Best Tracks of 2014
from the Middle East & North Africa

Cairokee ft. Abd El Basset Hamouda
“Ghareeb Fe Belad Ghreeba”

One of the most acclaimed rock outfits in Egypt meets folklore master Abd El Basset Hamouda, as if two distant worlds touched for a moment. Not without disonanse, but to an intriguing result.

The track comes off Cairo quintet’s third full-length album, “El Sekka Shemal”. It’s their most succesful to date, and also features guest appearances from Algerian singer Souad Massi and Jordan’s famous Zap Tharwat.

Cairokee on www, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter.

Dina El Wedidi feat. Mazaher

Even though she’s still considered a “rising” artist, the 28-year old singer-songwriter Dina El Wedidi (دينا الوديدي‎) has already made her name as one of the most fascinating voices in the Arabic scene. “Dawayer” (دواير), meaning “Circles”, is one of many songs showing that she deserves the applause.

Her new album “Turning Back” was recorded in Cairo, but mixed in Oslo. Combining modern, avant-garde and traditional music – and instruments like kawala, arghoul, lyra and bouzouki with electric bass, guitars, accordion and drums – she presents a thoroughly unique style promising even more to come.

Dina El Wedidi on www, YouTube, Soundcloud, Twitter, Facebook.

“Safha Gedeeda”

Cairo collective Eskenderella (إسكندريلا) has won substantial acclaim over the last 15 years with their re-interpretations of the region’s traditions – both musical (Sayed Darwish, Sheikh Imam) and poetic (Salah Jahine, Salah Fouad Haddad, Zein El-Abedine Fouad).

Featured on Eskenderella’s new album of the same title, “Safha Gedeeda” (صفحة جديدة), meaning “A New Page”, was composed by the band’s frontman Hazem Shaheen, and it’s as much a tribute to his inspirations as a demonstration of his storytelling talent.

Eskenderella on www, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter.

Imed Alibi
“Pour quelques dinars de plus”

In the magnificent opening track from his new album, “Safar”, Tunisian percussionist Imed Alibi (ex-Boukakes) re-imagines Ennio Morricone’s classic theme from the movie “For A Few Dollars More”.

Growing steadily with the pounding beat, and blending sounds from both sides of the Mediterranean, “Pour quelques dinars de plus” makes you wish somebody re-created Sergio Leone’s movie as well. The soundtrack is right there.

Imed Alibi on www, Twitter, Facebook.

Maii and Zeid
“Kalam El Leil”

“I wanted to give an impression of freedom and emancipation. I also wanted wanted a sound that was at the same time big, emotional, and raw and simple. Because this depicts my encounter with Maii”, Zeid Hamdan told us about “Kalam El Leil” (“Words of the Night”).

It’s one of the brightest results of the Lebanese indie scene legend’s collaboration with Alexandrian singer-songwriter Maii Waleed. “In the video, I’m searching for Maii in front of the screen of my laptop,” Zeid explained. “But Maii wanders freely in the streets of Alexandria, and no one can catch her.”

Maii and Zeid on Facebook. Zeid on SoundcloudTwitterFacebook. Maii on Twitter.

Mayssa Karaa
“White Rabbit”

Born and raised in Beirut, Mayssa Karaa moved to America almost ten years ago due to the armed conflict in her home country, but she took her childhood fascinations with her.

The 25-year old singer is currently working on her debut solo album. In the meantime, she recorded an Arabic version of the 1967 classic “White Rabbit” originally by The Jefferson Airplane for the movie “American Hustle”. And it might be the film’s highlight.

Mayssa Karaa on www, Soundcloud, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter.

Mounir Troudi ft. Phenix
“Trop Tard”

For his new single, “Trop Tard”, Tunisian world/jazz/sufi singer Mounir Troudi (منير الطرودي), invited rapper Phenix, once again showing that the distance between music styles and epochs is just a myth.

Phenix jumps in into the mix the exact moment you might start feeling too comfortable with the song. What doesn’t change is the nostalgic if bitter atmosphere of the track.

Mounir Troudi on Soundcloud, Facebook.

“Where The Wild Ones”

For the last two years Postcards have been steadily growing as a band and bulding audience both in Lebanon and abroad. The latest single from Julia Sabra, Marwan Tohme, Rany Bechara and Pascal Semerdjian makes waiting for their full-length debut even more difficult.

“Where the Wild Ones” might be the Beirut quartet’s best yet example of their enjoyable yet elegant indie-folk. Led by Julia’s velvety voice, it’s as suitable for home listening as for festival stages.

Postcards on Soundcloud, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook.

Rim Banna
“Break Your Fears”

Many newcomers can only wish to sound as young and airy as Rim Banna (ريم بنّا), an acclaimed Palestinian singer-songwriter with an impressive back catalogue that’s also a testimony to her musical wisdom.

