Best Tracks of 2017
from Middle East & North Africa

#Lekhfa
“Ekaa Maksour”

Egypt/Palestine. One of the most remarkable new music initiatives not only in the region, #Lekhfa is a stunning collaboration between three acclaimed musicians: Maryam Saleh, Maurice Louca and Tamer Abu Ghazaleh.

In its entirety, the project’s album is a magnificent combination of instruments, influences and voices, something like a sound labyrinth that’s dangerous but worth getting into.

The song “Ekaa Maksour”, third on the tracklist, might be the most beautiful and intense piece on this record, but it’s just one of its many highlights.

Maryam Saleh on Facebook, Twitter. Maurice Louca on Facebook, Twitter. Tamer Abu Ghazaleh on Facebook, Twitter.

Autostrad
“(ردي شعراتك (فرقة العكسي”

Jordan. “A lot has happened in Jordan during the last decade music-wise. A lot of bands formed, different genres, different ideas, many talented musicians and this is a very good thing for the music scene in Jordan and the Arab world in general,” they told us in an interview a while back.

Fortunately, after more than 10 years of playing together – and knowing each other twice that long – Autostrad remain a permanent and incredibly reliable part of Jordanese scene. Their long-awaited new album “تراثي (التوسع الى الداخل)” demonstrates that.

While you might start exploring this most recent material with this powerful single, be sure to spend the next hour with the whole work.

Autostrad on Facebook, Twitter.

Aya Metwalli
“Lugere”

Egypt. Aya Metwalli appeared in our Best Of 2016 together with the acclaimed Jordanian trio Za’ed Na’es, and in the Best of 2015 with her wonderful track “Triangle”.

Released in the summer last year, “Lugere” is one of her more abstract tracks, one which might leave you completely hypnotized after its five minutes – although it might seem it’s been at least a quarter.

With its erroneous beat and wistful vocals drowned in heavy echoes, it’s certainly one of the most immersive songs of 2017.

Aya Metwalli on Facebook, Twitter, Soundcloud.

Bisher
“Ela Al Qare”

Jordan. 2017 has been a bit of a fresh start for Bisher (بشر), as the Jordanian singer-songwriter launched his solo career.

Based on a poem by the famous Palestinian author Mahmoud Darweesh, “Ela Al Qare” (إلى القارئ) was the first of a number of tracks we have got from Bisher over the last year.

A dramatic and very well-produced composition led by catchy vocals, it’s got several sound layers and is a great invitation to follow Bisher’s further works.

Bisher on Soundcloud, Facebook, Twitter.

El Far3i
“Fitna”

Jordan. When it comes to Tareq Abu Kwaik, it’s hard to categorise or impose a certain genre on what he performs. Often times he’s a rapper, others a jazzist (former member of Zaman Al Zaatar), sometimes a drummer or even a rocker.

On his new album “El Rajol El Khashabi”, El Far3i’s spoken words floating over his chords strumming an acoustic guitar. It’s apparent that Tareq has toned down his rapping skills in exchange of melodic vocal articulation.

With “El Rajol El Khashabi”, it’s safe to say El-Far3i is paving the way for a new wave of performers to take his lead and recreate a rejuvenating sound in the Middle Eastern independent scene.

El Far3i on Soundcloud, Facebook, Twitter.

Emel Mathlouthi
“Thamlaton”

Tunisia. We often find ourselves wordless when trying to describe Emel Mathlouthi’s music. At the same time, saying “beautiful” would be quite enough, even ith her mesmerizing explorations take us through many different traditions, times and emotions.

“Thamlaton” is a perfect example of this approach. An immensive 5-minute trance, its structure is a bit like a novel: with a soft introduction, a build-up in the middle, and a powerful if disturbing culmination.

A risky, unforgettable experience.

Emel Mathlouthi on Facebook, Twitter, Soundcloud.

Gohary
“High”

Egypt / United Arab Emirates. A great song accompanied by an impressive video directed by Ahmad Samara – here’s one of the most impressive pieces you could come across in the region last year.

In “High”, Gohary – an Egyptian artist born, rised and currently living in UAE – demonstrates the rare talent of combining Arabic lyrics and general flavour of the song with its universal appeal.

Gohary on Facebook, Twitter, Soundcloud.

Haya Zaatry & Kevork Estephanian “Majarra”

Palestine. Haya Zaatry on ukulele and vocals, Kevork Estephanian on percussion and background vocals, playing and singing live together – and that’s how we get this little 3-minute masterpiece of acoustic songwriting.

This duo also known as Ottor is indeed one of the bands you would love to meet in a small bar evening. Meanwhile, enjoy “not the biggest story nor the smallest one / just another tale in this galaxy.

Ottor on Facebook.

Kabreet
“Sakran”

Yemen / Germany. Kabreet is a Berlin-based Yemeni-German duo of Ibi Ibrahim and Hanno Stecher, who combine Arabic lyrics and traditional Middle Eastern patterns with modern sound.

Last year brought their new 8-track album called “Bidayat“, a pleasant yet intriguing listen. “Sakran” is a great example of their dichotomic approach, and – simply – a beautiful song.

Sakran on Bandcamp, Facebook, Instagram.

Maii and Zeid
“Firan tagarob”

Egypt/Lebanon. On their new EP called “Ehdefni”, singer Maii Waleed (Egypt) and producer Zeid Hamdan make more than ever of their indie-electro-pop textures and lyrics that oscillate seamlessly from playful to melancholic.

