Artwork by Omar El Abd
2017 has been a rollercoaster, oftentimes tickling us with the uneasy impression that the world might self-destruct at any moment, starting right here in the Middle East. That said, 2017 was witness to great strides forward for humanity in the sector of human rights, science, and especially art; history and our inherent human instinct show us that out of strife comes the best art, and that music allows people joy. Thus, let’s forego the “2017 was the worst year ever” hullabaloo, and focus on the gold.
We scoured the sonic landscape of our impassioned, tumultuous, and above all astounding Middle Eastern region for the gems that represent the labor of love put into them by the creative minds behind them. From Suez Canal trap to primitive Turkish electronica, Palestinian hip hop to Sudanese tape samples and house from everywhere, we compiled a list that we believe represents a balance of genres and touches on talent in all musical forms, from all the Middle East. We hope that in this list, you can find something that reverberates with you and either allows you to look back fondly on your year, or forward to 2018.
Maurice Louca, Maryam Saleh, Tamer Abu Ghazaleh - Lekhfa (Egypt)
Tamer Abu Ghazaleh, Maryam Saleh and Maurice Louca are three of the most innovative and consistently exciting artists in the Egyptian and Middle Eastern music scene. Each to their own, these artists are dynamic boundary pushers; when you combine the three of them, you get something seriously exciting. Lekhfa is the fruit of three years labor in various locales, weaving together their individual sounds into a shimmering web of sound at once agitating, beautiful, and gripping. It is worth the time it takes to truly appreciate it.
Alsarah & The Nubatones - Manara Remixed (Sudan)
Alsarah is a Sudanese born NYC based singer making “East African Retro Pop.” The artist’s original yet nostalgic and catchy sound, mixed with her wild fashion sense and sassy stage presence have garnered her a worldwide following. With her band The Nubatones, she has released two albums, Silt and Manara. In 2017, her label Wonderwheel Recordings released a remix album titled Manara Remixed, featuring remixes by El Búho, Captain Planet and Sufyvn, among others. The varied styles on the album make it equally good for getting you moving or simply tapping into some sensual ambience.
Aya Metwalli - Beitak (Egypt)
Cairo’s lovable weirdo in exile, “cat in leather pants” Aya Metwalli always keeps us surprised and on edge, and ever so slightly confused. This is probably why we included her haunting and atmospheric EP Beitak, which was actually released on the 30th of December, 2016. Who does that? I guess after all, this isn’t that surprising, considering Aya’s music couldn’t care less about time or convention. What a paradox. Either way, Beitak is fantastic.
Cosmic Analog Ensemble - Les Sourdes Oreilles (Lebanon)
Lebanese producer Charif Megarbane has a lot of different musical aliases, including Heroes & Villains and Trans Mara Express. Under his moniker Cosmic Analog Ensemble, he has released a number of albums, the latest being Les Sourdes Oreilles which was in partnership with a French label titled My Bags. It is a seamlessly arranged album composed with live instruments, evoking a distinct 1970s vibe. It is heavy in groovy funk and soul, with a deliciously haunting side. It is easy to imagine the album as a soundtrack to a cult spy movie of the era: pair with lava lamps, cocktails, fishnet stockings and leopard print.
Omrr - Devils For My Darling (Egypt)
This year Egyptian producer Omar El Abd AKA Omrr dropped a heartbreaking new album on Russian imprint Dronarivm. Devils For My Darling is an eight track fictional love story that further cements Omrr's reputation as one of the regional leaders producing on the fringe of experimental music. The album beautifully navigates the story though lush, dreamy soundscapes, lo-fi field recordings and haunting keys.
Sufyvn - Ascension (Sudan)
Sufyan Ali aka Sufyvn is a Sudanese dentist/producer who sources music primarily from vintage Nubian and Sudanese vinyl and tapes. Sufyvn’s hip, Flying Lotus-esque sound has drawn the global eye to him, and this past year he remixed a song for Alsarah on Manara Remixed, and collaborated BJ the Chicago Kid on a song titled “Sleepless in Cairo” for a Spotify campaign titled “I’m with the banned.” Moreover, he released an EP titled Ascension, five hypnotic Afrofuturist tracks of a reimagined Nubia. He also does the amazing artwork for all his albums.
