Underground sounds: The best records of 2020 by alternative Arab artists

Underground sounds: The best records of 2020 by alternative Arab artists
Postcards’ second studio album was one of the first releases of 2020. (Supplied)
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Updated 03 January 2021

Underground sounds: The best records of 2020 by alternative Arab artists

Underground sounds: The best records of 2020 by alternative Arab artists
  • Records from Lebanon, Tunisia, Kuwait, Palestine, Morocco and the UAE made our list this year

Postcards

‘The Good Soldier’

The Lebanese trio’s second studio album was one of the first releases of 2020, hitting the shelves in early January and ahead of several planned tours that were eventually called off for obvious reasons. The record was a prescient opener to a year that would not only see the world descend into pandemic pandemonium, but also the band’s hometown of Beirut — already crippled by economic collapse and civil unrest — succumb to widespread destruction. “The Good Soldier” is a fitting soundtrack to the city’s painful ordeal, weaving shoegaze-y, melancholic instrumental landscapes and memorable vocal hooks into a sonic sculpture that turns catharsis into an art form.

Flugen

‘Poupayee’

Flugen is a one-woman musical army led by the multi-instrumental musical genius of Maya Aghniadis. With “Poupayee,” she has fashioned a stunning alchemy of mostly instrumental pieces that take the listener on a wildly fascinating journey. Mesmerizing tribal beats punctuate passages stepped in dreamy piano and flute-driven melodies, never once letting up in their command of one’s attention. Aghniadis’ music has been labeled as ‘ethno-electro jazz,’ but her latest record makes it strikingly obvious that she’s an artist who will continue to elude categorization with her passion for experimentation.

Sons of Yusuf

‘Shaykh the World’

Kuwaiti brothers Ya’koob and Abdul Rahman Al-Refaie started hip-hop outfit Sons of Yusuf in 2011, and after a string of gripping singles and last year’s EP collaboration with Shafiq Husayn, the siblings finally dropped their first full-length album. Released at the height of the pandemic in April, the two rhyme-slingers offered a much-needed dose of positivity and culturally incisive wit to music fans in a world justifiably enveloped by doom and gloom. “Shaykh the World” is a major achievement for the region’s hip-hop scene, and absolutely essential listening.

Emel Mathlouthi 

‘The Tunis Diaries’

The singer was about to depart her native Tunis and fly back home to New York City when the international travel ban took hold. She capitalized on being stranded by borrowing a classical guitar and laptop, and taking to the rooftop of the building she was staying in. The fruits of her labor became a captivating double album that sees the critically acclaimed songwriter offer up solo renditions of some of her best-known tracks, as well as compelling covers including Nirvana’s “Something in the Way,” System of a Down’s “Aerials,” and David Bowie’s “The Man Who Sold The World.” In stark contrast to last year’s theatrical, electronica-laden masterpiece “Everywhere We Looked Was Burning,” Mathlouthi’s haunting vocal performances this time around draw the listener in with their quiet intensity, as the guitarist’s delicate but deliberate plucking keeps the intimate aura of the proceedings on track at all times.

Faraj Suleiman

‘Better Than Berlin’

The indefatigable Palestinian composer and pianist found form and sense in a chaotic year with a riveting new LP, building on a fast-growing musical legacy of successful releases that earned him an artist residency at the Cité Internationale des Arts in Paris, where he lives. Suleiman balances emotion and instrumental mastery in an alluring, seamless whirlwind of Western jazz interspersed with Eastern musical influences, playful Arabic lyrics and hints of his penchant for rock music. “Better Than Berlin” is a spellbinding showcase that hits all the right notes and captures the musical ability of an innovative instrumentalist firing on all cylinders.

Bab L’Bluz 

‘Nayda!’

