Various Artists - Yalla – Hitlist Egypt






Words by Lexy Morvaridi

Released in 1990, Yalla – Hitlist Egypt is a compilation of modern music coming out of Egypt at that time. Split onto two sides ‘Al Jeel (the generation)’ and ‘Shaabi (peoples), this record focuses on two demographics producing contemporary music within Egypt. ‘Al Jeel’ is the modernised youth who fuse Bedouin, Nubian and Egyptian rhythms with folklore themes and electronic beats. The result is the Arabic synth-pop that would have been the sound of Cairo’s nightlife in the late 80s. ‘Shaabi’ is the older generation’s traditional folk of the working class that originates from the country. On this record, the songs are given a contemporary twist, a product of urbanization. The music became politicized as traditionalists rejected it from the start – forcing the music underground into the clubs of Cairo. The different feel to each side opens up an interesting dialogue between the contemporary and the traditional.

Opening track, ‘Ei Yaani’, is textured with drums and hand claps, layered with synth lines and decorated with Amr Diab’s soaring Arabic melodies. Later, Mohammed Moneer’s ‘Sif Safaa’ opens with a fresh jazz funk bass and guitar riff opening up a whole new realm of much needed pelvic ostentations. There is an interesting mix of Bedouin percussion, brass samples, synth lines, electronic beats and traditional instrumentation throughout this side that combine to create a beat-driven collection of pop songs that will get you on your feet as they once did with Cairo’s youth.

Side two takes a strange yet interesting turn with opening track ‘Elli Shatr Enhaa Tgannen’, by Sami Ali & Sahar Hamdy, sounding like a twisted acid-house folk song. Trust me – you have to hear it. You will either love its madness or be stumped by its ludicracy. Either way, I guarantee you will be satisfied. Throughout this side you can hear the calling of the elder generation in the vocals themselves, as the urban sound of the city is combined with the folk instrumentation and storytelling of country life. A fusion that binds two generations.

The record is an eclectic arrangement of songs that portray a vibrant idea of the colourful nightlife of Cairo in the 80s. The liner notes give us an idea of the rich importance this music had for a whole generation of Egyptians (not to mention its full of Arabic floorfillers):

“The music that came from this new spirit was a faster more optimistic sound, with rhythm, beat and drive that better fitted city life. And it is a new spirit, not surprisingly, the old guardians of culture resist and reject; after all it’s their power and authority that is vested in keeping things as they were. For them it is a threat. They won’t play any of it on the radio, and discuss it with contempt in the press. It is a beat they say that can never touch the inner rhythm of Egyptian spirit. But like it or not, the youth, the children of the 60s baby boom, have other ideas, and have been taking matters into their own hands…”

Trampled by Turtles - Palomino






Words by Sarah Meadow

Palomino is the fifth album by American bluegrass band Trampled by Turtles, and my favourite album to share with people that are completely unfamiliar with the contemporary bluegrass genre.

The album radiates a certain sadness and loneliness characteristic of a musical style that was born out of life in early Appalachia – life that was often long, difficult and lonely. This feeling of melancholy is more sophisticated and less obvious than that of bluegrass’ more popular cousin, country music. Palomino invokes a certain nostalgia for a world long gone, while remaining relatable with simplistically sad lyrics. This coupling of an old-world sound and relatable lyrics reminds us that modern technology cannot save us from loneliness and heartache. The line "All of us lonely, and it ain’t a sin to want something better than the shape you're in" is as relatable now as it would have been seventy years ago.

The intensity of the lead single and first song on the album, ‘Wait So Long’, is a shock to those only distantly familiar with bluegrass as a genre; the song is fast-paced and full of duelling stringed instruments – a contrast to the sad lyrics about complicated love and a broken down Winnebago in Winnemucca. ‘Bloodshot Eyes’ is completely the opposite in tempo, yet even sadder. While the lyrics in the song are "Lie on the earth, for better or worse, and let it swallow you whole", one could just as easily replace the word ‘it’ with ‘David Simonett’s voice’ because the song, in fact the whole album, has an enveloping quality, like being wrapped in fuzzy blanket, drinking hot tea on a rainy day.

Palomino is wonderful because it shows us the beauty in melancholy. Even the happiest of people can get a strange enjoyment out of allowing themselves to be sad. So go find a gloomy, rainy-streaked window and a mug of steaming tea, turn up the bluegrass and feel all the feels.

Smog - A River Ain't Too Much to Love








Words by Luna Silva

There are albums that, for no apparent reason and simultaneously for so many reasons, you find yourself playing and replaying, again and again.  I live off music, I create music, I study music, actively seeking out sounds that are unfamiliar to me, but some albums are purely functional. Like an aspirin, A River Ain't Too Much to Love can hit that spot and dissolve it. 

