It’s hard to fully encapsulate the effect 2020 has had on the global music community. Between mass closures of music spaces, a near total shutdown of the live entertainment industry, and predatory streaming platforms, musicians have found themselves increasingly vulnerable and without support.
However, in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, rising international tensions, a historic US election whose effects have reverberated around the world, and the calamitous August 4th explosion in Beirut, 2020 has also provided us with some of the most incredible works of music and musical collaboration we’ve heard since our inception.
Narrowing down our favourite Middle Eastern and North African albums of the year was no easy task, and in going through hundreds of potential inclusions, we were reminded of how essential music was in keeping us going through it all, especially amidst such a challenging year. All the albums and EPs appearing on this list, across every genre, are notable and worthy of recognition in their own right, and to us, any artist whose taken time out of this chaotic year to release their art into the world, is worthy of our sincerest respect.
Kutmah - A Tribute to Brother Ras G & the Afrikan Space Program
[All City Records]
The death of Ras G in 2019 marked a sad day for Los Angeles' hip-hop community, especially for those within the city’s deeply interlinked beat-scene. Somber, sincere and dripping with memory and words unsaid, Kutmah's tribute to his late friend cuts deep, and with a rumble straight from the belly of the earth celebrates one of LA's most essential and underrated figures. Ras G's presence perforates every layer of the album, and the weight of his passing can be felt across all 23 of Kutmah's varied and soulful productions. Gone, but never forgotten, Rest In Power Ras G.
Eishan Ensemble - Afternoon Tea At Six
[Art As Catharsis]
Afternoon Tea at Six sees the five-man Iranian-Australian group, Eishan Ensemble, move away from the more folksy sound of their debut album, and find a more refined space between classical Persian and Western contemporary sounds that influenced it’s creation. On this latest album, the band ventures deeper and the real achievement of the album is the precise and intricate balance that it strikes, with each track unique and individual in texture, character and mood.
Shah - Al-Symillat
[Karf El Dauwar Records]
Al-Symillat is a remarkable 30 minutes of music that sees Shah distinguish himself from the rest of the KDR quite spectacularly – an impressive feat considering this is one collective that already exists in a space of its own. Each track has a story to tell and isn’t burdened by the ebb and flow usually required to accommodate vocals in shaabi music. In fact, Shah’s music is so intricate and measured at times, that vocals would do it an injustice. It’s not shaabi, it’s not electro-shaabi and it’s not mahraganat – it’s something entirely unique, but also recognisable, a difficult balance to reach in any genre of music.
Released on the Iranian label, Kopi Records, Bore comprises a nifty melange of ambience and industrial techno, commencing with a smooth, atmospheric sound before adopting a harsh and mechanical crunch. With a mysterious tone and unpredictability affirmed by it’s profound experimentality, the five-track record is testament to Art Saves's body of work and beat-ridden, post-club electronica.
De.Ville’s 2018 debut, Sables, effortlessly fused funk, soul, jazz, trap, Afro-beat, Raï and Tarab into a dizzying seven-track album that was easily one of the most engaging listens of that year. Since then, the duo has kept busy through a COVID-19 lockdown, culminating in the release of a new three-track EP, Atlantique. Compared to their previous works, Atlantique is more reserved, maintaining a solemn, unified sonic aesthetic across the three tracks through lush chords, saturated drums, and with a renewed focus on songwriting and infectious choruses over far-out instrumental experimentation.
Cafe Turk -Cafe Turk
[Zel Zele Records]
Formed in the early 1980s, Cafe Turk found fame through their exciting blend of new wave, rock, disco and reggae, alongside the deep musical traditions of Turkey and Azerbaijan - one that quickly found them as paragons of mainly Turkish-immigrant workforce on numerous occasions. Though Cafe Turk have been inactive for over three decades, Zel Zele Records and Turkish crate-diggers, Grup Ses, have compiled an excellent selection of tracks from the band’s deep discography, with an array of their biggest hits, as well as unreleased gems dating as far back as the beginning of their career.
