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.

Baldwin expects no charges over fatal movie set accident

Baldwin expects no charges over fatal movie set accident
Updated 19 August 2022

Baldwin expects no charges over fatal movie set accident

Baldwin expects no charges over fatal movie set accident
  • A criminal investigation into the shooting is still ongoing, and prosecutors have not yet ruled out charges against those involved
  • "I sincerely believe... (investigators are) going to say that this was an accident. It's tragic," said Baldwin in a rare interview

LOS ANGELES: US actor Alec Baldwin said he does not believe anyone will be criminally charged over the fatal shooting on the set of Western film “Rust,” telling CNN he has hired a private investigator to assess culpability for the tragedy.
Cinematographer Halyna Hutchins died after being hit by a live round that came from a gun Baldwin was holding as he rehearsed on the New Mexico set of the low-budget movie last October.
A criminal investigation into the shooting is still ongoing, and prosecutors have not yet ruled out charges against those involved.
“I sincerely believe... (investigators are) going to say that this was an accident. It’s tragic,” said Baldwin in a rare interview about the episode, a portion of which was aired Friday.
Baldwin told CNN he had replayed the events leading up to the shooting over and over for the past 10 months.
While insisting he does not want to “condemn” Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, the film set’s armorer and props assistant, Baldwin pointed the finger of blame at her and assistant director Dave Halls, who handed him the gun moments before the shooting.
“Someone put a live bullet in the gun who should have known better,” Baldwin said.
“That was (Gutierrez-Reed’s) job. Her job was to look at the ammunition and put in the dummy round or the blank round, and there wasn’t supposed to be any live rounds on the set.
“There are two people who didn’t do what they were supposed to do,” he added.
“I’m not sitting there saying I want them to, you know, go to prison, or I want their lives to be hell.
“I don’t want that, but I want everybody to know that those are the two people that are responsible for what happened.”
Baldwin, who was both the star and a producer of “Rust,” has been the subject of a number of civil lawsuits over the shooting, including from Hutchins’s family.
He has previously said he was told the gun contained no live ammunition, had been instructed by Hutchins to point the gun in her direction, and did not pull the trigger.
But a recent FBI forensic report concluded that the gun could not have been fired “without a pull of the trigger.”
Meanwhile, Gutierrez-Reed has sued the film’s ammunition supplier, accusing him of leaving real bullets among the dummy cartridges.
On Thursday, her lawyer criticized the FBI for failing to carry out DNA or fingerprint testing to establish who had handled the live rounds found on set.
“It is inconceivable that the sheriff would not seek answers to this fundamental question and it raises a serious problem with the entire investigation,” said a statement from Jason Bowles.
Following Baldwin’s latest interview, lawyers for both Gutierrez-Reed and Halls told CNN that the actor was trying to deflect blame away from himself.
Baldwin also used the CNN interview to address former US President Donald Trump’s public intimation that he could have killed Hutchins on purpose.
Trump last year told a podcast that Baldwin — who frequently impersonated and ridiculed the president on “Saturday Night Live” — was a “troubled guy,” suggesting that “maybe he loaded” the gun.
Baldwin told CNN he was consequently worried that some of Trump’s supporters would “come and kill me.”
“Here was Trump, who instructed people to commit acts of violence, and he was pointing the finger at me and saying I was responsible for the death,” said Baldwin.
“There is just this torrent of people attacking me who don’t know the facts.”

REVIEW: ‘House of the Dragon’ fires up a feast for ‘Game of Thrones’ fans

REVIEW: ‘House of the Dragon’ fires up a feast for ‘Game of Thrones’ fans
Updated 19 August 2022

REVIEW: ‘House of the Dragon’ fires up a feast for ‘Game of Thrones’ fans

REVIEW: ‘House of the Dragon’ fires up a feast for ‘Game of Thrones’ fans
  • The prequel series premieres in the region on streaming platform OSN+ on Aug. 22

DUBAI: It’s here: The sequel/prequel to pop-culture tsunami “Game of Thrones” — the most-torrented show of its time and the series that network after network has since tried (and failed) to emulate.

Now, three-and-a-bit years on from the hugely unpopular “GoT” finale, here we are, back in George R.R. Martin’s intricately detailed world with a story focused on the ruling Targaryen family, but set a couple of centuries before the events of “GoT.”