Cairokee - Noaata Beida (Egypt)
Cairokee is an Egyptian rock band that rose to fame during the revolution with their politically charged songs. Their newest album, Noaata Beida was released in July of 2017, becoming the No1. bestselling album on iTunes Egypt and No. 2 on the Middle East charts. That said, the album did not achieve success without hardship, having been banned by the Egyptian censorship authorities. Thus, it is only available online.
Gökçen Kaynatan - Gökçen Kaynatan (Turkey)
Apparently, Gökçen Kaynatan is one of the somewhat unsung though instrumental figures in the Turkish rock and psychedelic scene of the 50s and 60s, helping to birth what came to be known as Anatolian Rock. He laid the groundwork for the use of electronics in the industry, and was also known as a house composer for Turkish television. This album was compiled by Finders Keepers records via unprecedented access to his studio vault, and is the first ever published collection of his music. For a super rare trip into the experimental pop and rock of an electronic music pioneer from Turkey, definitely give this a listen.
Kelab - El 7ayah El Gamda (Egypt)
Kelab is a three-piece band made up of members of some of the city’s other most edgy, thrilling bands: Youssef Abouzeid of PanSTARRS, Mahmoud Tawfik of Karset Nevin and May Mansour of SHOT. They deliver a sound that is not quite common in the country. Their album El 7ayah El Gamda (The Awesome Life) is a rebellious work of punk art. It is ironically at odds with the track titles, spelling out the somewhat tongue in cheek wry and sarcastic approach the band as to life and music; the essence of punk. It is easy to imagine this music as the soundtrack to some offensive carousing of a group of Cairene punks.
Anouar Brahem - Blue Maqams (Tunisia)
Anouar Brahem is world acclaimed Tunisian oud player and composer who grew up studying Arabic music, later getting into Balkan, Turkish, Indian and finally jazz music. He has a berth of albums under his belt, and this year did not find him slowing down. Blue Maqams, Brahem’s newest album out on ECM Records led him to team up with jazz giants, Jack DeJohnette, Dave Holland and Django Bates. The result is an album that with great ease and taste merges jazz and oriental. Blue Maqams is divine, intimate and contemplative, evoking a deep and organic feeling of connection.
Youssra El Hawary - No’oum Nasyeen (Egypt)
Youssra’s debut album No'oum Nasyeen shows a labor of love and attention to dynamics and detail. It is immaculately orchestrated and textured, drawing the listener into a quirky and whimsical world, reminiscent of a soundtrack for an Egyptian version of a Jean-Pierre Jeunet film.
Satti - Arees El Shamal (Jordan)
Ahmed Yaseen aka Satti is a hip hop artist based in Jordan. His 19 track album involves many collaborations with different artists and producers of the scene such as Bu Kolthoum and El-Far3i. The sound of his album is not quite political, yet he tackles problems in the whole region and not only in Jordan through his album’s groovy old-school beats.
Gast - Coast (Egypt)
Experimental and diverse, Gast delivered his experimental EP Coast sprinkled with Zeina’s (not DJ Zeina) psychedelic and heart wrenching vocals. The electronic EP shows influence from post rock, dance music and even some synth pop through melodies evoking the 80’s. The EP travels through periods of emotional obscurity to reach light in the last danceable and hopeful track. The artist’s work truly breathes emotional expression.
Muqata’a - Dubt Al-Ghubar (Palestine)Muqata’a (Boycott) is a rapper/producer based in Ramallah, who makes music to fight for his country’s freedom. Dubt Al-Ghubar is a glitchy hip hop album that is inspired by the Israeli occupation. His sound is aggressive as he uses it to fight back the sound of occupation he hears everyday.
Tinariwen - Elwan (Mali)
Tuareg band Tinariwen embrace their so called “Desert Blues” sound, a mixture between the African style and psych guitar riffs that give a funkier edge to their tunes. Elwan reflects the band’s political views and the struggle of the Tuareg people to achieve social and political equality.
