Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 2 June 2020

The 11 best Arab independent musicians you should be listening to right now

Lebanese super producer Zeid Hamdan recommends the best in Palestinian hip-hop, Egyptian folk and Syrian hard rock

Musician and producer Zeid Hamdan is viewed as one of the architects of the Arabic indie music scene. Courtesy: Cairo Scene) 
Musician and producer Zeid Hamdan is viewed as one of the architects of the Arabic indie music scene. Courtesy: Cairo Scene) 

If you ever need recommendations on which artists to listen to from the Arabic independent scene, then it’s best to go right to the source.

From his work with the groundbreaking Arabic language trip-hop duo Soap Kills, to his most recent group Bedouin Burger, Zeid Hamdan, 43, has been viewed as one of the most revolutionary architects of the scene, with more than 20 albums and EPs to his name.

He is also an acclaimed producer and composer, having helmed recordings from fierce singers Maryam Saleh and Hiba Mansouri, as well as scoring the soundtrack to the 2016 Saudi romantic comedy Barakah Meets Barakah.

With such a pedigree as a musical tastemaker, it makes absolute sense for The National to seek him to list the best regional indie artists we should listen to in isolation.

True to form, Hamdan provides an eclectic mix – ranging from Palestinian hip-hop to some Bedouin jazz.

"Compiling a list like this is hard and it requires me to really think about it," he says. "The scene is so rich and diverse that you can’t just look at it as one thing...I hope people can hear these bands and go out to explore others.”

Check out the list below:

1. The lone voice of Tamer Abu Ghazaleh (Egypt)

"He has a very unique way of singing Arabic and he takes his voices to places that are really unexpected. This even applies to his lyrics, which are also written in his own style. It is a mixture of standard prose and slam poetry. This is what I appreciate about him – he is his own artist and there is no out there like him."

2. A patch work of regional styles: Yasmine Hamdan (Lebanon)

"The thing about Yasmine Hamdan is that vocally, she hasn't captured the quarter tone (a musical mode that’s key to Middle Eastern music). She is actually rather clumsy with it.

"But her voice has character and when it comes to her lyrics, she takes inspiration from the whole Arab world. So it is patchwork of Gulf, Lebanese and Egyptian movie expressions. It is a mix of everything, and she presents it with very minimal and interesting melodies."

3. The idiosyncratic talent of Maryam Saleh (Egypt)

"Another untypical singer. Maryam Saleh's voice is her personality. She doesn't sound like anyone else and she has this kind of yelling voice, which makes her sound almost like a punk artist. Indeed, she has played an important role in developing the Arabic rock scene. She can also sing the works of [Egyptian folk music hero] Sheikh Imam like no one else."

4. The mellow stories of Maii Waleed (Egypt)

"The first time I heard Maii Waleed, I thought I was listening to an Arabic version of [US indie singer] Suzanne Vega. She has this creamy voice that is mellow and which always takes me somewhere.

"Another feature of her craft is the lyrics. They are very honest and they tell you the stories of the Arab world today from the perspective of a young woman. I love her honesty and character and I think she is a great songwriter. People should definitely go out and discover her."

5. The hip-hop powerhouse that is DAM (Palestine)

"Tamer Nafar is the leader of this important hip-hop group. He is the first artist I heard doing Arabic hip-hop and it was a song about the Israeli occupation called Meen Erhabe? (Who is the terrorist?). It really moved me. I reconnected with him recently because he sent me DAM’s latest album Ben Haana wa Maana to give him feedback. The album was great because Tamer really showed his skill in writing both Arabic music and Arabic hip-hop. People should definitely hear it."

6. The majestic rock of El Morabba3

"I literally fell in love with (El Morabba3 frontman) Muhammad Abdullah one night after a concert with Mai Waleed. He came to the stage and introduced himself and I asked him to perform a song in guitar and he spontaneously accepted. He played Cigara Qabel Ma Nqoom from his band El Moraba33 and, honestly, I cried. It was one of the most beautifully composed Arabic songs I ever heard. This was the gateway for me to discover El Morabba3 and they are just a great Modern Arabic rock band."

7. The awesome power of Tanjaret Daghet (Syria)

"They are a three-piece band with two singers and they do extremely well executed alternative Arabic rock. Their voices are amazing. Because of the regional situation and the fact they can't really move around, they didn't have the impact that they should. In my opinion, they are the most powerful Arabic rock trio that I have seen. Once you see them on stage, I guarantee they will be on your Top 5 list of gigs you seen in the Arab world."

8. The razor sharp lyricism of Touffar (Lebanon)

"They are a duo and they have written Arabic hip-hop that had the most impact on me. They are both from a neglected city called Baalbek and they have these accents you hear when you are from the Beqaa valley. Their songs have great lyrics about Lebanon and its realities, and they have been very active in the recent revolution here in Lebanon. They have really matured to become great lyricists and you should definitely follow them if you are fan of Arabic hip-hop."

9. Bedouin jazz with Lynn Adib (Syria)

"I am amazed by her voice, her technique and the quality of her compositions. She writes Bedouin style music with a mix of jazz. I can sense in her work that her potential has not yet been reached, particularly in her very promising first album. I am currently working with her in co-producing her next album."

10. The pioneering work of Saudi Arabian producer Majed El Issa

"I wish I could meet him. He is an incredibly talented Saudi Arabian producer. He has a YouTube channel where you can see his songs and when you hear them, you can see he took Saudi Arabian and Khaleeji music and modernised it. This was real ear-opening for me and has inspired my production work for the last ten years. His style and sound shows what Saudi Arabia can do on the music scene."

11. The fine Arabic pop rock of Jadal

"The band's frontman Mahmoud Radaideh is a very good composer. We worked together a few times and he really knows the recipe when it comes to creating a good pop song. I have seen him evolve in Jadal and this is what makes the band a good option if you want to hear this good Arabic rock music."

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Read more:

Bahjat on why the Libyan dialect could be the next big thing in Arab pop music

The best concerts to watch online: From Beyonce and Taylor Swift to James Brown and Nina Simone

Spotify launches new music series for the region

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Updated: April 8, 2020 11:34 AM

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