The most pressing question, of course, is: Is “House of the Dragon” any good? The answer, happily, is a resounding yes. It’s very good — an epic, gripping fantasy that contains many of the elements that made “GoT” so huge: Lots of fighting, lots of flesh, lots of labyrinthine political plotting, lots of gore. And dragons.

Paddy Considine and Milly Alcock in ‘House of the Dragon.’ (Supplied)

The two shows share many of the same themes too: Honor, betrayal, sexism, pride, love versus duty, what’s ‘right’ versus what’s necessary, family versus friends, and more.

So, if you were a fan of peak “Game of Thrones,” then “House of the Dragon” — based on the six episodes made available for review, at least — will meet your approval.

While the first episode moves at a glacial pace — making the necessary character introductions and laying out backstory — thereafter the showrunners are content to leap forward several years at a time to the story’s crucial events, so we’re not subjected to long ‘road trips.’ This is a welcome departure from “GoT.” The story, though complex, whizzes along. And while the majority of the show is dialogue-heavy, there are a couple of terrific set pieces, including a bloody beach battle, to keep pulses racing.

Emma D'Arcy and Matt Smith in ‘House of the Dragon.’ (Supplied)

The cast — led by Paddy Considine as the good-hearted-but-fallible King Viserys; Matt Smith as his wayward, impetuous brother Daemon; and Milly Alcock (in the first five episodes) as the teenage Princess Rhaenyra, Viserys’ headstrong firstborn child — are in fine form, committing to their deliberately stilted speeches with gusto.

The thorny knot at the center of the political infighting is Viserys’ heir. He names Rhaenyra (ignoring Daemon’s claim) — going against centuries of tradition by naming a woman as heir — and when he does finally have a son by his new, much-younger wife, Lady Alicent Hightower — once Rhaenyra’s best friend — he refuses to change his mind, despite heavy pressure (some reasonable, some not). Cue courtly wrangling a-plenty.

Viewers will need to focus — often, it’s not what’s being said that’s important, but what’s being omitted or danced around in euphemisms that are as damaging as a sneaky dagger to the ribs. But that focus is richly rewarded by a show that more than stands up to the huge weight of expectation.

Saudi model Amira Al-Zuhair talks Paris catwalks and London student life

Saudi model Amira Al-Zuhair talks Paris catwalks and London student life
Updated 19 August 2022

Saudi model Amira Al-Zuhair talks Paris catwalks and London student life

Saudi model Amira Al-Zuhair talks Paris catwalks and London student life
  • The in-demand model is killing it on the catwalk and in the classroom

DUBAI: It’s been a breakout year for 21-year-old Saudi model Amira Al-Zuhair. At last month’s Paris Haute Couture Week, she walked the runway for some of the world’s most renowned couturiers, including Lebanese designer Georges Hobeika and Giorgio Armani, attracting international headlines. A couple of weeks before that, she picked up her Bachelor’s degree (with first-class honors) in philosophy, politics, and economics from King’s College, London. 

Al-Zuhair signed to the prestigious Elite Model Management agency aged just 15. “I was having lunch with my family at a restaurant in Paris, and I was spotted by a former Elite agent who told me I should go to the agency and that they’d really like me. So I went, and within 10 minutes I got a contract, which was pretty surreal,” Al-Zuhair tells Arab News. 

Amira Al-Zuhair backstage prior to the Alexis Mabille Haute Couture Fall Winter 22-23 show as part of Paris Fashion Week on July 5, 2022. (Getty Images)

But she didn’t become a model full-time until she was 18. Instead, she had a gradual introduction to the industry with test shoots and editorials.

“School and my education have been a top priority,” she explains. “I’ve always been a bit of a nerd — I represented my school in national math competitions, I was head of the math team, and a member of the UK’s Youth Parliament. And then I focused on my degree. It’s still my goal today to become a lawyer.”

Al-Zuhair was born in Paris to a French mother and Saudi father. She was raised in London, however (“My father wanted me to follow his steps and graduate from a UK university,” she says). The family traveled frequently between the UK and Riyadh, so Al-Zuhair feels a strong cultural and emotional attachment to the Kingdom. 