Ilvy - China Girl
Ilvy’s debut is an incredibly personal project, channeling an intense lived experience of current day Beirut through a grim outlook on a society, where personal expression is beaten down by the system, and where hope is a luxury in the face of economic calamity, mass displacement, and an egregious loss of human life that remains to be answered for. Much of what makes China Girl tick is implicit, obscured and delivered with maturity and respect. There’s no clip or snippet of Chinal Girl that can really do the project justice, and taking any segment out of context would be a disservice to the intent and message of the album. The album is best listened in one go — no skips or fast-forwards — and with the volume cranked way up.
Deena Abdelwahed -Dhakar
Shape-shifting and rebellious in both its references and direction, Dhakar marks Deena Abdelwahed as one of the most insurgent sounds to come out of the region. Through shifting between vernacular sounds, Abdelwahed traverses contorting sampled rhythms as well as live instrumentation. Intermingled with relentless rhythms and scattered beats, the album reshapes traditional voices into hard-hitting dance numbers.
Various Artists -did you mean: irish?
Born out of a desire to break free from the oversaturation of house and techno on Egypt’s party scene, as well as for those not “into partying for partying’s sake,” ZULI and Rama’s IRSH began as a series of low-key, open-format, back-2-back sessions from Cairo-based and international collaborators that served as an opportunity to “hang out with friends and play music,” later evolving into a full-length V/A compilation album. Rama and ZULI really hit it out of the park curating did you mean: irish?, gathering an extensive list of some of the regions most hard hitting voices in a way that feels organic and genuine. Like a low-key jam session between friends, the album is bursting with personality, with rarely a moment spent stagnant or able to be pinned-down to any one genre.
Felukah -Dream 23
On Dream 23, Felukah puts her influences front and center, drawing upon the socially-conscious, activist tendencies of J. Cole and Ab-Soul, whilst attempting to merge them with highbrow, abstract wordplay. However, on Dream 23 these activist themes are put on the backburner in favor of a more inwards-looking lyrical focus, taking us through her own internal dialogues as she deals with fame, family, identity and diaspora, torn between homesickness for dusty cairo and the undeniable musical momentum of New York’s grimy streets.
Various Artists - Energy Drink Vol. 1
[Are You Alien]
Tunisian electronic label, ARE YOU ALIEN, have been pushing themselves further and further over 2020, releasing a series of projects including the V/A album, Spicy Space Vol.1, and Dawan’s debut project with the label, Hyperanalytik, earlier this fall. Their seventh release in 2020, Energy Drink Vol.1, sees the label anchor its feet on Middle Eastern soil with an esoteric mixture of sci-fi inspired breakbeats and house that once again proves its versatility and playful approach to genres, bringing together a range of top quality music from some of Tunisia’s best dance music production talents.
FRKTL - Excision After Love Collapses
It’s no surprise to us that multidisciplinary artist Sarah Badr (FRKTL) constantly finds herself at the top of Bandcamp’s best selling experimental releases time and time again. Over the past few years, the Riga-based Egyptian artist has delivered high quality work after high quality work, never prioritising style over substance while maintaining an unique sense of identity, amidst a veritable ocean of swirling textures, rumbling drones, and delicate melodics interspersed throughout. Excision After Love Collapses delivered on our high expectations, presenting an incredibly introspective journey that neither abandoned its experimentality, nor strayed too far into emotionally-unrecognisable avant-garde-for-the-sake-of-avant-garde. It’s a truly haunting record, carrying with it an intense emotional weight that lasts until the final track fades out.
Ammar 808 - Global Control/Invisible Invasion
In a world of art that constantly leans towards secularism, it’s all too common to see musicians attempt to distance themselves indigenous/traditional music. In a pleasurable step away from this, Ammar 808 channels the intricate and spiritual tones of carnatic music, fusing them with massive, bass-driven percussion. Global Control/Invisible Invasion dials the rhythm and melody up to 11, taking a maximalist approach to sound design and composition and - with rarely any moments of respite - brings track after track of club-ready, bass-heavy thump.
