Best Tracks of 2018
from Middle East & North Africa

Albaitil Ashwai

Jordan. Self-styled “Neo-Sufism” from Jordanian group Albaitil Ashwai (which means Random House) combines local inspirations with rock arrangements, and the results is both unpredictable and pleasurable.

Amman-based collective represent the generation of Jordanian artists who keep their eyes and ears open for global influences, but retain a close relationship to their regional tradition.

Released on the Mostakell Records, their debut album “Nuun” (ن) blends anything from psychedelia to indie rock to heavy metal to reggae, with Arabic themes and rhythms as its recurring theme.

Albaitil Ashwai on Facebook, Soundcloud.

Ammar 808 feat. Mehdi Nassouli “Boganga & Sandia”

Tunisia. Ammar 808 is a still-new but already widely recognized project of Tunisian DJ and producer Sofyann Ben Youssef.

This acclaim has been well-deserved – just check out his 9-track solo debut album “Maghreb United“, released in June via the irreplaceable label Glitterbeat Records. It draws heavily from music of the region, but has excited listeners far outside of it.

For his first LP, Ammar 808 invited three singers: Sofiane Saidi from Algeria, Cheb Hassen Tej from his homeland Tunisia, and Mehdi Nassouli from Morocco. The latter one features in this incredibly hypnotic track that should encourage you to hear the whole thing.

Ammar 808 on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, www.

Asia Madani
“Al Zoul”

Sudan. Let the mesmerizing rhythms and melodies of Sudanese folklore guide your imagination – and your body.

Having lived in Cairo for almost two decades now, Asia Madani is as much a Sudanese singer and percussionist as an Egyptian one. But her roots become clear the moment you play any of her songs. And she just gave us 8 new ones on her new album, “Al Zoul”.

Or maybe we should rather write “their new album”, as Asia is always in the company of friends with both regional and global instruments in their hands – and supporting her vocally in her emotional, ardent chants.

Asia Madani on Facebook, Instagram, www.


Jordan. The most recent album from Autostrad (اوتوستراد) is still their 2017 album called “Turathy“, but in 2018 they released two videos from that effort.

Orkod 3al Gym” came out early in January and has already collected over million spins from the band’s fans. Half a year later, they came back with “Mgat3ni” which deserves at least as many plays.

And even in these two tracks, you can feel how this experienced (founded in 2007!) band keeps looking for new opportunities to expand their sound, and we’re really hoping to get more evidence of that this year.

Autostrad on FacebookTwitter, Instagram, Spotify.


Syria/Lebanon. Acclaimed musicians from Syria and Lebanon join forces to rediscover their common “dabkeh” tradition.

With Wael Kodeih as the artistic director and supported by UNHCR, the musical project Dabaka unites forward-thinking musicians from Syria and Lebanon. Beside Kodeih, it’s Samer Saem el Daher (from Hello Psychaleppo), Khaled Omran (from Tanjaret Daghet) and Wassim Bou Malham, Wael Kodeih.

The name of the project comes from dabke dance, an Arab folk dance that’s characteristic for the whole region of Levant. And you can hear this past-present dialogue in every of their new tracks, which combine electronic music with traditional rhythms amd melodies.

Dabaka on Soundcloud.

Deena Abdelwahed

Tunisia. The experimental producer Deena Abdelwahed was born in Tunisia, but currently works in France. She finally released her debut effort “Khonnar” in November, but those few weeks were enough for us to fall in love with this beautifully weird album.

During its 45-minute, Abdelwahed explores various shades (though usually dark) of electronica, which she combines with Tunisian influences – packing it up together in repetitive and mesmerizing structures.

Abdelwahed’s first album was released by the French label InFiné Records. While you should check it out in its entirety, we’ll let the 4-minute track “Tawa” offer you a proper invitation to the remaining 40 minutes.

Deena Abdelwahed on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram.

Dina El Wedidi

Egypt. Dina El Wedidi’s new solo album “Slumber” is a half-hour trip through noises from trains and stations, as well as electronic textures, chants, rhythms, and all kinds of emotions.

“It is also a short dream I have between two worlds. Occurring between the conscious – the train – and the unconscious – the dream,” she said.

While the album is her most experimental work yet not really including any kind of “singles”, the two closing tracks – “Alive” and “The Moon” – demonstrate her incredible songwriting and singing talents.

Dina El Wedidi on FacebookTwitterInstagramwww.

Dirty Backseat
“Cassette Tapes”

Egypt. A long-awaited debut EP from Cairo’s punk-ish duo Dirty Backseat finally surfaced in 2018, and “GooBad” was absolutely rather good than bad.

Composed of Mo Hani (voice, guitars, bass, keyboards) and Noha Amin (voice, guitars, keys) in its core, this project admits to be inspired by “post-punk & lo-fi synth-pop music that was common back in the late 70s & early 80s”, but you’d know if from the first seconds.

“Cassette Tapes” is a great introduction with its lo-fi (cassette?) sound and punk-ish attitude. Oh, and they’re busy people as they already have a new video in 2019.

Dirty Backseat on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram.