Al-Zuhair walks the runway during the Alexis Mabille Haute Couture Fall-Winter 22-23 show at Paris Fashion Week. (Getty Images)

“I love Saudi. It’s a big part of who I am and I really appreciate everything that’s going on at the moment — the advancements in culture, education, economy, and infrastructure,” she says. “The current leadership has done an amazing job at putting the country at the forefront of the global stage, and I’m really proud to see these changes.”

Although Al-Zuhair grew up in Europe, she says she was raised with “traditional values” and that her religion is very dear to her. From the get-go, she was clear about what she would, or wouldn’t, be prepared to do as a model. 

“I think the industry is very accommodating,” she says. “It’s all about what boundaries you set. My agency is amazing – and these boundaries have been respected with all aspects of my work and with all my clients. I’ve been very fortunate to have a very good experience.”

Amira Al-Zuhair (third from right, front row) backstage at the George Hobeika show in Paris Haute Couture Week with Georges Hobeika and his son Jad. (Getty Images)

Paris Haute Couture Week was a triumph for Al-Zuhair — if you ignore the time that some guy on a bike tried unsuccessfully to steal her vintage purse. In the same month, she was also part of Dolce & Gabbana’s monumental show in Sicily, where the label celebrated 10 years of its Alta Moda line. Wearing a black habit and black dress with sheer panels, she was an absolute vision on the runway situated in the historic Piazza Duomo in Siracusa.

Al-Zuhair has also worked with some of the industry’s biggest names in the form of ad campaigns and editorials, including Tiffany & Co, Burberry, and Carolina Herrera. In 2020, she landed her first Vogue Arabia cover, attracting widespread praise. 

“It was shot in NEOM, and we were the first group to shoot there,” she says. “It was such an exhilarating experience because I discovered a whole new side of Saudi Arabia. It’s just one of the most beautiful landscapes I’ve ever seen — the sea, the mountains, the land — you cannot get sick of the views. We had lots of trailers in the middle of the desert; it kind of felt like a movie set. I also got to meet lots of local Saudi production members and stylists. It was so nice to have that representation.”

Al-Zuhair walking for Alexis Mabille at Paris Haute Couture Week on July 5. (Getty Images)

Juggling a demanding modeling career and a full-time university course was no easy feat. “That that was one of the most difficult aspects — the balance. It requires a lot of discipline and good time-management because every second counts. Every day I had to study, exercise, eat, go to university and see my family. There weren’t enough hours. Once, I went to Milan for work, and within 48 hours I’d been in five different cities and four countries.” 

Al-Zuhair shows no signs of slowing down, though. She’s already applying to universities to continue her education and it’s clear that her modeling career is on a steep upward trajectory, with labels and brands clamoring to work with her. It seems that she’ll grab as many opportunities as possible.

“With each show you get a different atmosphere, mood and energy. There’s a different inspiration behind each collection, and that’s reflected in the clothes and the we way act and walk. I’m very grateful for all the opportunities that I’ve been given and to all of these designers for trusting me. It’s a big responsibility,” she says. “I see the work that goes into it behind the scenes, and it’s a very emotional experience. To me, fashion is an art and a form of self-expression. I’m honored to be able to present these collections and their designers’ works of art to the world.”

Cairo’s ‘Summer Portfolio’ photography show examines Egypt’s past and present

Cairo’s ‘Summer Portfolio’ photography show examines Egypt’s past and present
Updated 19 August 2022

Cairo’s ‘Summer Portfolio’ photography show examines Egypt’s past and present

Cairo’s ‘Summer Portfolio’ photography show examines Egypt’s past and present
  • From Cairo to Brooklyn, photographic consultancy Tintera aims to bring together global photographers

CAIRO: In an apartment block in Zamalek — Cairo’s affluent western district where heritage buildings whisk visitors back to the Egyptian capital’s grand past — is a surprising find: A white-walled gallery and consultancy called Tintera, which specializes in photography of Egypt by Egyptians and foreigners. It was established in 2019 by Heba Farid and Zein Khalifa, with the aim of raising the profile of both contemporary and historical photography of Egypt. 

“Photography’s power is in documenting our lives, conceptually as well as through documentary approaches,” Farid tells Arab News. “As certain images of Egypt are ever-present in the global collective memory — images of monuments and conflict tend to be what remain — our mission is to be a destination where an alternative image of Egypt emerges.”

Amina Kadous, ‘City Entrapped.’ (Supplied)

When photography first started to become widely popular in the 19th century CE, photographers from around the world travelled to Egypt to capture not just the country’s multitude of ancient monuments, but, as Farid says, “its abundance of light.” 

