Listening back: The alternative Arabic albums of 2021 that made a mark

Listening back: The alternative Arabic albums of 2021 that made a mark
Rasha Nahas. Supplied
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Updated 30 December 2021

Listening back: The alternative Arabic albums of 2021 that made a mark

Listening back: The alternative Arabic albums of 2021 that made a mark

DUBAI: Arab News highlights the Arabic indie records you needed to hear in 2021.

Rasha Nahas ‘Desert’

 

Palestinian singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Rasha Nahas’ debut album is an artistic coup. The Berlin-based, Haifa-born musician is a powerhouse talent — a classically trained guitarist whose soft-spoken manner is anything but indicative of the tempest of emotion she unleashes with her often-electrifying performances. “Desert” makes it immediately apparent that Nahas has been sculpting her textured, meticulously thought-out sound for years. It oscillates between ethereal ambiances conjured by diaphanous string arrangements and Nahas’ mesmeric performances on the guitar, exquisitely evocative lines like “My heart is bleeding quarter tones,” and theatrically playful cabaret influences. Overall, the record is an overachieving debut by an artist who carries immense promise, depth, and intensity.

Postcards ‘After the Fire, Before the End’

With the exception of the irresistible guitar riff that churns through effervescent opener “Mother Tongue,” the Beirut-based trio spend much of their third LP refining the delicate dream-pop alchemy of their slow-burning, delay-drenched instrumentation and singer Julia Sabra’s crystalline, reverb-engulfed vocals. This is an arresting exploration of a dark night of the soul — a fitting aural backdrop for the event that inspired the songwriting. Sabra was with her partner, drummer Pascal Semerdjian, when he was near-fatally wounded by the catastrophic explosion in the Lebanese capital in August 2020. The deep scars of their collective trauma slither through the album like a glacial wind, punctuated by the uncompromising resilience of survivors determined to keep going. Postcards turn in yet another powerful and defiant release.

Tamara Qaddoumi ‘Soft Glitch’ (EP)

While her 2018 debut EP “Dust Bathing” was a straightforward pop affair that nonetheless struck a captivating chord with its melodic lyrical passages and opulent harmonies, Qaddoumi’s flair for spellbinding work is more evident on this year’s follow-up. The Kuwait-born singer’s intriguing background — she had a Palestinian, Lebanese, and Scottish upbringing, and studied physical theater and drama — is an indelible feature of her multifaceted approach to her art. “Soft Glitch” shimmers with a spectral undercurrent of trip-hop, lush electronic landscapes, and Qaddoumi’s hypnotic vocals. The videos that accompanied the release are also elaborate, imaginative treatments of ideas emanating from a creative mind that ventures far beyond the conventional.

The Synaptik ‘Al Qamar Wal Moheet’

This was a transformational year for Palestinian-Jordanian rapper, singer, and lyricist Laith Al Husseini — aka The Synaptik. “Al Qamar Wal Moheet” (Arabic for ‘The Moon and The Ocean’) is a formidable artistic journal of introspection, soul-searching, and enormous, self-instigated personal change. Finishing his medical degree, moving to Ramallah, and quitting his lifelong use of ADHD medication Ritalin, the rhyme maestro used this record to reconcile the extreme divergence between who he was and the person he has become. The result is a cerebral, nonconformist hip-hop/trap record that ingeniously swivels around elements of R&B, pop, and traditional Palestinian music, while bearing the unmistakable mark of The Synaptik’s distinctive lyrical methodology.

JadaL ‘La Tlou’ El Daw’

Jordan’s Arabic prog-rock veterans bookended the half-decade gap between major studio releases with a thoughtful, elegantly produced record that showcases both the experimentation they have pioneered since 2003, and a penchant for broaching a range of unorthodox subjects. “La Tlou’ El Daw” moves seamlessly from gravelly verses animated by frontman Mahmoud Radaideh’s heartfelt delivery, to intricate, avant-gardist instrumental pieces speckled with accordion and synth, anthemic choruses and majestic, multi-layered harmonies. It’s a triumphant return from one of the Arab world’s most inventive acts. 

