Paris-based producer and composer, Hadi Zeidan, has spent much of his musical career championing the music and culture of his native Lebanon, doing so to global acclaim. His unique brand of Arabic disco-infused and bellydance-inspired electronic music has been a hit with western audiences, as well as a newer generation of Arab music lovers who are keen to explore traditions of Arab music through contemporary sounds.
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.
If we look at his bigger releases, 2018’s Taksim Analog was a rich, nostalgic and organic record that waded in-and-out of psychedelic bellydance sounds and taksim, all the while dripping in analog synthesisers. In March of this year, Zeidan took one small step away from his Arab inspirations and one giant leap into sci-fi-inspired 80s synth with Cosmic Anatomy of Synthesizers.
His latest release, Sketches, doesn’t just find a spot between those two sounds, but finds the spot, then moves left of it. You can still hear obvious Arab sounds – particularly in the aptly named ‘Bellydance Vogue’ – but they’re utilised quite differently.
In the opening track, ‘Ballad Theories’, the synths don’t shape the texture of the music, but are weaved in. Even then, the first synths are intermittent, unrecognisable as anything Arab or Lebanese, before the main melody appears. The track is largely driven by bass, which is the case for track two, ‘Bellydance Vogue’, though here, the bellydance influence is much more in keeping with the style that Hamdan has made his trademark.
In the following track, ‘Sundays in Paris’, things take a turn for more western disco, with Haimdan moving away from any form of bellydance, taksim or retro-wedding sound and into one swathed in a much more lush and slow use of synths.
‘Maqina’ (machine in Portuguese and Spanish) takes those lush sounds and pushes them into a much more deliberate, repetitious styling of synth and electro-pop, while ‘Resonance in C Major’ boasts a slow-burning deep-house beat that let’s an almost ambient drone sound lead the LP’s most atmospheric track.
Several elements from the prior tracks then come together for the penultimate entry, ‘Tabla Breaks’, which does what it says on the tin, utilising table to give depth to a rather funky dance-floor track.
The LP fades out with a bang – if ever there were such a thing – thanks to a meditative, drone-heavy number. ‘Distant Times’ is a far cry from the warmth of retro Arab disco, but is a dense piece of experimentation that, more than any other track on the album, shows Zeidan’s left-field inclinations.
It’s a fitting ending to an LP that words might suggest is scattered – however, it’s anything but. There’s an intangible consistency that isn’t owed to Zeidan’s exploration of his cultural heritage like in Taksim Analog or a clear theme like in Cosmic Anatomy of Synthesizers. Based on Zeidan’s body of work, 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.
Check out Zeidan's episode of SceneNoise's Cream of the Crate series, which sees him delve into his record collection and pick out his favourite and most meaninful ten.
Photo: Anne-Lise Franjou