LONDON: Egyptian singer and actor Hany Adel, best known for his work with the veteran rock band Wust El-Balad, and Iraqi-Egyptian musician Nadin Al-Khalidi — the founder and frontwoman of Sweden-based Tarabband — are currently working on an album that will include songs in Egyptian-Arabic, Iraqi-Arabic, and ‘lahja bayda’ (white dialect — an adaptation of modern standard Arabic).
It’s a collaboration that has been cooking for a few years now, ever since a brief meeting in Cairo in 2016 when Al-Khalidi was performing with Tarabband.
“I remember Hany commenting that it sounded and felt great to see a female fronting this band,” Al-Khalidi tells Arab News. “I didn’t know much about what was going on the Arab world at the time, musically. I was very busy in Europe. We had just starting touring in the Arab region when we came to Cairo.”
Al-Khalidi and Adel briefly discussed forming an acoustic duo and Al-Khalidi says she could “hear our voices coming together in my head.”
But their packed schedules—as well as geography, with Al-Khalidi in Malmö and Adel in Cairo — stood in the way. The right moment finally arrived in October, when Al-Khalidi traveled to Cairo as part of a longer trip that included time in Jordan, working on a project with the Swedish Embassy in Amman, as well as recording a song with prominent Iraqi musician Ilham Al-Madfai.
“We had almost daily sessions in Hany’s studio just to brainstorm tunes, melodies, lyrics. We spent time listening to each other, sharing our musical preferences, and discussing life and everything in between,” Al-Khalidi says.
She recalls pulling a melody from a voice memo on her phone shortly after her arrival in Cairo. Adel gave it a listen and they immediately launched into composing the song. “He managed to find exactly the right chords for the song, and it was instantly ready,” Al-Khalidi says.
“Hany has a beautiful way of being — not just working but really being — with the music,” she continues. “He is free and unjudgmental. Very open to new ideas too. There was no intimidation between us as musicians. The space we moved in was very safe. It very much felt like meeting my male version, musically.”
Adel felt equally at home working with Al-Khalidi. “As we sat together in my studio, I wasn’t shy about making musical mistakes in the presence of Nadine. She wasn’t either. Sometimes there is an air of intimidation when you’re in the same room with another musician, especially if you don’t know each other or haven’t performed together before. And this can be very irritating for musicians until they get used to each other and are no longer shy to learn from, and teach, one another,” he says.
By the end of their first studio session, the duo had written the music for four songs. By the end of their third day working together, eight were ready. With the exception of one folklore song, and another written solely by Adel, all the tracks were co-written by Al-Khalidi and Adel.
The album is multi-themed, with most of the songs inspired by the duo’s conversations about their lives.
One of the first singles from the album, “Min Ba’id l Ba’id (an Arabic term roughly translating to ‘keeping your distance’), is about a former couple getting their long overdue closure.
The duo had a specific idea for the song in the beginning but “our discussions led us to a different conception of the song — from wanting it to be about two people in a long-distance relationship to basing it on two people choosing to stay apart despite still loving one another,” Adel explains.
“The song taps into the awkwardness that comes with this closure. The couple is trying so hard to detach, but questions remain hanging in the air,” Al-Khalidi adds.
That the initial concept changed into something else testifies “to the magic that happens when two musicians come together to produce art. It comes out completely different than what was originally planned if you truly believe in it,” Adel says.
With Al-Khalidi currently back in Malmö, the duo will complete the album remotely. Al-Khalidi records in her quiet countryside home, sends her parts over to Adel and they discuss the recordings together. A release date has not been decided yet, but the pair suggest that there could be two or three singles released before the album. There will also be a documentary about their collaboration, made by Salma Sherif of DUSK sounds.
A coming together of two raw voices and equally authentic music experiences, the collaboration between Al-Khalidi and Adel exemplifies what Adel describes as “perfect harmony.”