Bu Kolthoum ‘Talib.’

The regional rap scene experienced a seismic shift when Mounir Bu Kolthoum dropped his first LP, “Inderal,” in 2015, and has since passionately lauded the Syrian-born music producer, rapper, and singer as one of its mainstays. Influenced by tarab, soul and funk, Bu Kolthoum is now based in Amsterdam, from where he masterminded the release of this year’s “Talib.” — an inspired showcase of flow and versatility. The gifted songwriter wears his heart on his sleeve across 12 dynamic tracks propelled by his inimitable pace and croon, which operate as a reliable compass for his skillful navigation of these memorable tales of youth, rebelliousness, and alienation. 

El Far3i ‘Lazim Tisa’

Since leaving the trailblazing Arabic rock band, El Morabba3, Tareq Abu Kwaik — aka El Far3i – has been prolific, to say the least. The Jordanian-Palestinian rapper, singer, songwriter, and percussionist, who’s also a key member of widely celebrated Shamstep ensemble 47Soul, adds a fifth notch to his belt of solo outings with “Lazim Tisa.” This trap LP is replete with murky, brooding vibes, dissonant synths, ghostly drone notes and viscous beats, all compelled forth by the artist’s tenaciously rhythmic raps and vocal style. El Far3i maintains his remarkable track record as one of the Middle East’s most exciting performers. 

Prefaces ‘Hippodrome’

With an all-star line-up of Postcards’ Pascal Semerdjian, Wanton Bishops’ Salim Naffah (aka Alko B), and Charif Megarbane of Cosmic Analog Ensemble, Heroes & Villains, Twyn Towers and Monumental Detail, to name but a few, Prefaces is a pleasantly peculiar creative beast. ‘Hippodrome’ is just one of four albums Megarbane released in 2021, and one of 80 this inexhaustible musician has masterminded since 2005. His work is a graceful excursion across acoustic-folk, surf-rock, jazz, Saharan blues, soul, funk, and Sixties pop. Prefaces’ mostly instrumental debut falls into the latter category, with minimal, grainy production that often plays like the deep cuts of a Quentin Tarantino movie soundtrack. 

Various Artists ‘Beirut 20​/​21’

Curated by Beirut & Beyond’s Musicians Support Program, founded to support the country’s independent music scene in light of the systemic crises it has endured for the past two years, “Beirut 20​/​21” assembles a stellar roster of both up-and-comers and established performers. The compilation includes tracks by Tanjaret Daghet’s Dani Shukri, Tarek Khuluki and Khaled Omran, as well as electronic music experimentalists Kid Fourteen (aka Khodor Ellaik) and Liliane Chlela, amongst many others. The anthology is a potent reminder of the innovation and energy that still drive a community of creators that has otherwise been brought to its knees.


International artists commissioned for AlUla sculpture park Wadi AlFann

A rendering of Ahmed Mater's work at Wadi AlFann. (Supplied)
A rendering of Ahmed Mater's work at Wadi AlFann. (Supplied)
Updated 34 sec ago

International artists commissioned for AlUla sculpture park Wadi AlFann

A rendering of Ahmed Mater's work at Wadi AlFann. (Supplied)

Dubai: A clutch of artists have been announced as the first to embark on ambitious projects in AlUla’s Wadi AlFann sculpture park.

The Royal Commission for AlUla announced that US artists James Turrell, Agnes Denes and Michael Heize will be joined by Saudi creative pioneers Ahmed Mater and Manal AlDowayan to create works for the 65sq kilometer space. The projects will be unveiled from 2023 onwards.

Meanwhile, the former director of the Whitechapel Gallery in London Iwona Blazwick has been named as the chair of the commission’s Public Art Expert panel, which advises on Wadi AlFann.