Various Artists - Grief Into Rage
[Grief Into Rage]
Channeling somber reflection into unbridled high-tempo energy, the staggering 36-track compilation, Grief Into Rage, features a host of artists from the Middle East and diaspora, as well as a host of international talents. Gathering such names as Lara Sarkissian and 8ullentina of Club Chai, Oldyungmayn and Van Boom, DJ Plead, Pugilist, Air Max ’97, Phatrax, DJ Tess, TVSI, Elisa Massoni, Arabs with Synthesizers and many, many more, Grief Into Rage is a bombastic album that doesn't let up, even a moment, in a stunning act of musical protest in support of Beirut in the wake of the August 4th explosion.
Kareem Ali G R O W T H
It’s becoming quite a challenge keeping up with Kareem Ali’s blisteringly fast workrate, with the artist having already put out so many great releases in such a relatively short span of time. Amongst these, G R O W T H stands out as one of our favourite works of the year. Free of pretentiousness and rife with socially conscious imagery, Ali channels the spirit of Detroit and Chicago house and techno into 26 tracks that rarely stagnate, shifting and evolving with each passing moment. Some tracks just beg for extended plays on the dancefloor, with the speakers dialed all the way up, while others deliver glimpses into smooth hip-hop and ambient introspection, all capturing hearts and ears from start to finish.
Hassan Abou Alam - Hope Amidst Despair
Hassan Abou Alam has spent the last few years quietly cementing himself as one of the most underrated secret weapons in Cairo’s electronic music arsenal, with his latest release, Hope Amidst Despair, already sending waves throughout the global electronic music community. With an immediately distinguishable sonic palette that's uniquely his own, Abou Alam's Hope Amidst Despair might just mark a turning point for the young producer, and we have a strong feeling that we'll look back on it as a future classic.
Dijit - Hyperattention
Hyperattention is a fitting name for a 12-track record with ADHD. Hugely nuanced in nature, it shifts wildly from Arabic poetry, to child-like chanting, to downtempo shaabi, all on a bed of delectable abstract trip hop.The album includes tracks produced by Egyptian producer, Dijit, over the course of five years between 2013 and 2018 and features a whole host of guest vocalists that give the feeling of a kind of ‘swing by and say what you want to say’ vibe to the enigmatic beat-maker’s process.
Sary Moussa - Imbalance
There’s a tangible spiritual energy that fills every corner of Sary Moussa’s cavernous, church-like reverb-soaked soundscapes on Imbalance. Far from spiritual in any new-age, hippie definition of the term, the album brings a sincere, delicate approach to ambient production that resonates on a deeply emotional level only possible through immense introspection and isolation. It was with great joy that we found Moussa’s latest work arriving on the sublimely curated label, OTHER PEOPLE, hopefully marking the beginning of a beautiful new chapter for the Beiruti underground artist.
Saint Abdullah - In God’s Image
NYC-based Persian sibling duo, Saint Abdullah, occupy a sonic territory all of their own, drawing upon their Iranian heritage as well as elements of free jazz, dub, and granular sonic experimentations. Their massive 20-track LP, In God’s Image, channels generational pain, mourning and rage into a powerful statement that focuses their unique lens through layers of intricately arranged archival sounds and field recordings. It might just be their best work yet, bringing together an incredible array of collaborators in an ambitious project that leaves the door wide open for further, deeper explorations.
Meftah - Information Travels Through
[Musha Publishing BMI]
There’s something to be said about artists working in solitude and silence, creating purely for the joy of the craft. Detroit-based A. Omar Meftah’s debut EP, Information Travels Through, slid into 2020 as one of the most low-key releases of the year, with an intentional lack of promotion or marketing to speak of. Across the five instrumentals, jazz, broken beat and layers of smooth electronic production all blend seamlessly into each other, bouncing to Meftah’s own rhythm, with tracks like ‘Music That Excites Me’ coming through with a grounded authenticity that’s organic and earnest. If that weren't enough, a nod from Theo Parrish-helmed label, Sound Signature, should be enough to put Meftah on anyone’s radar.
IRUN is far from a hurried assortment of club-focused bangers, and upon repeat listens, the true subtleties of the record become apparent. Meticulously arranged rhythms evolve over the course of each track and the sampled drums hit with a full body and trance-inducing presence that’s immediately evocative of the live setting they were recorded in. Across the length of the record, it becomes clear NURI understands, respects and pays tribute to an entire range of indigenous musical traditions from across the North African coastline and the Sahel region, drawing upon their core sonic elements and reworking them in a modern context, abandoning neither all semblance of cultural identity, nor remaining too rigidly rooted in the past.