The EP, combined with the frequency of their production and performances together, suggests that Maii and Zeid are finding their musical sweet spot together – one that is made up of dreamy, ethereal, songwriting, good vibes, and just enough wit.

“Firan tagarob” is just one of their short album’s many highlights.

Maii and Zeid on Facebook, Spotify, Soundcloud.

Majid Bekkas Trio
“Why”

Morocco. Multi-instrumentist, singer and band leader Majid Bekkas has been known for his colourful compositions and vivid performances – just like in this live recording of his trio.

Playing on the three-string guembri (or sintir), he is accompanied by Simo el Babarti on soprano sax and Amine el Bliha on percussions.

A 7-minute trance, this composition maintains a perfect balance between traditional music and jazz.

Majid Bekkas on Facebook.

Muzdawaj
“Ali Bali”

Jordan. Progressive house meets Arabic music in this captivating single from Jordanian producer and writer Muzdawaj.

The Amman-based producer and singer creates a fresh, full-fledged sound, catchy vocal lines with eerie reverbs, and an irresistible groove in the background.

The song will make you regret it ends just after 5 minutes.

Muzdawaj on Facebook, Soundcloud.

Nadah El Shazly
“Afqid Adh-Dhakira”

Egypt. Experimenting with her voice, electronic music and Arabic inspirations, Cairo’s Nadah El Shazly celebrates unpredictability on her debut album, “Ahwar”.

“Ahwar” (“Marshlands”) brings just 6 tracks, but none of them ends the way it has started, none of them follows a path you could predict, and altogether they offer you an experience worth an album twice this long.

While it’s difficult to pick just one highlight off this release, you might start with “Afqid Adh-Dhakira” (أفقد الذاكرة), which means “I Lose Memory”.

Nadah El Shazly on Facebook, TwitterSoundcloud, Bandcamp.

Out Of Nations
“Sellem”

Egypt / World. Formed by Egyptian-Mexican-American (an out of nations on her own!) artist Lety El Naggar during her travels between NYC, Cairo & Berlin, Out Of Nations take a fresh spin on the term “World Music”.

Joined by some of Cairo’s best underground musicians, and none other than folkloric veteran vocalist Dina El Wedidi, along came “Sellem”: an eclectic modern take on an Egyptian classic and the debut single of the collective’s first album.

Out Of Nations on Soundcloud, Facebook, Instagram, www.

Ruba Shamshoum
“In the Depth”

Palestine. One of the most talented young singer-songwriters from the Middle East, in 2017 Ruba Shamshoum (ربى شمشوم) finally released her long-awaited debut album, “Shamat”.

“Shamat” combines not only music inspirations, but also languages – with lyrics in Arabic and English – which might completely change the reception of her music. Ruba signaled that with two singles off this album.

The first one was charming ballad “In the Depth” sung in Arabic.

Ruba Shamshoum on Facebook, Twitter, Soundcloud.

Toot Ard
“Laissez Passer”

Syria. The sextet Toot Ard (توت أرض) made their much-over-due come back earlier last year with a 6-track album titled “Laissez Passer“.

It’s a travel document issued by governments or organisations to stateless individuals for humanitarian reasons such as restoring family links.

Throughout the album, Toot Ard continue to lyrically express themselves through their mountain village environment by describing the “off the grid” primitive life before the industrial revolution.

Toot Ard on Facebook.

Tuqa McAwi
“كان ممكن”

Egypt. Tuqa McAwi is a half of the wonderful Alexandra-based duo Aqsa Alwasat (أقصى الوسط), who have been crossing the line between Arabic and global music for a few years now.

This solo song of hers might be the most mellow track on this list, but also one of the most beautiful. It makes you wait for the chorus every time Tuqa starts to half-sing, half-whisper the verses.

Give this track a few listens and you’ll fall in love in the ambient-y beauty of these four precious, unhurried minutes.

Tuqa McAwi on Soundcloud, Facebook.

Youssra El Hawary
“Bas Kollo Yehoon”

Egypt. Six years after her first Soundcloud uploads, we finally heard Youssra El Hawary’s debut album “No’oum Nasyeen” (نقوم ناسيين).

Over its 11 tracks, it changes at least twice as many times and you should let Youssra take you on this kaleidoscopic experience at least several times.

Whether listening closely to fully appreciate this global mixture of inspirations and instruments, or simply dancing along the rhythms and melodies of her accordion.

Youssra El Hawary on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, www.

Ÿuma
“Hleli”

Tunisia. Tunisian female-male duo Ÿuma make the best of acoustic folk and blues filtered through their local inspirations.

Formed just around three years, a young duo of Sabrine Jenhani and Ramy Zoghlemi has quickly developed their very own combination of the best folk rock traditions and local inspirations and Arabic lyrics.

In March 2017, just one year after their debut, Ÿuma gave us an EP called “Ghbar Njoum“. It included five tracks, including what might be their most impressive song yet named “Hleli” (هلالي).

Ÿuma on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram.

Zone+ & Usif
“Argishty”

Bahrain. Released in the very last week of 2017 on the Mexican label Talavera Records, “Argishty” is a new single from the Bahraini electronic duo Zone+ & Usif, composed of Zeyad Mohsen and Yousif Sanad.

It is more than clear that both producers share the affinity towards moody, reverb-rich soundscapes and this over 8-minute piece is a perfect example of that.

Samples of Arabic chant and acoustic instruments make it the whole track a rich, versatile experience.

Zone+ & Usif on Soundcloud, Facebook.