“Tintera is committed to elevating the status and value of fine art photography in Egypt,” Khalifa says. “We are exporting ‘another Egypt’ and, while doing so, building a strong collectors’ base, drawing the attention of curators, and engaging specialized and general audiences alike.”

Tintera’s “Summer Portfolio” show is an example of the founder’s aims, presenting works from their roster of more than 20 artists. 
In the main exhibition area, a large collection of portfolio boxes are on display alongside many framed or matted prints. Visitors are invited to handle the prints directly (with the provided gloves, of course) and there is a thin hanging rail installed so that they can curate their own selections. Such an intimate handling of fine-art photography is a rare treat that truly enhances the viewing experience. 

Each photographer’s work presents a different view and experience of Egypt and its people. Highlights include works by Amina Kadous, an award-winning Egyptian photographer with a background in visual art. In her ongoing series “City Entrapped” she explores how portraits of iconic Egyptian public figures, such as Presidents Sadat and Nasser, still exist in many public spaces. 

For Kadous, Cairo is a city that is always in constant change yet somehow stays the same. 
“A city trapped in its own past and stretching to an unknown future. Cairo, a city of icons that is itself iconic,” Kadous writes on her website. “I see through these breaths and gasps of time, endlessly in flux and endlessly in chaos. A city where the only thing that is constant is change.”

Nermine Hammam — an established visual artist with a background in film — employs her signature technique of digital manipulation, hand coloring and layering of images on a collection of black and white vernacular photographs taken on the beaches of Alexandria in “A’aru,” a series named for the ancient Egyptian concept of the afterlife. But, the Tintera founders explain in an article on Hamman’s website, here the artist “inverts” the concept. “Rather than it being an idyllic world yet to come, Hammam shows us a once-almost-perfect world on the brink of destruction. For Hammam, this … is the Alexandria of her past … a place of perceived innocence.”

Anthony Hamboussi, ‘Sharat il-Nil,’ from 15 Mayo Bridge, Agouza, Giza Governorate, Cairo Ring Road, 2014. (Supplied)

Egyptian Brooklyn-based photographer Anthony Hamboussi is one of the latest additions to the Tintera roster. In his series “Ring Road,” he examines the contemporary urban landscape of Cairo and neighboring areas which have morphed over the past century because of uncontrolled urban growth. His evocative photographs show how poor planning and mismanagement of heritage sites have put the city’s historic significance into a state of crisis.

The emerging Egyptian visual artist Maria Saba strikes a more intimate note in her “Urban Jungle” series, which captures the artist in a variety of poses in public urban spaces in Egypt and France, allowing her to examine issues relating to identity and place in the two countries and cultures in which she lives. The black-and-white photographs are nostalgic, melancholic and haunting; Saba seems to be searching for herself in the midst of these sprawling ever-changing urban landscapes. 

Tintera’s “Summer Portfolio” show runs until September 7 at the gallery.

What We Are Playing Today: Award-winning co-op game 'It Takes Two'

What We Are Playing Today: Award-winning co-op game 'It Takes Two'
Updated 19 August 2022

What We Are Playing Today: Award-winning co-op game 'It Takes Two'

What We Are Playing Today: Award-winning co-op game 'It Takes Two'
  • The award-winning production was released for Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4 and 5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S in March 2021

Married life can be hard; sometimes couples must cooperate to solve their problems. They need to know when to be firm or relent, so it takes two to make the relationship work.

This is exactly the aim of the action-adventure platform “It Takes Two”, which was created by Hazelight Studios and released by Electronic arts.

The story centers on a couple Cody and May who are seemingly incompatible and plan to divorce. They break the news to their daughter Rose late in the afternoon.

Rose then goes upstairs to her room and using two handmade dolls that resemble her parents, acts out a scene where they reconcile.

Rose’s tears, however, magically transfer the souls of her parents into these two dolls, who are now trapped and desperate to return to their bodies. In order to do that, they are forced to work together. 

The production was awarded The Game Award for Game of the Year 2021. It was released for Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4 and 5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S in March 2021.

“It Takes Two” has top-notch graphics, with many details for surfaces and a rotating view. You can move the camera angles around and explore the environment.

It is a multiplayer video game and does not have a single-player option.