Juno & Hatem El Chiati -Immerse
A defining feature of Juno and Hatem El Chiati’s Immerse is how it takes it’s time in a way music simply doesn’t today. It carries the listener ever so slowly across each verse with crystal clear clarity, flowing through pensive jazzy undertones with pop sensibilities. ‘Colored Mind’ could easily come off as a James Bond’s theme song, while the ethereal title track ‘Immerse’ is beautiful and subtle, hinting at a Beach House or Lana Del Ray record, with a rollicking breakbeat building up to an all encompassing crescendo, rising and falling. Melancholic and uplifting at the same time.
Simo Cell & Abdullah Miniawy - Kill Me or Negotiate
A deep exploration of the many facets of bass music, Kill Me or Negotiate combines western influences of dub, trap and experimental hip-hop with Middle Eastern vocal traditions and Sufi-inspired rhythms. As a collaborative effort, the album ticks all the correct boxes, presenting an intense east-meets-west take from two incredible musical talents. Hopefully, Kill Me or Negotiate signals the beginning of a longer journey of collaboration between Simo and Miniawy.
Lil Asaf -Lal Bazam
Throughout his body of work, Bashar ‘Lil Asaf’ Suleiman has played divine creator of the experimentally dark and the abrasively melancholic, most prolifically in the realm of trip-hop. Lal Bazam is a whole new beast, not just placing Lil Asaf left-field of Suleiman’s already existing musical eccentricities, but in a poetically grungy and richly dark fourth dimension. It’s not an easy EP to listen to, mind you. It demands undivided attention and even a kind of visceral engagement. Background music this ain’t.
Praed Orchestra! -Live In Sharjah
With a scope of ambition as large as its massive list of collaborating musicians, Live In Sharjah by Praed Orchestra! serves as a both a monument in celebration of Shaabi and Mouled, offering a glimpse into how far the two genres can be stretched, deconstructed and reassembled through the eyes and ear of an expansive lineup of accomplished artists and instrumentalists from a range of different disciplines.
Kid Fourteen -Love
Active in Beirut since 2010, Kid Fourteen is easily one of the region’s most forward-thinking artists, channelling a dark and intense sonic aesthetic that leans towards operatic synthwave, noise and avant-pop while tackling less-explored themes in MENA society such as masculinity, depression and sexuality. What started off as an exploration of the 12 phases of love as represented in classical Arabic literature soon developed into an exploration of the complexity of intimacy, a road less than often traveled by regional contemporaries.
Narcy - Love & Chaos (Space Time Vol. II)
An album miraculously put together over a five-week period during the pandemic (his home-schooled kids are sampled occasionally), Love & Chaos (Space Time Vol. II) champions the betterment of mankind as it flows effortlessly between West Coast rap sensibilities, North African samples and soulful, irreverent witticisms throughout. "They say keep your enemies close, I keep my enemies closer/All I need in this life of sin is my coffee and my nuts like a Lebanese grocer."
Asifeh - Makhazen Bukra
Makhazen Bukra - meaning ‘archives/storage spaces of tomorrow’ - is an 11-track sojourn that takes the listener into a continual feeling of being trapped or engulfed by an unforgiving, emotionally detached dystopia, surrounded by some sort of socially-destructive technological force. Through the use of broken inherently electronic sounds, Asifeh manages to create ingenious grooves that shouldn't technically work and, in those moments, his musicality finds its way through the gaps of the overall storytelling which dominates. Ultimately, it feels like a concept album first and foremost.
Liliane Chlela -Malign/Benign
For nearly a decade, Lebanese composer/producer, Liliane Chlela, has been subject to a deserved reverence in the Middle East, with a huge portfolio of projects under her belt: improvised live performances, DJ sets, movie scores, interactive installations, performance art, fashion shows and more, all simmering with a special knack for boundary-pushing sounds. Malign/Benign is a masterful four track experimental dance EP that never gets dull, never allows a passage in time to stagnate, before suddenly taking things up a notch or changing direction, all whilst keeping an infectious energy and flow throughout.
