Nadah El Shazly

Nadah El Shazly: Abstract Mythological Sounds from Egypt

Nadah El Shazly

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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.

From Bandcamp (also check out this great interview with Bandcamp Daily):

“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.”

Brady is the founder of Headphone Nation. He’s responsible for all this mess. Sorry about that. He’s also on Twitter @BradyWGerber

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Mariam Sawires

Mariam Sawires: Arabic-Infused Jazz & Neo-Soul

Mariam Sawires

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“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.

From Bandcamp:

“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.”

Brady is the founder of Headphone Nation. He’s responsible for all this mess. Sorry about that. He’s also on Twitter @BradyWGerber

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Masters Of This Land

Masters Of This Land: “The soundtrack to the stories in your head”

masters of this land

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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.

From Bandcamp:

 

“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: Website Facebook Instagram Twitter SoundCloud

Brady is the founder of Headphone Nation. He’s responsible for all this mess. Sorry about that. He’s also on Twitter @BradyWGerber

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Al Massrieen

Al Massrieen: Arabic funk via the essential Habibi Funk Records

Al Massrieen

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Al Massrieen, this gem of a band, came onto my radar when I was introduced to Habibi Funk Records, a Berlin sub-label of Jakarta Records that specializes in reissuing Arabic funk and jazz music from the ’70s and ’80s. Al Massrieen was an Egyptian band that played groovy Arabic funk from 1977 until the group’s end in 1988.

The full release, titled ‘Habibi Funk 006: Modern Music,’ will be released online April 28th.

From Habibi Funk’s SoundCloud:

“[This] was one of the first bands I learned about once I discovered the tape format. They were really popular in Egypt in the 1970s and the more of their music I found on either tapes or Arabic pirate mp3 sites, the more I was becoming a fan. Only very few bands from the region can match the band’s versatility as well as their strive for innovation. Hany Shenoda is the man behind the [band]. He is a reknown figure of the Egyptian music scene and has worked with everyone from Abdel Halim Hafez to Mohamed Mounir. Al Massrieen was his attempt to introduce his ideas of modernizing Egyptian music, heavily encouraged by Naguib Mahfouz (Egypt’s only winner of the Nobel Price for literature) after discussing his ideas with him.”

Al Massrieen/ Habibi Funk: SoundCloud Facebook

Brady is the founder of Headphone Nation. He’s responsible for all this mess. Sorry about that. He’s also on Twitter @BradyWGerber

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Eslam Salem

Eslam Salem: for fans of ‘Hail To The Thief’ and other moody jams

eslam salem

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The latest release from Cairo’s Eslam Salem is a somber affair, with twitching beats and guitars supporting a mournful voice with quite a range. The results echo Radiohead’s ‘Hail To The Thief’ in that you can hear human pain behind manipulated sounds.

Eslam Salem: Bandcamp SoundCloud

Brady is the founder of Headphone Nation. He’s responsible for all this mess. Sorry about that. He’s also on Twitter @BradyWGerber

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Youssra El Hawary

Youssra El Hawary

Photo: Emma Studio

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Youssra El Hawary is an Egyptian songwriter, accordionist, and singer who, as Beehype notes, first made a name for herself internationally in 2012 with “El Soor,” a politically-charged aim at Egypt’s rule in the aftermath of President Hosni Mubarak’s overthrow from office and the rise of the SCAF. The song’s music video features Hawary climbing the wall in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, the main location of the 2011 Revolution, and singing about the politics of the wall with a disarmingly simple arrangement (“In front of the wall/In front of those who built it/In front of those who made it high/Stood a poor man/Who peed/On the wall, and on those who built it and those who made it high.”). The video was a hit, and it even landed her a spot on NPR.

Hawary’s latest release, “El Alam” (“The Flag”), is another showcase of her trademark sound of combining classical and understated arrangements with sharp political and self-reflective lyrics. I think of her as a sort of PJ Harvey-like writer, someone who is smart enough to do more with less both in song and words. Make sure to keep your eyes out for more music coming out hopefully soon.

Youssra El Hawary: Website SoundCloud Facebook Twitter

Brady is the founder of Headphone Nation. He’s responsible for all this mess. Sorry about that. He’s also on Twitter @BradyWGerber

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