This Moroccan-French quartet plays with such intent and cohesion that it’s hard to believe they’ve been together for only two short years. This debut LP is a powerful declaration of the band’s intention to “reclaim the blues for North Africa.” The enchanting vocal lines delivered by charismatic singer Yousra Mansour are expertly navigated by the delectable grooves of the three musicians that accompany her with hypnotic mélanges of percussion and guembri — the three-stringed bass-lute. Bab L’Bluz (Arabic for ‘Door to Blues’) have emerged as torchbearers for the ‘nayda’ youth movement of artists that sing in the Moroccan-Arabic dialect of darija and are deeply inspired by local heritage.

El Rass

‘Bab Al Doukhoul’

El Rass (Arabic for ‘the head’) is Mazen El-Sayed, rapper and music producer from Lebanon’s northern city of Tripoli. His razor-sharp verses and politically charged lyrical diatribes have been the hallmark of his many collaborations and growing repertoire of imaginative, infectiously rhythmic LPs. The specter of economic and societal calamity in his native Lebanon understandably hangs over “Bab Al Doukhoul” with even more urgency than on his earlier releases. This record sees the inventive talent truly at the top of his game while finding new and intriguing ways to elevate his craft.

Sobhhï

‘RED III’

Dubai-born Sobhhï has largely been a man of mystery as his legend continues to grow in the regional R&B scene and beyond. The singer and songwriter has crafted a cryptic persona around his prolific release schedule for the past few years: He doesn’t perform live (although he reportedly plans to), his promotional photography rarely shows his face, and he has repeatedly stated his admirable preference for letting the tunes do all the talking. “RED III” was, in fact, his second 2020 EP (following “PLEASURES” earlier in the year) and it’s a thrilling addition to his catalog of magnetic beats and sultry vocal displays that the artist himself has aptly dubbed “music for late nights.”

Various artists

‘Beirut Remixed’

Featuring remixes of tracks from five luminaries of the Lebanese indie scene  — Mashrou’ Leila, Adonis, Who Killed Bruce Lee, Lumi, and The Bunny Tylers — by veteran EDM maestros Jade and Jad Taleb and acclaimed producer ETYEN, “Beirut Remixed” is an engaging electronic reimagining of some of the artists’ most-celebrated songs. Released by Etyen’s Thawra Records as a tribute to the Lebanese capital in light of this year’s cataclysmic August 4th explosion, the record is a testament to the creative energy that Beirut has regularly summoned throughout the past decade to produce jewels such as this one.


Emirati artist Aisha Juma takes part in ‘Beyond Belief’ exhibition in Germany 

Emirati artist Aisha Juma takes part in ‘Beyond Belief’ exhibition in Germany 
Updated 21 September 2021

Emirati artist Aisha Juma takes part in ‘Beyond Belief’ exhibition in Germany 

Emirati artist Aisha Juma takes part in ‘Beyond Belief’ exhibition in Germany 

DUBAI: Emirati visual artist Aisha Juma is showcasing her work at an exhibition titled “Beyond Belief” in Berlin, Germany. 

Supported by Abu Dhabi Festival (ADF), Juma is taking part in the exhibition that brings together a variety of artworks from more than 35 artists. 

Aisha Juma is an Emirati visual artist. (aishajuma.com)

Open until Nov. 21, “Beyond Belief” explores the rise of modern-day spirituality, its origins, diverse manifestations and unique contemporary attributes. 

Juma, on her Instagram account, shared images of her drawings that are “inspired by the concept of art and spirituality.

“So happy to be part of this fundamental creative conversation,” she wrote. 

The inauguration of the event was attended by Hafsa Al-Ulama, the UAE ambassador to Germany. 

In her speech at the event, Al-Ulama praised the strong cultural ties between the UAE and Germany, and commended ADF’s commitment to participating in art exhibitions and festivals in Germany. 

She added that the festival’s sponsorship of “Beyond Belief” reflects Abu Dhabi’s role in promoting art worldwide. 