Natik Awayez -Manbarani
Though Manbarani only began formal composition around two years ago, the foundations for the album have been decades in the making, informed in part by years spent by Natik Awayez immersed in the musical culture on the Yemeni-Saudi border. The unique album also brings together a host the region’s best instrumentalists and musical talents for a contemporary take on Middle Eastern folk music, featuring such names as Maurice Louca, Tamer Abu Ghazaleh and Maryam Saleh, Aya Hemeda and Adham Zidane , Khaled Yassine and Ayman Asfor to name only a few.
From the get-go, reading the term ‘Farsi Grime’ for the first time definitely raised a few of our eyebrows, but after listening through Tardast’s Marwa, as well as a deeper dive into the artist’s discography, we feel like we’ve stumbled upon one what we consider 2020’s hidden gems; a futurist take on grime, quietly pushing the genre forward while rooted in an authentically lived experience. Whether it be via the brain-rattling drill beats, the space-age bounce, or cosmic synthesiser bleeps and techno-organic granular sampling, Marwa is filled with countless standout moments that constantly surprised even through repeated listens, and has quickly become one of our favourite releases of the year.
Bergsonist -Middle Ouest
Amidst a veritable barrage of albums and EP’s released this year, prolific artist Salwa Abd’s (aka Bergonist) full length Middle Ouest stands out as a monument to her achievements in 2020, succeeding in bringing politics back into techno while exploring themes of social activism and identity, neither abandoning all semblance of cultural identity nor leaning too far into secularism.
TootArd -Migrant Birds
The Golan Heights-born sibling duo of Hasan and Rami Nakhleh take listeners on a glamour-tinted night out in the Arab 80s with Migrant Birds. Full of infectious synth melodies and tap-your-feet-then-slowly-every-other-limb rhythms, alongside melancholic wanderlust, every track on Migrant Birds hits like a time-lost, confidently camp, low-key club banger from the Arab disco wave of yesteryear.
[The Arabian Fuzz]
French-American producer and founder of Al-Qasar, Thomas Attar Bellier, uses the phrase 'Arabian Fuzz' to describe the kindred spirit that he finds in the Middle Eastern psychedelic pop of the sixties and seventies. Alongside Paris-based percussionist, Amar Chaoui, Algerian artist, Mehdi Haddab, and Egyptian oud prodigy, Mohamed Abozekry, Bellier has created an upbeat, seven-track EP that doesn’t intellectually dissect its source of inspiration, but unabashedly celebrates and simply has fun with it.
Various Artists - SLOVVDK MIXTAPE II
Over the past two years, forward-thinking Cairo-based pop imprint, SLOVVDK, has steadily been putting out releases at a pace that puts more established labels to shame. Comprising 15 tracks, this effort is simultaneously both their longest release and their most diverse. SLOVVDK MIXTAPE II crosses over many musical territories, venturing into off-kilter electronica, pop experimentation, house, dance-hall, mahraganat, as well as many, many other genres in-between. It’s an overall vibrant, diverse and eclectic release that speaks of SLOVVDK’s unique positioning on the Middle Eastern music landscape.
Bab L'Bluz - Nayda!
[Real World Records]
The true artistry in Nayda! lies in it's deftness as much as its colour, its moments of subtlety as much as its moments of unbridled emotion. With frontwoman, Yousra Mansour, providing a sense of soul and sensuality across the length of the album, Nayda! glides quite elegantly through a unique cross-section of African and Arab influences, never losing sight of its identity, while delivering its messages stylishly and sophisticatedly.
Various Artists - Nisf Madeena
One of the most high-profile compilations to come out in support of Beirut, Arabic music platform Ma3azef’s Nisf Madeena features a stellar host of international and MENA-based musicians who need no introduction. Keep an ear out for selected tracks from ZULI, Deena Abdelwahed, Nicolás Jaar, FRKTL, Slikback, Fatima Al Qadiri, Thoom, Ismael and many others, excellently mastered by veteran sound engineer, Heba Kadry.
