When you think of music from the Middle East, you probably don’t think of electronic music. But despite its reputation as a traditional society, the region has an emerging electronica scene. And it is about to get a lot easier for American audiences to hear it.
This week on Alt.Latino, we bring you some great new electronic sounds from the Middle East and North Africa. We’ll start by getting a taste of the “Shubbak” festival, which brings together musicians from New York and London with artists from Egypt, Tunisia and Syria. We’ll also introduce you to a young Moroccan artist who fuses traditional sounds with electronica and hip-hop.
But first, let’s go back a few years to when I was in Cairo. If you’ve ever been there, you know the city can be chaotic: huge traffic jams; constant honking; people shouting in Arabic and English; street vendors selling everything imaginable; and rickety old buses belching black smoke into narrow streets full of people scurrying along dodging cars and horse-drawn carts while avoiding packs of stray dogs or cats. All that noise made me wonder: What does Cairo sound like to someone who actually lives there?
It’s always exciting to hear new music from the Middle East and North Africa, a region whose artists are often obscured by language barriers. Here is a small collection of new songs I’ve enjoyed recently.
El Rass is one of the most important and beloved rappers in the Arab world, but his music can’t be found on any streaming platforms outside of the region. Here’s one of his best recent songs, “Zaman Al-Akhar” (The Other Time), in which he raps about life before and after the Arab Spring. The video was filmed in Beirut’s Shatila refugee camp.
The Lebanese indie/electronic trio Scrambled Eggs is back with two new singles that feature vocals by Jad Atoui. I like how these songs straddle the line between pop and experimentalism, with lush synthesizers that sometimes sound like they’re going to explode, and danceable beats that are just slightly off-kilter.
Ismail Haniyeh is a Palestinian rapper who lives in Lebanon; he raps in Arabic about the Palestinian experience and resistance to Israeli occupation. Here’s his latest song, “Athar,” which was produced by Boikutt, an Indian electronic artist based in New Delhi.
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This is the truth: there are a lot of great musicians in the Arab world. There are a lot of people making exciting and interesting music. There are no shortage of talented people who, given some encouragement, could make exceptional music.
The problem is that there is almost no way for them to do this without also working as a doctor or an engineer on the side. There’s simply no money in music here. And I’m not talking about the good life here, I mean enough to pay rent and put food on the table. Most musicians have day jobs and play music for free just because they love it so much.
In the West, we take it for granted that if you can scrape together enough money to get a good laptop, learn how to use some free software and spend a few years writing songs, you can then record an album (or at least an EP) and release it online to thousands of listeners all over the world.
For most musicians in the Arab world, this is just not possible. For one thing, recording studios are prohibitively expensive – even artists who have labels willing to cover their costs find themselves competing with advertising agencies and other cash-flush businesses who can afford to pay far more than they ever could. For another thing,
Arabic electronic music is not a new thing by any means. One only needs to look back as far as 2004, when Bjork collaborated with the Syrian musician Omar Souleyman on two tracks that were later released on her Medulla album, to see that this sort of thing has been going on for some time. The important thing though, is that now it’s happening in the Middle East itself.
The Arab Spring is a great example of how the use of social media has helped to empower and motivate people who wish to make their voices heard. Naturally, the same mediums have also provided a way for artists from these countries to share their work with the world. And it’s not just those from countries affected by the Arab Spring either: there’s also a strong scene in Iran too which we’ll be looking at later in this series.
One of our earliest posts for The Vinyl Factory covered Tunisian producer Acydbye, who produced a track called “Arab Muslim Dance” which managed to capture what was going on in Tunisia at that time and offer an insight into the culture of his home country. Since then, however, he seems to have moved away from anything related to politics or current affairs and is instead focusing on straight up club tracks like “Tun
I know that my friends in the Middle East have been working hard to reinforce their music scene and now there are a lot of talented artists in this region.
I will feature some of them, such as:
The new album by Ibn Al Nafees, which is a real musical treat!
It’s been a while since I last posted here. In the meantime, Jordan’s music scene has been growing steadily and a number of new releases have come out recently. Here are two of my favorites:
First up is Monolayer – “Majnoon.” The track starts off on a quiet note but quickly escalates into a frenzy of beats that make you want to move. It’s a great introduction to Monolayer (a.k.a. Hani Bawardi) who is based in London and has developed a following for his live performances at clubs like Fabric, Cargo and The End.
Majnoon by monolayer
Second is an EP from Amman-based artist Zyglrox (a.k.a. Khaled Abu Al Rub). I’m really digging the dark beats and glitchy sounds in these tracks:
Zyglrox – Abyss (Original Mix)
Zyglrox – Abyss (Pleq Remix)
Zyglrox – Abyss (Ozgur Can Remix)
And that’s it for now!
In the last few years, we’ve been seeing more and more talented producers coming out of the Middle East.
If you thought that this region was out of touch with music trends, well you’re in for a surprise.
Here’s amazing work made by some of the best artists and DJs from Cairo, Lebanon and Dubai to name a few.