May 30, 2024

Alif – Aynama-Rtama



For a bit of a change, here’s a 5-piece collective of musicians from the Arabic world, recorded from Beirut to Cairo and full of texture and chewy tastiness. It’s full of twangy stringed instruments, rolled ‘R’s and hand-drums. But alongside the bouzouki-type things and glottal stops there are clear signs we are in the twenty-first century with electronics and a good number of death-obsessed lyrics reflecting the ongoing turmoil across parts of Egypt, Palestine, Syria, Libya, etc. Nothing overt, nothing political, but the links are clearly there. They contrast with love and nature, with some twentieth century Iraqi and Lebanese poetry used as content. Or so the lyric translations show – they could well be singing about anything.

The music is modern but avoids the twin poles of danger: polishing and pop. Unlike the old Real World releases, these have not been gussied up with Western-ear-friendly fusion touches. And these are not the tinny and mad pop productions that soundtrack bus journeys in Northern Africa and the Middle East. Instead, they have been recorded with a modern sensibility and modern instruments. There is more tone, less frantic drums and more colour than I‘d expected. Drums are used to great effect, setting a back-beat this ear finds it easy to hang onto. The album is nicely paced and textured, with plentiful bass guitar and deeper tones. On I’Tiraf, the bass burbles deeply and elsewhere both slow and faster pieces show considerable groove and energy. Across it all, Tamer Abu Ghazaleh’s soulful voice ties it all together.

A cohesive, unusual and accessible album.

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