Bachar Mar Khalifé - On/Off
Stepping away from his contemporary reinterpretations of classic Middle Eastern works, composer and multi-instrumentalist, Bachar Mar Khalifé, looks inward on On/Off, resulting in a heartfelt and honest exploration that treads a line between genres, bounding between modern folk, electronica and avant-garde hip-hop, with his soulful lyrics anchoring the album in a geography and temporality indicative of his international travels. Themes of homesickness, depression, love, and longing all weave together to tell an innately personal tale, one that captured our attention from start to finish.
Abri and the Dreamfleet - Pieces
Instrumentally speaking, Pieces comes through with the level of cohesion expected from musicians of Abri and the Dreamfleet’s calibre; there’s hardly a single sound, one-shot, or vocal hook that feels out of place amidst airtight percussion, silky smooth synthesiser harmonies, groove-soaked bass riffs and infectiously catchy melodies. From smooth crooning, to heart wrenching falsettos, Abri’s vocal control is impeccable, and while it may seem like a hard sell to say that every track on Pieces has the making of a chart-topping summer hit, there is hardly a single chorus that doesn't beg to be sung along to on the the four-track album.
Various Artists - Pipeline
By-and-large, Kuwait’s local musicians very rarely have their voices heard beyond the borders of their own nation. Despite this, Kalibr+ has quietly simmered away in relative obscurity compared to many other regional collectives, releasing one highly polished after another, purely for the love of the craft. On Pipeline, the collective and label brings together it’s globe-spanning roster, who as well as musicians find themselves as full-time workers, nurses and parents, united under one banner, and unbound by expectations of fame or success. Leaping between genres with an authentic sense of joy and tangible feeling of release, Kalibr+’s Pipeline arrives as a powerful statement from a group of musicians who’ve long since earned their stripes, even if the world at large hasn’t noticed yet.
Thoom - PORK
On PORK, Thoom traces a line back through past entries in her discography, touching on drone, thunderous metallic percussion and vocals dripping with hardcore-punk angst, acting as both an apocalyptic vision of the future and an introspective trip through thoroughly uncharted territories for the Lebanese siren. Dusty guitars - courtesy of Chuck Clateman, who co-produced the entirety of PORK - meld with Thoom’s melancholic vocals like a somber soundtrack to a sci-fi western set on some futuristic frontier. A collaborative effort through and through, PORK is a triumphant release for Thoom, defiant of genre categorisation and cliched labels.
Drissi El-Abbassi - Rai Sidi Bel Abbes
Rai Sidi Bel Abbes arrives courtesy of Algerian Rai legend, Drissi El Abbassi, and covers the period between 1979 and 1989 through a selection of eight songs from the artist’s extensive discography. During this time period, El Abbassi’s music (and Rai in general) began undergoing major sonic shifts due to the arrival of new technology such as synthesisers, drum machines, and modern recording techniques. Nashazphone’s archival work in compiling this album is worthy of praise alongside the record, which gives a glimpse into the mind of one of Rai’s time-lost legends.
Rozzma - Khatar Sayeb
As an experimentally-inclined outlier amongst Egypt’s mahraganat/rap scene, it honestly comes as no surprise that Rozzma caught the ear of XL Recordings, ultimately signifying that international record labels have begun paying more attention to the growing pool of talent emerging from MENA. As the sole producer, vocalist and sound engineer across the length of Khatar Sayeb, Rozzma’s work displays the result of years of refining his craft, now emerging as a total package, completely in control of every minute detail of his work.
Various Artists - Ruptured Sessions: For Beirut
Compiled from the live sessions of Ziad Nawfal and Fadi Tabbal’s long-running radio program, Ruptures, on Radio Lebanon, Ruptured Sessions: For Beirut spans ten years of Lebanon's alternative music scene, gathering such essential acts as Kinematik Ensemble, Wanton Bishops, Youmna Saba and the Cosmic Analog Ensemble. With close ties to Tabbal's essential 'Beirut Musicians' Fund,' which has helped many of Beirut's musicians recoup losses from the August 4th explosion, Ruptured Record's final sessions compilation may just be one of the most important albums of the year.