For his part, Mater’s installation for the valley will use a subterranean tunnel and mirrors to give visitors the optical illusion of seeing a mirage, while AlDowayan ill create a labyrinthine structure inspired by the mud homes in AlUla’s ancient old town.


‘The beauty industry is failing people of color,’ Huda Kattan says

US-Iraqi beauty mogul Huda Kattan has been featured in a newly released documentary. (File/ AFP)
US-Iraqi beauty mogul Huda Kattan has been featured in a newly released documentary. (File/ AFP)
Updated 27 June 2022

‘The beauty industry is failing people of color,’ Huda Kattan says

US-Iraqi beauty mogul Huda Kattan has been featured in a newly released documentary. (File/ AFP)

DUBAI: US-Iraqi beauty mogul Huda Kattan has been featured in a newly released news segment on racial inclusivity in the makeup industry.

Released by the UK’s Sky News on Sunday, the feature is based on the British Beauty Council’s criticism of what it calls the “apartheid” in the beauty industry.

Kattan was tapped to share her opinion in the feature, which is titled “The ‘Apartheid’ in the Beauty Industry.”

“The beauty industry is absolutely still failing people of color,” she told journalist Sabah Choudhry in the documentary. “Being inclusive is hard. It takes so much work. When I used to go to the factories and I’d say I need a deep or richer shade of foundation, they’d sometimes put black pigment in the formula... it’s harder to serve a community who doesn’t have a skin tone that hasn’t been worked on so much,” she added.

“There’s still not enough care and consideration taken when they’re creating the products,” she added. “I mean, you can use people of many different ethnicities in a campaign, but that’s just not enough. It’s a good start, but it’s so far beyond where we should be in this day and time. So, I would say absolutely, it’s still failing all people of color right now.”

Dubai-based Kattan founded her cosmetics line Huda Beauty in 2013. In 2018, the company was valued by Forbes at more than $1 billion.

Meanwhile, Dr Ateh Jewel, a spokesperson for the British Beauty Council, was featured in the report saying Caucasian people are offered a wider selection of products for their hair and skin.

"We are living with the hangover of empire… what I'm really interested in is power, and measuring that by beauty standards and how we see ourselves,” Jewel said.

She explained that the term “beauty apartheid” was coined to describe brands who simply add a small sample of darker shades to their portfolio in a “tokenistic” approach to diversity.

The mental health impact for people of color is “painful,” she said, adding “walking into a beauty hall was pleasure and pain all wrapped up into one. Not seeing yourself reflected in advertising or diverse colors can also be really damaging to your sense of self…. to your self-esteem... and taking your rightful place in the world.


Designer Amina Muaddi shows off streetstyle at Paris Men’s Fashion Week

The designer showed off a yellow-hued makeup look at the show. (Getty Images)
The designer showed off a yellow-hued makeup look at the show. (Getty Images)
Updated 26 June 2022

Designer Amina Muaddi shows off streetstyle at Paris Men’s Fashion Week

The designer showed off a yellow-hued makeup look at the show. (Getty Images)

DUBAI: Jordanian Romanian footwear designer Amina Muaddi was spotted at Paris Men’s Fashion Week wearing a colorful ensemble that caught the attention of streetwear photographers.

Muaddi — whose namesake label is a favorite among celebrity clientele such as the Kardashian-Jenner sisters and Rihanna, with whom she has collaborated, attended the Louis Vuitton showcase and the Loewe show, to which she wore a white V-neck crop top with multi-colored wide-legged pants complete with a bright yellow crossbody bag by the Spanish label.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by AMINA MUADDI (@aminamuaddi)

Loewe thrust Paris Menswear Fashion Week into a bleak and dystopian vision of the future on Saturday — turning its runway into a dead space where nature and animal life only existed to be harnessed and exploited by humankind. A sanitized white wall descended onto a bare deck as models walked by robotically, bathed in misty white light, the Associated Press reported.