The beauty in these "functional albums" is that they are completely subjective, it might not tick your boxes. Then again it just might. 

Smog, or Bill Callahan, has one of those voices, like Johnny Cash or Nick Cave, which root you to the ground after just one syllable. He accompanies himself with a guitar and little else. Instead, the acoustic guitar is left to resound. Smog lets you hear the silence in between the sounds. My only criticism would be that the entire album keeps in the same energy, but perhaps that is also one of its strengths. Sand takes time to settle, and in our caffeinated, hurried lives perhaps we need an entire album to feel the ground again. The song 'Rock Bottom Riser' is a beautiful rendition of the things that we are attracted to and that sink us. These "gold rings" of the mirk can fool us when they are, in fact, only the reflection of the sun in the water (I'll let you think about that one). There's enough poetry in his lyrics to keep you pondering for many nights.

Ten years after its first release A River Ain't Too Much to Love still strikes the listener with its dark irony, creativity and poignancy. 

Don't have time: Listen to 'Palimpsest'.

When to listen: After a long day's work, or after a conflict, night time preferably.

Where: At home with proper speakers.

Edip Akbayram - Edip Akbayram







Words by Lexy Morvaridi

Edip Akbayram’s self-titled debut album is the perfect introduction to Anatolian Rock. Released in 1974, it’s an eclectic collection of singles released between 1971 and 1973 that showcases a melting pot of Turkish culture at a time of great experimentation. After the emergence of 1960s bands such as the The Rolling Stones et al, Turkish musicians were inspired to fuse traditional rural folk music with rock, creating a psychedelic mix of cathartic vocals and rhythmic jams.

Akbayram’s vocals echo across each track as he picks his way through century old rural Sufi poetry, surrounding the melodies in fuzzy, driven basslines and incendiary electric bağlama. The first track on the record ‘Ince Ince Bar Kar Yağar’ opens with a funky wah-wah guitar before throwing you into a trippy groove with the Turkish zurna taking the lead. It’s this mix of traditional  with contemporary that creates a tapestry of psychedelic rock songs fit for a good trip.

Each song is led by rolling bass that drives songs such as ‘Dağlar Dağladı Beni’, which, combined with the textual lead guitar, and Edip’s reverb-heavy, poetic Turkish vocals, creates a distinct sound. The arrangement of each track is rhythmically charged, littered with stops and changes to throw you off your guard with chunky riffs and fills.

I discovered this album in a record shop in Istanbul and I am glad I trusted in the excitement of a blind buy; the sticker on the front persuaded me to trust my instinct. I think that what it said sums up this record better than I ever can: ‘Enjoy the first fuzzy album by way-out Turkish psych singer Edip. A combination of powerful riffage and haunting Anatolian traditions’. Don’t let this gem slip you by.

Alif - Aynama-Rtama

Artist: Alif      

Album: Aynama-Rtama

Label (Year): Nawa Recordings (2015)

For Fans of: Tinarewen, Gnawa Diffusion, Doudou N’Diaye Rose



Words by Lexy Morvaridi

Alif is a collective of musicians pushing the sound of contemporary independent music in the Arab world. Their name derives from the first letter of the Arabic alphabet, setting the precedent for an album that firmly places the listener in a world of innovative Arabic instrumentation.

Combining the traditional with the contemporary, Aynama-Rtama (translated as Wherever It Falls) is rhythmically charged through the electronic artistry of Maurice Louca, layering each track with interesting beats and synth lines that play off of Khaled Yassine’s percussion. The beautiful sounds of Khyam Allami’s oud decorate each track, while Tamar Abu Ghazaleh’s vocals bring life to his lyrics and modern Arabic poetry, evoking touching emotion with each and every melody.

The reverse loop on ‘Dars Min Kama Sutra’ (‘Lesson from Kama Sutra’) adds a psychedelic element to the track, while the combination of the oud and buzuq instruments and a synthesiser on ‘Al-Juththa’ (‘The Corpse’), create an ambience that is both chilling and chilled. The spacey synth sounds that are layered over the traditional instrumentation on ‘Al-Khutba Al-Akhira’ (‘The Last Declamation’) showcase the polyrhythmic talents of each musician, demonstrating their distinct sound.

Released on Nawa Recordings, the individual artists’ solo projects are also well worth a listen. By successfully weaving literacy and music, traditional and contemporary, Alif deliver an intriguing and varied take on Middle Eastern music.