Following up her exceptional 2019 LP, “Oumniyah,” the legendary French-Algerian songwriter released her 10th album this year – a poignant showcase that further broadens the sonic palette of her trademark brand of Algerian Chaabi and inimitable dexterity on the guitar. Adorned with all the hallmarks of a Souad Massi record, “Sequana” mixes folk, country, rock, calypso, and bossa with poetic lyrics, speckled with themes including relationships, compassion and love. It even features singer/songwriter Piers Faccini, and a stunning Arabic-language rendition of “Hurt,” the Nine Inch Nails track famously covered by Johnny Cash. “Sequana” is an unmissable addition to Massi’s extraordinary catalog.
Although they have kept busy as session musicians and collaborated with the likes of Arab indie royalty Zeid Hamdan (on 2019’s “Beit”), the Beirut-based Syrian trio had not released a studio album since their cathartically magnetic 2013 debut, “180 Degrees.” Almost a decade later, Tanjaret Daghet have proved that the wait was indeed worth it, as they embrace their experimental side in much the same way that Radiohead completely reinvented themselves on their electronica-infused masterpiece “Kid A.” The band expertly weave an aural embroidery oscillating between psychedelia, delectably layered vocal harmonies and meditative instrumental passages that illustrate the depth of the connection between the three musicians. “Mareed” is an artistic triumph from a group whose unique sound has been sorely missed.
Only a year after starting their career in 2015, the Tunisian duo scored a major hit with “Smek,” a track from their debut album that was remixed by Rey&Kjavik and went on to gain more than 10 million streams. Since then, Sabrine Jenhani and Ramy Zoghlami have performed across Europe and North America, broadcasting a distinctive medley of indie-alternative folk and emotive lyrics sung in the Tunisian dialect of Derja to a growing listenership that often forms a lasting, intimate bond with their music. Ÿuma’s third studio effort, “HANNET LEKLOUB,” balances the melancholy and elegant melodicism of their previous releases with earworm hooks and tender vocalization to deliver a mature, memorable and immensely enjoyable LP.
‘Hadis El Layl’
With their sixth LP, Adonis have perfected the formula of danceable pop, alt-rock dynamism and anthemic songwriting that they began crafting in 2012 with their debut single, “Stouh Adonis.” The Lebanese foursome present a moving collection of love songs — with the title track and the heartrending “Ekhsarak” as standouts — that culminates in “Ma Endi Fekra,” an ingenious pastiche of two styles of Arabic music battling in a blistering commentary on the Arabic music industry. The album’s closing opus employs the electric guitar and oriental mizmar as an embodiment of this artistic skirmish and is some of the most profoundly adventurous work that the band have produced thus far.
Gultrah Sound System
Led by singer and guitarist Halim Yousfi, the Tunisian neo-reggae pioneers have gone through various lineup changes since starting out in 2006, but one element of their whirlwind combo of rap, jazz, funk and afrobeat has always remained uniform: They are uncompromising innovators and pepper their songs with incisive humor and politically provocative messages. Their latest album, “PRELUDE,” is a delightfully listenable amalgam of vibrant, rhythmic percussion, playful violins, a spirited brass section and ferociously honest socio-economic commentary on the travails of daily life in Tunis. A veritable gem that crystalizes Gultrah Sound System’s status as one of the region’s most exciting acts.
Although this is, strictly speaking, a reissue of a 1992 recording, the album was previously only released in Mali — and only on cassette. “Kel Tinariwen” is a seminal record from a band recognized as one of the architects of the Kel Tamasheq desert blues movement. This Grammy Award-winning collective of Tuareg musicians from the Sahara Desert region of northern Mali has been around for more than 40 years but remains decisively relevant. If anything, the addition of synthesizers to their idiosyncratic guitarwork demonstrates the group’s enthusiasm for reframing their music and making it accessible for a whole new generation of fans.
Many established artists fall into the trap of complacency and end up ignoring the little voice in their heads that nags at them to rethink and reimagine. Cairokee have never shied away from returning to the drawing board wholesale, but on their bold, seventh studio album, the Egyptian rock visionaries are truly charting a new direction for their music. “Roma” is an audacious foray into pop and trap-tinged melodies — the inclusion of hip-hop luminary Marwan Pablo, for instance — by a band who made their name as the rock soundtrack to Egypt’s 2011 revolution. The LP swept the charts across the country’s music platforms and shines on as one of the most daring additions to Cairokee’s already illustrious output.
Breaking out on his own from electro-acoustic collective Garaseen, whose 2018 EP made waves across the Arab indie landscape, Idreesi built on the momentum sparked by his debut LP, 2020’s “Loon El Shams,” to ignite a creative flame that reverberates with aplomb across his latest pop outing. “Ma7boobi” is an affective anthology of material told from the perspectives of fictional characters envisaged by the songwriter, whose penchant for storytelling stems from his experience in theater and as an actor. The album is a deeply expressive chronicle of the singer’s personal experiences and regularly intrigues with its novel use of unconventional instrumentation to convey raw emotion. A must-hear.
‘Ard El Khof’
Rapper and music producer El Rass (aka Mazen El-Sayed) is known for not mincing his words. Following in the footsteps of 2020’s “Bab Al-Doukhoul,” one of the region’s most inventive hip-hop pacesetters delves into the themes of economic collapse and hardship in his native Lebanon with bruising wit and eye-watering lyrical legerdemain. The boisterous rhyme slinger is in scorching form on “Ard El Khof” (Land Of Fear), dealing out verse upon verse cadenced to perfection and accompanied by a searing entourage of pulsating beats and lusciously dark synth.