The Cairo-based Dina El Wedidi has been a force to be reckoned with in the Arabic indie folk and jazz scenes for well over a decade. No stranger to exploring ethnically varied rhythmic and harmonic ideas, fusing them with RnB, jazz, and pop musical styles, Dina’s work mostly adheres to a rich Egyptian sound that often incorporates ouds, qanouns, and her powerful talyeel (a style of vocalizing in middle eastern music), and being a singer first and foremost, descriptive and relatable lyrics are a mainstay of her music.
El Wedidi’s latest EP, a short project of five songs, is aptly named Five Seasons. On the album we find her go through three distinctive chapters, one of gratitude, a second of longing, and a third for blame, all the while utilizing the help of some of the region’s most celebrated artists - such as Ousso, Wael El Sayed, and Rami Atallah - in crafting textured songs where the instrumental tapestry is as engaging as the lyrical one. The density Dina brings to the table has always made her music an acquired taste for some, but her arrangement skills on Five Seasons are on an all time high. The album readily features complicated rhythmic ideas and intricate instrumental passages, and successfully weaves them into accessible songs.
On the starter track ElMagd, El Wedidi takes it upon herself to mention all those who work but never receive the thanks they deserve, despite all they do, not waiting for anything in front.
"المجد للي بيقدروا رغم المواجع يفضلوا جامدين لو حتى جوة القلب بينقط حنين"
The singing on ElMagd is chill and accessible, even on the parts where Dina unleashes some acrobatics, and the start-stop, Khaleeji-inspired beats, and the interjecting instrumentals between verses, whether they be synths, or qanouns are all nicely mixed and warm sounding. Because of El Wedidi’s healthy, long list, the song ends up feeling a little long winded and slightly uneventful, despite the heartwarming lyrics and the instrumental breaks.
El Wedidi follows up with a one-two move of songs about longing for people who’ve left their countries to seek better opportunities elsewhere, singing from two different perspectives. Washwesh Elwadaa starts with a forlorn, overdriven guitar, followed by El Wedidi’s melancholic lyrics, and her strange rhythmic phrasing of the words. The rhythms of the song are the most straightforward on the album, and along with the lyrics, sung from the perspective of the one left behind, they inject a sense of melancholy that will surely resonate with ones who’ve had partners, friends, or siblings leave the country. The sparse instrumental and harmonic structure of the song helps in adding to its wistfulness.
The atmospheres are contrasted on the next cut, Metgharbeen. Sung from the perspective of the expats, the titular “metgharbeen” themselves. The song’s upbeat Nubian rhythms and melodic style, along with the distinctive group vocals create a sense of community and solidarity, which is what a lot of expats seek; communities of similar individuals to make their difficult lives more bearable, and that’s a sensation that Dina conveys quite well on the cheerful Metgharbeen. The intricate Nubian rhythm creates a sense of playful complexity that never gets in the way, as it remains simplistic at its core, and the melodic motifs are sweet and jangly throughout.
The final chapter is another one-two move of songs about romances going sour. The first cut is the jazzy and nuanced Balaleen.
"انا مليت كلامك ليا مليت من غيرتك عليا مليت من خوفك و خوفي بس هو سؤال، ليه كل دة؟"
With a core based around Rami Atallah’s intricate jazz piano, and a complex rhythmic arrangement that mirrors the vocal phrasing, Balaleen is the EP’s most complicated piece of music. But the roomy sounding mix of the drums and the piano, and El Wedidi’s heartfelt and brilliant lyrical storytelling help it stay far from off putting. The song’s stellar performances reward attention to detail, especially with the drums, courtesy of the talented Mostafa El Kerdani.
In the Closer, a piece of chic, ballroom jazz, Dina is unleashing a charismatic interrogation of a friend who stopped being there for her. On Tab Eh, she launches one loaded question after the other until she realizes the problem is that she was willing to be “everyone but who she is” for that person. An eloquent line for the last piece of lyrics on the EP. Musically, Tab Eh’s descending chord progression adds drama and depth to the composition, and the arrangement, which features eerie pads on top of pristine jazz piano, is multi-faceted and engaging. Even if Tab Eh never feels momentous enough to be the album closer, it still is a song that delves into the jazzy style started with the previous track, so it doesn’t break the pace, but a switch of the two last songs would have given the album a more definitive and memorable end.
By now, Dina El Wedidi’s impressive body of work speaks for her. Years of releases, collaborations, and wholesome presence in the industry make every new release of her worth checking. Whether her new work hits or misses its mark is a subjective thing, but the depth, definition, and quality her material brings to the table is distinctive enough to carry her signature. You can easily point at Five Seasons and call it one of El Wedidi’s more refined collections of songs.