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.


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.


Luxury label Jean Paul Gaultier celebrates Saudi National Day with new film

Luxury label Jean Paul Gaultier celebrates Saudi National Day with new film
Updated 20 September 2021

Luxury label Jean Paul Gaultier celebrates Saudi National Day with new film

Luxury label Jean Paul Gaultier celebrates Saudi National Day with new film

DUBAI: French luxury fashion label Jean Paul Gaultier is celebrating Saudi Arabia’s 91st National Day, which falls on Sept. 23, in its first-ever launch dedicated to a Middle Eastern country.

The brand has brought to life the traditional card game of baloot through a film shot by an all-Saudi production team in Riyadh. 

The brand is also celebrating the country’s heritage and culture with the baloot box. (Supplied)

The film features a host of Saudi personalities, including actress Sarah Taibah, emerging fashion model Domie Alsalim, fashion and beauty multi-hyphenates Yara Alnamlah and Faisal Alghazzawi, as they compete in the game. 

The brand is also celebrating the country’s heritage and culture with the baloot box — a luxe green reimagination of its signature perfume case which comes in velvet stamped with gold details.

 

The celebrity-loved fashion house created a deck of cards exquisitely designed by Saudi artist Raghad Al-Ahmad. 

Al-Ahmad merged Jean Paul Gaultier’s signature iconography with cultural motifs rooted in the identity of Saudi Arabia through the art form of collage. The queen, king and jack of the deck are reimagined to represent the regions and cities in the Kingdom. 

The queen, king and jack of the deck are reimagined to represent the regions and cities in the Kingdom. (Supplied)

The baloot box is packed in a green bag with gold-embroidered straps, patterned after the intricate gold trimming of the traditional Saudi bisht.

The bag was designed and created by traditional Saudi tailor Salman Alhamad and Atharna, a social enterprise dedicated to the preservation and celebration of Saudi crafts and culture.


Egyptian actress Rosaline Elbay to star in Netflix drama 

Egyptian actress Rosaline Elbay to star in Netflix drama 
Updated 20 September 2021

Egyptian actress Rosaline Elbay to star in Netflix drama 

Egyptian actress Rosaline Elbay to star in Netflix drama 

DUBAI: Egyptian actress Rosaline Elbay is set to star in Netflix’s upcoming heist action drama “Jigsaw” alongside US actor Giancarlo Esposito, she revealed this week. 

The series centers around a large heist that is loosely based on the $70 billion in bonds that went missing in New York’s downtown Manhattan when Hurricane Sandy struck the city in 2012.

Elbay, who is also a writer, will play the role of Judy Goodwin, the crew’s demolitions specialist who is clever, talented and independent.

The eight-episode series, which ranges from 24 years before the heist to one year after, also casts Spanish actress Paz Vega, British star Rufus Sewell, US actors Tati Gabrielle and Peter Mark Kendall, Australian talent Jai Courtney and Iranian actress Niousha Noor.

Elbay is famous for her role as Amani in Hulu’s award-winning series “Ramy,” which stars US-Egyptian Golden Globe winner Ramy Youssef. 


Director Mounia Akl’s ‘Costa Brava, Lebanon’ wins award at Toronto Film Festival

Director Mounia Akl’s ‘Costa Brava, Lebanon’ wins award at Toronto Film Festival
Updated 20 September 2021

Director Mounia Akl’s ‘Costa Brava, Lebanon’ wins award at Toronto Film Festival

Director Mounia Akl’s ‘Costa Brava, Lebanon’ wins award at Toronto Film Festival

 

DUBAI: Lebanese director Mounia Akl this week won the Network for the Promotion of Asia Pacific Cinema (NETPAC) award at the 46th Toronto International Film Festival for her feature “Costa Brava, Lebanon.”

Her impassioned debut is an eerie family drama set amid a raging climate crisis in near-future Lebanon.

The film stars actors Saleh Bakri and Nadine Labaki. 

Palestinian actor Saleh Bakri plays Walid and Lebanese star Nadine Labaki plays his wife, Souraya. (Supplied)

“Costa Brava, Lebanon – an exquisite intergenerational family story – is an ode to sustainable futures by visionary new talent, Mounia Akl from her precious and troubled country,” said the NETPAC jury, that included Spanish filmmaker Gemma Cubero del Barrio, Beijing based film producer Isabelle Glachant and BAFTA-nominated producer Elhum Shakerifar, in a statement published in Deadline.

The 32-year-old filmmaker’s haunting and upsetting feature was originally meant to depict a dystopian Lebanon in 2030 at its worst.

“I tried to imagine this dystopian future where none of our problems had been solved and the country was an extreme version of itself,” she told Arab News at the festival.

“It was somehow a way for me to imagine the worst for myself in the same way you sometimes want to explore your trauma in a cathartic way. It was a way for me to imagine the worst in my mind as a way of avoiding the worst happening in my mind and in life.”

The film follows a family who move out of Beirut. (Supplied)

But Lebanon’s crisis deepened as Akl and her team got closer to shooting the movie. “The reality of Lebanon became more tragic and more dystopian than even the dystopia that I imagined in 2030,” she said.

In the film, the now trash-filled surroundings of Lebanon’s “Costa Brava” had meant to be the free-spirited Badri family’s getaway utopia from the pollution and social unrest of Beirut. But their dreams were trashed when construction of a landfill site started next door to the family’s home.

Costa Brava is an actual landfill in Lebanon that opened in April 2016 as one of two sites advertised by the Lebanese government as a solution to the eight-month trash crisis the country had experienced the year before. However, within two weeks of its opening, residents and activists launched protests at the site demanding its closure.