Sandmoon - Put A Gun/Commotion
Despite finding sonic inspiration in a range of interconnected but eclectic sources, Put A Gun/Commotion falls seamlessly under one Sandmoon umbrella. The album is very much a reflection of a very specific time and place, the music inspired and impacted by the Lebanese crisis. Wading deeper, maybe unexpectedly, into distortion and manipulation in its portrayal of grief, the tracks on the album are tied together by frontwoman Sandra Arslanian, with her vocals able to paint pictures of angst and gusto, heartache and liberty in one fell swoop.
Nour Harkati - Sehi
Tunis’ Nour Harakti has spent much of his career on the go. It's no surprise then to feel this roaming, dreamy nature in his latest release, Sehi, an album that feels like it's been conjured up or to-be-listened-to whilst brooding out of the window of a 747, the lights dimming across national borders. Sonic textures picked up along his travels make their way into the soulful four track EP, and Harakti's grough yet fluid voice provides a fitting and, at times, contrasting partner to the beautiful, intricate and subtle productions.
47Soul - Semitics
[Cooking Vinyl Limited]
Love them or hate them, 47Soul has proven on their 2020 full length album that socially conscious music can also be catchy. Considering the album both lyrically and instrumentally, Semitic comes across as an explicit call for unity from marginalized voices across the globe, tackling such issues as travel restrictions, persecution by colonialist forces, and modern day apartheid. Bringing onboard a cast of international talents for some undeniably hard hitting verses, 47Soul hold no punches back while simultaneously skyrocketing to the top of the charts.
Sepehr - Shaytoon
One can tangibly feel the years of work that have gone into NYC-based San Franciscan/Persian artist Sepehr’s music, both in terms of his genre-breaking DJ sets, and staggering live performances. A veteran who's finally racking up accolades and recognition via his released works, including on legendary west-coast label Dark Entries, as well as launching his own label earlier this year, Sepehr seems poised to rise even further. Shaytoon presents an intimate and personal homage to Irani heritage and dance music, disguised beneath layers of gritty breakbeats and speaker-rattling techno. At the risk of stating the already obvious, as far as club-focused electronic music is concerned, Sepehr is next.
Hadi Zeidan - Sketches
Hadi Zeidan has spent much of his musical career championing the music and culture of his native Lebanon through a unique brand of Arabic disco-infused and belly dance-inspired electronic music. However, there’s an argument to be made about his signature use of Lebanese and Arab elements often masking other facets of Zeidan’s dexterity as a producer. There’s an intangible consistency that isn’t owed to Zeidan’s exploration of his cultural heritage or a clear conceptual theme as heard on his previous albums. Sketches is arguably the most significant sum of the artist’s musical parts, which inform the album, but package it as something fresh and new.
Guedra Guedra - Son Of Sun
[On the Corner Records]
As a maker of music, Abdellah M. Hassak treads a fine line between sound artist, producer and DJ. Indeed, the past couple years have seen Hassak's work performed alongside theatrical productions, films and sound-art installations. On his debut release as Guedra Guedra, Son of Sun, genres seem to melt away and keen listeners will hear the influence of house, Juke, Baile-Funk and even a little bit of trap across the six-track EP’s brief runtime. However, what emerges from the combination of these influences is a cacophonic frenzy unique to Guedra Guedra alone. By design, this project seems focused on raising the energy of whatever space it is played in, and with tracks like 'Black Wax', such a task seems effortless.
Tagne - Moroccan Dream
Tagne’s Moroccan Dream is a particularly impressive feat considering the incredible talents it brings together in what can be considered a monument in celebration of the Moroccan rap scene’s meteoric rise of late. Featuring appearances from a veritable dream team of North African rappers that includes Mula.B, Snor, Stormy, Khtek, Kouzi, A.L.A, and Draganov; Moroccan Dream is a truly collaborative effort that positions Tagne as a spearhead of this musical machine..