Together with several other artists featured in this list, she recently appeared on “Songs from a Stolen Spring”, a compilation of “protest and peace songs performed by pairings of Western musicians with their contemporaries from the countries where the Arab Spring took place”. But on “Break Your Fears” (أكسر خوفك) she sings alone.

Rim Banna on www, Soundcloud, Twitter, Facebook.

Ruba Shamshoum

“Fuqaati” (My Bubble) is the first ever video from Ruba Shamshoum (ربى شمشوم), a young Palestine singer-songwriter born and raised in Nazareth, who later moved to Dublin to study music.

Written and sung by Ruba, the track was recorded with a great help of the multi-instrumentalists brothers Rami and Hasan Nakhleh, but it also features Okab Mughrabi playing oud. Hopefully, their collaboration goes further on.

Ruba Shamshoum on Soundcloud, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter.

Shahin Najafi

“Sha’aban is not a real person but is a live reality in Iran and the world,” Shahin Najafi explained when we asked about this track released at the end of 2013. “We just have to look at the poverty statistics and – especially in Iran – to review the workers’ situation. This song is a description of workers’ poverty.”

Singer and poet, Shahin Najafi was forced to flee to Germany about ten years ago (at the age of 24) after Iran’s authorities apparently grew angry with his socially and politically loaded lyrics. But even from abroad he continues his controversial commentary.

Shahin Najafi on Soundcloud, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube.

Share3 El Sukkar
“Kan Fi”

This half-whispered, tenderly arranged song is a great example of the brittle acoustic music performed by Share3 El Sukkar (Sugar Street), Jordanian duo of Raz Abu Askar and Hosam Omran.

While more lo-fi than anything they did recently, “Kan Fi” shows that perfect orchestration is something you can achieve as much by adding layers as by subtracting them.

Share3 El Sukkar on Soundcloud, Twitter, Facebook.

Tania Saleh
“Shababeek Beirut”

Few releases have stirred up the Arabic scene in the last years as much as Tania Saleh’s fourth solo album. “A Few Images” is the Lebanese singer’s gift to Arab women. And “Shababeek Beirut” (شبابيك بيروت), meaning “Beirut Windows”, is one of the record’s many highlights.

It’s also a perfect example of the global music mixture typical of the 21st century. Bringing together musicians from Beirut and Oslo, Tania employed modern and traditional instruments, and was as much inspired by Arabic music as by Brazil’s.

Tania Saleh on www, Soundcloud, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube.

The Narcicyst <BR>“Batal”

The Narcicyst

Born in Iraq, currently based in Montreal, Canada, Yassin “The Narcicyst” Alsalman is an all encompassing rapper, producer, actor, and performer consistently blending his Eastern roots with Western influences.

“Batal” is the longest track off his recent EP, “Nargisee”. An incarnation of his inner cultural mix, and a beautiful musical confession of where his soul belongs.

♪♫ Listen here

The Narcicyst on www, Bandcamp, Soundcloud, Facebook, Twitter.

Yasmine Hamdan

“The scene was shot in a beautiful ‘ancient’ café in the old Moroccan city of Tanger,” Lebanese singer Yasmine Hamdan told us just a few weeks before she became an Oscar nominee for this song.

Appearing in Jim Jarmush’s recent film, “Only Lovers Left Alive”, Yasmine is responsible for one of the most memorable scenes in the movie. “The only indication Jim Jarmush gave me,” Yasmine said, “was to be myself”.

Yasmine Hamdan on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, www.

Youmna Saba
“Madd w Jazr”

One of the characteristics of the Lebanese singer-songwriter Youmna Saba’s music is that silence only makes its effect bigger. And there’s lot of silence on her magnificent new EP, “Njoum”.

Bringing traditional, expertimental, and contemporary influences together, Youmna escapes any categories. What’s more, you’ll also find it difficult to decide what kind of emotions her music evokes. The best way to describe songs like “Madd w Jazr” is, simply, not to do it.

Youmna Saba on Soundcloud, Facebook, Twitter, WordPress.

Zaed Naes

Based in Amman, the capital of Jordan, Zaed Naes (زائد ناقص) consistently avoids any kind of pigeonholing by blending inspirations as diverse as the modern indie/electronic/trip-hop/EDM package on the one hand, and soulful vintage styles on the other.

With Arab music somewhere behind all those influences, the trio’s cosmopolitanism finds a great incarnation in their recent song, aptly titled “Shattiet” (شتيت), which could be translated as “Miscellaneous”.

Zaed Naes on www, Soundcloud, YouTube, Facebook and beehype.

Ana Tijoux & Shadia Mansour
“Somos Sur”

Latin America meets Middle East in this striking collaboration of two of both regions’ sharpest tongues – internationally acclaimed Chilean rapper Ana Tijoux and her British-Palestinian counterpart, Shadia Mansour (شادية منصور‎).

“Somos Sur” (We Are South) not only shows how South American and Mideast rhythms are alike, but also reveals similar dreams of living in liberty and dignity for citizens of both regions.

Shadia Mansour on Facebook, Twitter, MySpace.