rapper from Palestine
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.”
Racha Rizk: “Diva of the Damascus Opera”
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.”
Hoodna Orchestra: Israeli Afrobeat
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.
The Wanton Bishops: American Blues-Influenced Rock ‘n’ Roll in Lebanon
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.”
RiFFRaFF Rap From the Working Class: Socialist hip-hop from the Middle East
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.
Mariam Sawires: Arabic-Infused Jazz & Neo-Soul
“Sick of being tied to you / and I don’t even talk to you” is such a killer line. This and the rest of Mariam Sawires‘ beautiful singing elevates to something special when she switches from jazz lounge to Roots-like R&B that gradually crescendos into a climax colorful like the album cover. And this is just on one song – the rest of the album travels through different peaks and valleys of moods, all done well and all making me very excited for what Sawires has in store for us in the future.
“Egyptian, born in Australia into a worldly, nomadic family of musicians artists originating in desert sands to urban landscapes worldwide. Mariam’s youth was inspired by the sweet lyrical high-pitched melodies of traditional Arabic songs, the rhythms created from the clay Darbuka of her father. Bringing her flavor of Arabic/Northern African infused Jazz/ NuSoul to Europe, Africa, USA, and Asia.”
Sabir: Performers of MDM – Middle Eastern Dance Music
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.”
Masters Of This Land: “The soundtrack to the stories in your head”
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.”
Ecoute: a sketch of slow and melodic Israeli jazz
What starts out as slow, Sketches Of Spain-like jazz turns into a twisting dance of Arabic melodies and grooves. That is the power of Ecoute‘s music, aided by a whole string and horn section and Inbal Jamshid’s beautifully sung poetry.
Tarek Yamani: Jazz and Afro-Tarab Pianist from Beirut
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'”