Bahraini label Noon by Noor lights up London Fashion Week

Designers Shaikha Noor Al-Khalifa and Shaikha Haya Al-Khalifa presented a collection titled ‘Light.’ (Supplied)
Designers Shaikha Noor Al-Khalifa and Shaikha Haya Al-Khalifa presented a collection titled ‘Light.’ (Supplied)
Updated 21 September 2021

Bahraini label Noon by Noor lights up London Fashion Week

Designers Shaikha Noor Al-Khalifa and Shaikha Haya Al-Khalifa presented a collection titled ‘Light.’ (Supplied)

DUBAI: Bahraini label Noon by Noor showed off its Spring 2022 collection at London Fashion Week this weekend, debuting a line of lighter-than-air separates and dainty dresses.

Designers Shaikha Noor Al-Khalifa and Shaikha Haya Al-Khalifa presented a collection titled “Light” at East London’s Rochelle School, which specializes in art and architecture.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Noon By Noor (@noonbynoor)

The label, which is a regular on the New York Fashion Week circuit, drew crowds to its London showcase, with a host of industry insiders and influencers taking to social media to show off the new collection.

The brand, which was established in 2008, showed off a floral-tinged offering. (Supplied)

The brand, which was established in 2008, showed off a floral-tinged offering, with sprigs of color, as well as white-on-white looks complete with traditional mirror work embroidery.

“We selected our fabrics, mixing different scales of checks from ginghams to madras, alongside bold stripes in lime-ivory, pink-ivory and grey-ivory,” designer Shaikha Noor Al-Khalifa said in a released statement.

“A photograph of Bahraini pearl divers in their sarongs gently gathered and tied at the waist, mixed with dreams of summer sunshine, holiday memories and flowers was the start of our spring collection development,” she added.

Her cousin and co-designer Shaikha Haya Al-Khalifa shed further light on the materials chosen for the collection.

“Beautiful poplins, jersey, washed cottons, coated linens, silk voiles, organza, tulle and canvas all reflect the idea of light. Sometimes two or three of these fabrics are combined into one garment,” she said.


Expo 2020 Dubai releases official song featuring regional stars

Expo 2020 Dubai releases official song featuring regional stars
Updated 21 September 2021

Expo 2020 Dubai releases official song featuring regional stars

Expo 2020 Dubai releases official song featuring regional stars

DUBAI: Expo 2020 Dubai, which will kick off on Oct. 1, released its official song titled “This is our Time” on Tuesday. 

The English and Arabic language song, now available on YouTube, features Emirati singer Hussain Al-Jassmi, who is Expo 2020’s ambassador, along with US-Lebanese Grammy-nominated singer and songwriter Mayssa Karaa, who is the artistic director of Expo’s all-female Firdaus Orchestra. 

“This is our Time” also features 21-year-old Emirati singer-songwriter Almas, named in Spotify’s list of best female talent in the Middle East.

“‘This is our Time’ is a tribute to the UAE for all it has been, is today and will achieve in the years to come,” Al-Jassmi said in a released statement. “It’s a song about pride, faith and unity, and I hope that it brings a smile to the faces of everyone who hears it, wherever they may be in the world. Being a part of such an iconic event in the UAE’s history is extremely exciting and rewarding.”

Meanwhile, Karaa said that she feels honored to have collaborated on the song. “Expo 2020 is a significant moment for the entire Arab world and for Arabs around the rest of the world. Through this song, I hope we can inspire people of all ages and from all walks of life to follow their dreams – the possibilities are endless,” she said. 

The youngest of the trio, Almas, said that the song is an “embodiment of hope and the belief that collaboration will yield a better future for all.”

“I’m so proud to be Emirati and play a role in a moment that will be forever part of my country’s history,” she added. 

The six-month event, which was postponed due to COVID-19, will run until March 31, 2022. 