Zazier - Targeted Individual
With a deep-web-inspired audiovisual aesthetic that centers heavily around themes of transhumanism, biohacking, artificial intelligence and the inevitability of a mass-surveillanced technocratic dystopia, each of Zazier’s projects come across like a statement on the vulnerabilities of our exceedingly technology-obsessed global society. A soldier on the frontlines in the “war for the soul of humanity,” Zazier transmits his grim message with a tight interplay between sound and sight, as seen in the extensive, unsettling visualiser for Targeted Individual, produced by Zazier himself alongside a talented list of friends and collaborators including Leo, Jae Morgan and Slater-Sama.
Various Artists - The Flood
Despite gathering such a wide range of musical talents across 14 incredibly genre-varied tracks, Mediteranos' The Flood displays a consistent narrative structure throughout. The album ebbs and flows, constantly shifting the album into new sonic waters as it progresses, with clearly defined moments of both intense cacophony and somber reflection punctuating it’s over one-hour-plus running time. Taking the title at face value, The Flood invokes biblically-inspired themes of wrath, destruction - and ultimately - an aspiration towards regrowth and renewal. While these themes certainly are present it is important to note that (as with the biblical story of Noah) The Flood is not the end of a story, but rather a catalyst for much more to come in its wake.
3Phaz - Three Phase
While the name 3Phaz might sound fairly new to some, the artist is by no means a novice - the Egyptian producer simply chooses to devote an entirely new alias to his shaabi-influenced work, to salvage himself from claims of bandwagoning and to let it enjoy an organic, unbiased growth. The great thing about this album is that it doesn’t shy away from the excitement of its newly found sound; it doesn’t claim sophistication, but rather settles for the unadulterated enjoyment of its hard hitting beats for nearly its entirety.
Taxi 404 - Vortex404
[The Bad Curator]
First turning heads at a 2017 poetry night, Beirut-based Taxi 404’s debut project, Vortex-404, showcases a much richer sound that goes beyond the boundaries of hip-hop and pop.The French-language band have cited a wide range of influences that include everything from French-Caribbean music to American post-punk. The four-track EP combines elements from jazz, blues and R&B and uses a vocal style that incorporates elements of spoken word poetry, similar to bands like Tank and the Bangas, albeit on a decidedly more chill soundscape.
Disco Samir - When There is Nothing to Hear You Start Hearing Things
Previously producing under the moniker Day None, Lebanese producer, Samir Ghobril, spent years honing his chops in the underground electronic scene of Beirut. Formed amidst quarantine, When There Is Nothing To Hear You Start Hearing Things, the debut EP of his new moniker Disco Samir, Ghobril finds inspiration in isolation, tackling a wealth of deeply resonant themes including anxiety, self-doubt, navigating the dynamics of polygamy, and the harsh reality of the capitalist world we live in.
Rojin Sharafi -Zangaar
Built upon a series of poems, Vienna-based Rojin Sharafi’s Zangaar finds a rather human footing amongst unending layers of distorted electronics. While Sharafi’s voice comes through like the overlord AI of some future, techno-dystopia society, the album remains rooted in an innately human conceptualisation and rigorously refines workflow that borrows elements from noise, musique concrete, folk, as well as countless other genres without losing it’s unique identity.
Haykal -Hobbi Mish Kaafi
Hailed as one of the new faces of the Palestinian rap scene, Haykal is easily one of the most proficient wordsmiths to emerge from the region in recent years. Leaning closer to a poet than a rapper in any conventional sense of the word, Haykal’s mid-2020 EP Hobbi Mish Kaafi (My Love Isn’t Enough) saw the Palestinian artist slow down his blistering flow, spitting deeply personal verse after verse over expansive, spacey productions that mark the closest a MENA rapper has gotten to channelling the smoked-out, hazy aesthetic of cloud rap. Despite only being a few years into his career, Haykal already stands tall as one of the best emerging rap talents to emerge from the region in a long time.
Azu Tiwaline -Magnetic Service E.P
Under a new name, and with a goal of reconnecting with her Tunisian roots, Azu Tiwaline burst onto the global music scene with a blistering take on dub and bass music, innately fused with the traditional polyrhythms of her North African home. Rarely ever do we see such an arrival met with such universal praise, and considering the immensity of her breakthrough EP Magnetic Service on essential Bristolian imprint Livity Sound, this seems like only the beginning for Azu Tiwaline. Across many, many, repeat listens, we were mesmerized from start to finish.