This collection of original fresh talent from across the Arab world is selected exclusively from artists entering World Music Network’s ‘Battle of the Bands’ competition. From the driving grooves of Algerian jazz-head Anis Benhallak to the instrumental oud and violin delights of Al Andalus Ensemble, check out the latest sounds of the Arabic speaking world.
It is true some legends of Arabic music have permeated the international music market: Oum Kalsoum’s powerful voice is respected the world over and Rachid Taha’s modern raï is the soundtrack to the American blockbuster Black Hawk Down. There are many reasons the artists on this album haven’t reached quite the same zenith and it’s certainly not down to a lack of musical talent. The Arab World encompasses twenty-two countries stretching across the Middle East and North Africa. The musical output of such a vast area is huge and much of the music included here is intended for local consumption, created by unsigned artists, or presents new sounds created from mashing together fresh cultural combinations – an approach that doesn’t attract the mighty machinations of the mainstream music industry. World Music Network, an independent record label for over twenty-five years, champions music that has risen up from the streets. This compilation is our selection of rare finds and choice cuts from the Arab musical world and its diaspora.
Time to get down to business and take a look at the track list: Algerian-born French-living jazz-head Anis Benhallak opens the album with ‘S’ayda’. Silken yet strong vocals sung in Arabic are offset against a plucky bass and riding rhythm. Next we hotfoot it over to Israel, from where Limor Oved hails. Channelling her paternal Syrian and maternal Libyan heritage, her Hebrew-sung track ‘Blessed For Making Me A Woman’ calls for the protection of women’s rights in the Jewish world. Haunting track ‘Ya Mo’ is given to us by Jordan-based group Dozan. Founded by vocalist Shireen Abu-Kader, Dozan’s shimmering sound is influenced by Sufi mysticism and spirituality.
‘Afghano’ is an instrumental delight from Al Andalus Ensemble, a husband and wife team featuring Tarik and Julia Banzi. Al-Andalus was a medieval Islamic cultural domain that stretched across Spain and Portugal. In the ululating oud and impassioned violin lines you can hear distinctive musical references to this great ancient Islamic world. ‘Mijwiz’ is a hard and heavy anthem by the Arabic Rock Orchestra (also known as Khalas), a band who cite influences as wide as System Of A Down to vintage Arab Druze singer Asmahan. ‘Ilm’ is a pensive reflection on the intersection of flamenco, Indian and Arabic music by England-based Jadid Ensemble. Chaabi-groove renegades Groupe Mazagan blast straight out of the contemporary Mahgreb scene with their Moroccan street vibes on ‘Abdelilah’. ‘Zornery’ is by Daramad, an Australian-Persian band whose signature sound is a tapestry of woodwind and string interwoven with passages of improvisational intrigue. Next up is the gnawa-infused afro-jazz of Gabacho Maroconnection, an eight-strong French-Spanish line-up featuring saxes, ngoni, bass, drums, layered vocals and Moroccan percussion. ‘Sandika’ is a bassy up-tempo number from gnawa groover Simo Lagnawi. Simo melds his Berber origins with a gnawa feel and includes an ahwash chant and sub-Saharan lute style. ‘Hems’ by Hijaz opens with a hushed flurry of whispering voices decorated with a delicately pirouetting piano. Soon flute, bass and drums join and tumble the track into a stylish jazz melange. The Faran Ensemble bring proceedings to a close: a meditative oud scintillates in the extended intro before pacing daf and urgent kamancheh join. Faran Ensemble are a trio of Israeli musicians but play music that belongs to the ancient traditions of the east.