Fulltone - Wise People (Egypt)
Egyptian producer Fulltone has had a great year, with two releases reaching Beatport’s top 10 deep house tracks at the same time. One of the artists on the forefront of the current Oriental house trend, Fulltone’s live sets where he performs with his band have gained recognition in the country as well as among artists abroad who come and visit the Sandbox festival. This year’s Wise People EP released with Orient Art is among our favorite of the year. It utilizes the artist's instrumental background for melodies, while he still maintains the power and balance of his sound engineering/production for the beats and encircling elements. Well done, sir!
Bu Kolthoum - Bo’Bo’ (Syria)Bu Kolthoum is a rapper, music producer, and film director who has been revolutionizing political rap in the Middle East. His new album Bo’Bo’ was completely produced, mixed, and mastered by him. His sound can easily be distinguished amongst other Middle Eastern rappers because of the old-school sound accompanied by tearing bass-lines.
Coke Machine - My Friend (Egypt)
The shoe-gaze influences of The Raveonettes and The Jesus and Mary Chain are prominent in Egyptian indie band Coke Machine's My Friend EP. The dream-pop duo show a maturity in their sound following on from their debut release Something To Do in 2014. The two track EP feels like a road trip with the top down somewhere in the 80s.
Omar Souleyman - To Syria, With Love (Syria)
This latest from Omar Souleyman comes with the Mad Decent Label, making him labelmates with big names like Major Lazer and Jack U. His electronic-dabke fusion is what distinguishes him amongst other artists in the region and drew him strong recognition that took him to perform in Boiler Room.
Bash - Gefrankt (Egypt)
Coming from a blues background, minimal/house producer BASH was a regular in the Cairo house scene before going off to Berlin, where he played in many clubs such as Chalet and Ipse alongside heavy names in the scene. He has also worked with record labels such as Partisan. While it takes some artists a few releases before reaching quality, Bash’s debut on UK label Signatune Records shows subtlety and elegance, with all tracks being perfect tools for any dancefloor. The producer’s choice of samples and synthesis echoes the sounds of the city in which he has lived; the Berlin inspiration and indent is clearly visible. Without meeting this producer, his music will directly tell you he is a groovy fellow.
Tree9 - Wra Hdoud Al Saed (Tunisia)After meeting by coincidence on the border of a waterway, Nébil Mannai and Mathieu Schmitt started jamming using a guitar and a double bass. This is when they discovered a harmony between them and Tree9 was born. They kept working until they composed their first soothing jazz album containing bright brass with warm guitar and double bass sounds.
Zuli - Numbers (Egypt)
Egyptian underground producer Zuli has been on a roll this year. After taking over Fact Mag’s Mix 612, he came out with his second EP Numbers on Lee Gamble’s UIQ label. Six tracks appear on the vinyl release dominated by a kind of methodic industrial grime and a vast array of field recording that take the listener on an unpredictable journey.
Blufrank - I'm Fine (Egypt)
Finding its way to the UK-based label Anti Skate - an independent label operating since the 70's - enigmatic producer BLUFRANK's EP I Am Fine, recorded in home studios between Cairo and Luxor, delivers bouts of neo-psychedelic splendour. A stellar four track release fielding experiments within the province of avant-pop electronic extravagance.
Chyno - The Misled (Lebanon)
Observing Lebanon’s social struggles, the Syrian/Flippino Beirut based rapper Chyno uses his talent to address such determinants. In this nine track album, Chyno tackles problems such as unemployment, drug dealing, and politically-affiliated gangs. The album’s sound is groovy and tight.
$$$Tag$$$ - Fractals (Egypt)
Dollar, dollar, dollar, tag, and lots of other dollars. Or is it just tag? When Egyptian DJ/producer Asem Tag isn't dropping techno in the middle of the night, or living up to his moniker with a down and dirty hip hop set, he's creating intricately textured sound art riddled with intense deconstructed beats and bass. His 2017 cassette release Fractals on UK based imprint Seagrave personifies this side of his musical sensibilities with a ferocious yet minimal nine track experimental effort. One really asks himself how any of the tracks or sounds here were created, and if he didn’t just record insects, which is maybe why he dubs the genre as Leftfield/IDM. At times, the producer lays out elements in an abstract space, deconstructed and decomposed with no clear structure or form, and then gathers them all together strangely, grouping all these dissonant elements into one time-based, breathing, roaring body of noise.