Models wore plates of television screens showing deep water fish in the ocean, and plasma screen visors beamed out growing chrysanthemums. The only place that grass grew in designer Jonathan Anderson’s fashion dystopia was literally out of shoes, where green blades quivered and flapped surreally as the automatons filed by.

The British designer used the remarkable set and concept not only as a springboard for some of the most accomplished designs seen this season, but to make a thoughtful comment about ecology and humanity’s contempt for the natural world.

The organic versus the robotic was explored in Anderson’s conceptual designs that were intentionally off-kilter, according to the Associated Press. A white minimalist sweater had surplus sleeves that flapped about limply at the side of the model, on top of white sports leggings and loafers sprouting 10-centimeter clumps of grass.

Bare chests and legs exposed vulnerability, while hard, square-strap bags slung across the shoulder added a contrasting fierceness. But the piece de resistance must have been the giant mustard toggle shoes that looked like the hooves of a horse but could equally have come from the set of a “Star Wars” planetary village.

Elsewhere, Cowgirls and cowboys mingled in Moroccan French brand Casablanca’s eye-popping show that was notable for its highly unusual set. The co-ed collection was staged in front of several fenced-off horses that paid little attention to the clothes, passed waste nonchalantly and sniffed in the opposite direction.

Designer Charaf Tajer cared little for the indifferent equine reaction, sending down the runway energetic and enthusiastic looks that harked from the heartland of American rodeos and the Wild West.

 


Refugee choir performs at UK’s Glastonbury Festival

The choir, which was founded in 2015 in response to the Syrian refugee crisis, is made up of 50 people. (Instagram)
The choir, which was founded in 2015 in response to the Syrian refugee crisis, is made up of 50 people. (Instagram)
Updated 26 June 2022

Refugee choir performs at UK’s Glastonbury Festival

The choir, which was founded in 2015 in response to the Syrian refugee crisis, is made up of 50 people. (Instagram)

DUBAI: The Citizens of the World Refugee Choir performed at the UK’s Glastonbury Festival on Sunday.

The choir, which was founded in 2015 in response to the Syrian refugee crisis, is made up of 50 people.

Becky Dell, the musical director, told PA that the choir is a 50/50 split of refugees and non-refugees, and calls itself a “rainbow tribe (because) none of us look the same as each other – it’s amazing.”

She said the choir hopes to “elevate the narrative around refugees; too often the story is ‘poor refugees,’ it’s sending them far away. We wanted to show refugees in a different way. They are displaced human beings first and foremost.”

The choir opened the festival’s Avalon Stage on Sunday with a solo 40-minute set.


Emirati arts patron Huda Alkhamis-Kanoo receives prestigious award from Spain’s queen

Emirati arts patron Huda Alkhamis-Kanoo receives prestigious award from Spain’s queen
Updated 25 June 2022

Emirati arts patron Huda Alkhamis-Kanoo receives prestigious award from Spain’s queen

Emirati arts patron Huda Alkhamis-Kanoo receives prestigious award from Spain’s queen

DUBAI: Huda Alkhamis-Kanoo, founder of the Abu Dhabi Festival, has become the first Arab to receive the Reina Sofía School of Music’s prestigious medal of honor. 

The Emirati national, who was born to a Saudi father and a Syrian mother, received the award from Queen Sofia of Spain at the school’s academic closing ceremony in Madrid. 

Alkhamis-Kanoo was awarded for supporting the development of music culture and education, as well as for her outstanding support to the school.

When receiving the award, she dedicated her accomplishments to Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak — the wife of Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al-Nahyan, founder of the UAE — whose unwavering support she said “empowers women throughout the UAE.” 

Alkhamis-Kanoo, who was born in Beirut, founded the Abu Dhabi Music and Arts Foundation in 1996 and the Abu Dhabi Festival in 2004.

She has received numerous awards, including the Abu Dhabi Award and Abu Dhabi Medal (conferred by UAE President Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan), the UN-affiliated Women Together Award, the Aspen Institute Emerging Voice Award for Cultural Stewardship, and the Puccini Festival Foundation Award.