Bella Hadid celebrates niece Khai’s birthday with never-before-seen snaps

US-Palestinian-Dutch model Bella Hadid took to Instagram on Sunday to celebrate her niece’s first birthday. (File/ Getty Images)
US-Palestinian-Dutch model Bella Hadid took to Instagram on Sunday to celebrate her niece’s first birthday. (File/ Getty Images)
Updated 20 September 2021

Bella Hadid celebrates niece Khai’s birthday with never-before-seen snaps

US-Palestinian-Dutch model Bella Hadid took to Instagram on Sunday to celebrate her niece’s first birthday. (File/ Getty Images)

DUBAI: US-Palestinian-Dutch model Bella Hadid took to Instagram on Sunday to celebrate her niece’s first birthday, and paid special tribute to Gigi Hadid and her partner Zayn Malik on their daughter’s big day.

“Happy Birthday to the greatest gift our family has ever been blessed with… I didn’t know my heart could grow this big!!!” Bella posted on Instagram, alongside a carousel of photos featuring the now-one-year-old.

Although baby Khai’s face was blocked by emoji stickers in all the shots, for privacy reasons, Bella managed to gush over the family’s bundle of joy.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Bella (@bellahadid)

“You make me smile when I’m sad and make me cry of happiness just because (you’re) alive. I can’t wait to watch you grow into the most perfect specimen of all. @gigihadid @zayn thank you for my forever best friend,” the model aunt added.

The couple announced the birth of their daughter in September 2020, with Gigi sharing the exciting news with her 58.5 million Instagram followers.

“Our girl joined us Earth-side this weekend and she’s already changed our world,” she said at the time.

For his part, proud father and British signer Malik write: “Our baby girl is here, healthy and beautiful. To try put into words how I am feeling right now would be an impossible task.”

“The love I feel for this tiny human is beyond my understanding. Grateful to know her, proud to call her mine, and thankful for the life we will have together,” he added.


Review: ‘Schumacher’ is a touching, if unsatisfying, portrait of a legend

Review: ‘Schumacher’ is a touching, if unsatisfying, portrait of a legend
Updated 20 September 2021

Review: ‘Schumacher’ is a touching, if unsatisfying, portrait of a legend

Review: ‘Schumacher’ is a touching, if unsatisfying, portrait of a legend

LONDON: Michael Schumacher will always be an iconic figure in Formula 1 — widely regarded as one of the most gifted racers of all time, with a work ethic hitherto unseen in the sport, and a drive for perfection that left his rivals staggered by his laser focus. And while this documentary, created with the blessing and cooperation of the Schumacher family, offers an incredible look at the personal and private life of the German driver, it does little to expand on what most people already know about the seven-times world champion.

Now streaming on Netflix, a procession of famous faces from the world of F1 — Ross Brawn, Flavio Briatore, Jean Todt, Eddie Irvine, David Coulthard and many others — offer their recollections of Michael, and those interviews are expertly combined with archival material from Schumacher himself, home videos released by the family, and interviews with his wife and children.

Michael Schumacher’s documentary offers a look at the personal and private life of the German driver. (Motorsport Images)

But while directors Hanns-Bruno Kammertöns, Vanessa Nöcker and Michael Wech do a skilled job of stitching everything together, they rarely take the chance to take “Schumacher” into new territory. Subjects such as Schumacher’s aggression-fueled lapses in racing judgement, or his insistence that he simply couldn’t be in the wrong in any crash, get little more than lip service — perhaps understandably, given that the film was created in such close cooperation with his family. But it does beg the question of what “Schumacher” hopes to achieve. Anyone who follows F1 knows that his was a generation-defining talent, and hearing that same sentiment reflected by a series of notable interviewees simply rings a little hollow.

What’s more, the movie steers clear of offering up any glimpse of Schumacher today. At the end of 2013, Michael suffered a significant brain injury during a skiing trip and hasn’t been seen since. He is, his family insists, continuing to live his life as privately as possible. And while that privacy is important, and absolutely his right, it makes for a strange juxtaposition with a film billed as offering such an intimate portrait of a racing legend.