Zone+ - Baia (Bahrain)
Bahraini Dubai Based artist Zone+’s Baia EP was released on Mathew Dekay and Lee Burridge’s label All Day I Dream. The EP is a great example of the trending Oriental house sound, using emotive strings sourced from region and a strong focus on melody and harmony over groove.
Marwan Moussa - bel monasba (Egypt)
Marwan Moussa is an Egyptian rapper/producer who marries loopy lyrics with a mixture of cutting edge and old-school production, and has moulded an aesthetic that is regionally distinct and always interesting. Though he has been teasing us with singles all year, the currently L.A. based Marwan just dropped his debut album bel monasba, which merges elements of trap, jazz, old school hip-hop and even reggae, for a super enjoyable and intriguing listen that breaks down a lot of preconceived notions about regional hip hop, and defines him as one of the smarter producers out there.
Asifeh - Datura (Palestine/Austria)
Asifeh, also known as Stormtrap is a producer and MC from Ramallah, Palestine. The artist has a huge online following. Her last album Datura features 22 short tracks, exploring the different facets of the artists. The album travels alongs the spectrum of experimental music and processes. It was self released on BandCamp.
Nadah El-Shazly - Ahwar (Egypt)
Half woman, half angel: Nadah El-Shazly. This producer/vocalist has been making waves with her new album, released on UK record label Nawa Recordings, and wit her live performances. Ahwar is a six track breakthrough album released on London based record label Nawa Recordings. It includes an eerie choir all recorded from her own harmonies, dissonant melodies, and a plethora of live and electronic instruments influenced from jazz, Arab and world music, all to create El-Shazly’s hauntingly beautiful juxtaposition. This is truly at the artistic and aesthetic forefront of contemporary electronic Arab music.
Yasmine Hamdan - Al Jamilat (Lebanon)
Vocalist of Soap Kills, Lebanese virtuoso and diva: Yasmine Hamdan. With an original tone that is delicate yet solid, she has been able to cement herself among the top artists to come out of the region. Her 2017 album Al Jamilat, which was released on Los Angeles based label Ipecac Recordings, explores the more gentle side of the artist, vis a vis the work with her band Soap Kills. The album includes live instrumentation such as strings, as well as synthesizers; both give rich textures accompanying her celestial voice, which at times is even doubled within itself. The work includes twelve diverse tracks to please anyone looking for an easy listen or an emotional expedition.
Bosaina - New York April – July 2013 / Two Names Upon The Shore (Egypt)
From coming into prominence as front-woman of electro-clash outfit Wetrobots, to forming dreamy trip hop duo Quit Together with Zuli, to becoming the first Egyptian to graduate from the renowned Red Bull Music Academy, and more recently moving into full blown performance pieces, the Egyptian vocalist and producer has been on quite the meandering career. This year she travelled back in time to New York, between April and July 2013 to when she recorded a series of outrageously soulful piano pieces laced with emotion-heavy field recordings. The double EP was released on Discrepant Records.
Eli Atala - Café Creme (Lebanon)
With his latest release on Beyrouth based label Fantome De Nuit Records, Eli Atala proves to be one of the leading house producers in Lebanon. The EP includes two tracks and a remix from Rolbac, who’s released on labels such as Einmusika, Kindisch and others. Atala’s original mixes steer more towards the true form of deep house, with serene chords, lush pads and a groovy bassline. The remix has more of a progressive deep house beat, taking less of a lo-fi approach vis a vis the original mix. While this style of house would be mainly associated with sounds trending in hubs such as Berlin, Atala injects Arabic vocal samples to add his own touch and incorporate his origins in a way different from the trend around oriental house.
Adham Zahran - Space Consciousness (Egypt)
Alexandria based artist Zahran has been releasing raw and warm house music for almost a decade with various international record labels. His body of work has always evolved, and he has never failed to maintain a constant release schedule. One of the two albums he has released this year is Space Consciousness, a ten track masterpiece released with House is OK that takes you on a voyage through the eerie and more alternative shades of the artist. Space Consciousness includes ambient tracks suited for the first hour of the night or for your Friday lullaby, others for a solid house warm up, a couple of emotional journeys for the closing, slow mind bending tracks that take you to your preferred alternate state of being, and finally a bass-heavy remix by Intro Chinaski meant to ignite the peak hour of the night. The album is versatile, moving and however trivial the name of the genre may have become, this is real deep house.
Fatima Al Qadiri - Shaneera (Kuwait/US)
The internationally acclaimed Senegal-born, Kuwait-raised, Brooklyn based composer and conceptual artist Fatima Al Qadiri came out with the five track EP Shaneera this year and it may be her best release to date. Shaneera is conceptually about an "evil queen" that defies "binary status quo gender roles," a character that Qadiri appears as on the EP's cover art. The lyrics are a mixture of Kuwaiti and Egyptian Arabic, and are half-improvised, half sourced from various Grindr chats and online drag comedy skits. Musically, it’s a bold and aggressive dance record, combining Arabic drums and scales with western dance music beats.
El Rass - El Riyada Wal Adab (Lebanon)
El Rass is a mysterious rapper from Lebanon with a seriously eclectic mix of musical influences. His album El Riyada Wal Adab is a mix of trap dark as ink with grim production and spoken word soundscapes. Definitely one of our more obscure finds this year.
Haram - When you Have Won, You Have Lost (Lebanon/US)
This is hardcore punk like you've never heard before. Lead by Lebanese-American vocalist Nader Haram, the New York based band's debut album has made a huge impact worldwide and features politically charged Arabic prose on discrimination, identity and self-discovery.
Rozzma - Donya Fakka (Egypt)
Rozzma is a mysterious time-traveling being whose last time on Earth was durig the pharaonic times. He has come back to initiate the Cairo rave bass scene, wearing Tutankhamun’s gold mask as he attempts to bring back some of the royal pizazz that Egypt once possessed. Rozzma’s debut EP Donya Fakka highlights the different aspects of Rozzma’s music while remaining loyal to the core of the weirdness that makes his music stand apart from the electro chaabi that people like to compare it too. The EP jumps from tripped out and unnervingly reverb soaked soundscapes to strobing, adrenaline filled rave bass.
Hello Psychaleppo - Toyour (Syria/US)
Samer Saem Eldahr AKA Hello Psychaleppo hails from Aleppo, a Levantine city of ancient and deep musical heritage. He takes these musical traditions of the Orient, like mawwals, weaving them into layers of lush electronic beats from trip hop to electro to drum and bass, resulting in a fresh sound he calls "Electro Tarab." Currently based in Minneapolis, Eldahr released his third full length album this year. Toyour is a concept piece that draws deeply from the book Muntiq al-Tayr, or The Conference of the Birds, written by 12th century Sufi poet, Attar of Nishapur.
Arabs With Synthesizers - Resident of Nowhere (Jordan)
Hailing from Amman and founded in 2015 by producer and audio engineer George Rizeq, Arabs With Synthesisers (exactly what it says on the tin) also features Zaed Na’es, Basel Naouri and has garnered quite a following in the region over the last year or two, culminating in their 2017 EP release Resident of Nowhere on UK dance label Elastic Dimension Records. Think Board of Canada with an Arab twist.
Mado $am - On My Way (Egypt)
Hailing from Suez, little known rapper Mado $am exploded into the Egyptian hip hop zeitgeist at the end of the year with the freshest of trap albums. Taking a page from west coast production, but laying on them an infectious string of Arabic mumble rap, $am collaborates with a host of local producers and rappers to formulate what may be the first of its kind album in the country.
If you think we missed anything, inbox us your suggestions!