El Far3i
“Fil Atmeh”

Jordan/Palestine. Saying that Tareq Abu Kwaik is a versatile musician is not enough even when you consider the music he releases under the nickname El Far3i alone.

In this startling project, he can evolve from an otherwordly singer-songwriter to passionate rapper in just a few minutes – or surprise everyone and release a toned-down album like 2017’s “El Rajol El Khashabi”.

Recently, you could come across El Far3i’s many incarnations if you followed his recent tracks, with e.g. “Choubi Rap” representing the hip-hop side, and “Fil Atmeh” the sober (and mysterious) singer. Feel free to pick your favourite.

El Far3i on SoundcloudFacebookTwitter.

Emel Mathlouthi

Tunisia. Watch this video. We’re quite sure you’d find her new single stunning even without understanding what it’s about. Surely you’ll love it for the main theme, with all its delicacy and drama, and power that comes in the middle of the song when a single vocal line becomes a choir. Behind it, there’s a minimal, contemplative, perfect production to accompany her airy aria.

Behind the song and the video come the title “Kaddesh”, meaning “How many”. How many – houses destroyed, children massacred, how many broken hearts and ideas lost. How many people who died, and how many who lied. And we all know the answer – it’s always too many – though it sounds so comfortably numb.

Emel Mathlouthi on FacebookTwitterSoundcloud.

“Law Fina Khai”

Jordan. Alternative pop duo Garaseen make bedroom sound like a philharmonic on their self-titled debut EP.

Based in Amman, the capital of Jordan, the duo of Mohammad Idreesi and Nairuz Ajlouni started making music in 2015 and over the last three years, they’ve gained lots of live experience, collected material for their self-titled debut EP, and changed name from Les Garçons to Garaseen.

They call their music, simply, “electro-pop”, but the moment you hear any of their debut you’ll see there’s much more width and depth behind each of their songs than any single term would suggest. And not just musically – books and films apparently have an equal impact on their works.

Garaseen on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Soundcloud.

Haya Zaatry & Ottor

Palestine. It’s the second time in a row that Haya Zaatry appears in our yearly lists. Last time, you might have heard her in a beautiful track “Majarra”, recorded with Kevork Estephanian.

In another mini-masterpiece called “Baladi” (بلدي), her band Ottor now also includes Tamer Omari on bass, Nizar Matar on keyboard and Haya Zaatry on guitar and backing vocals.

Together they can sounds both like an intimate acoustic band – and like a psych-orchestra. Just wait for the last minute.

Haya Zaatry on Facebook, Instagram. Ottor on Facebook, Instagram, Soundcloud.


Tunisia. A welcomed return from the Tunis-born, Brussels-based singer-songwriter.

His new LP “Winrah Marah” came after long five years, but largely continues the style of its predecessor. Comprised of ten acoustic songs, the album is anything but flashy. Rather, its strength lies in the thick, immersive atmosphere that gradually envelops the listener.

Despite the warm and gentle sound, there is certain rawness to Jawhar’s music, which occasionally can turn quite dark and dramatic.

Jawhar on Soundcloud, Facebook, YouTube, Bandcamp, Twitter, www.

“Segment & the Line”

Syria. Wild imagination and confronting oneself.

KÁRYYN is a producer, composer, and vocalist who makes mysterious, affecting and emotional electronic music. “Segment & The Line” muses on impermanence and the reality of facing the consequences of our actions. Truly extraordinary, it’s like an expression of the subconscious. Progressing through what you can’t see – the movement of your mind.

This space music and slow-motion sounds reflect her Syrian and Armenian roots. Einstein believed there is no true division between past and future, there is rather a single existence. Consequently, although born in America, she has strong ties with the Middle East. Her art shows influences from both cultures that exist within her.

KÁRYYN on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, www.

“Youm Ma Shoftek”

Jordan. In mid-2018, a new Amman-based duo Mada (مدى) released a surprising and diverse album called “Bokra Ahla“, which had the sound of modern club but the atmosphere of Jordan’s deserted landscapes.

And that’s exactly what Rae’d Massad and Khaled Nwairan aim for, which is trying to put Jordanian electronic music into the pan-Arabic and global context – they quote Moderat, deadmau5, Boards of Canada and Four Tet among their inspirations.

It’s just the start of their career, so their music will probably get even more rich and refined with the following releases.

Mada on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram.

Majed Alesa

Saudi Arabia. Another impressive video from Majed Alesa (ماجد العيسى), one of the region’s most versatile and unpredictable artists.

This versatile artist has already tought us to expect the most unexpected from him. His recent piece “Eidayn” (عيدين) continues this great tradition, demanding multiple plays to properly embrace the whole concept.

The song itself is just 3 minutes long, and the lyrics are based on just a few enigmatic lines about society (and most probably politics). But the video is intense and unpredictable, with a couple of amazing sceneries and lead actors.

Majed Alesa on Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, Soundcloud.

Nadah El Shazly

Egypt. Experimental singer-songwriter Nadah El Shazly (ندى الشاذلي) is one of Cairo’s most intriguing young artists, who debuted at the end of 2017 with a completely unpredictable album called “Ahwar”.

The last of six tracks included on that record was “Mahmiya”, which means “Protectorate”. In June, half a year after we heard the audio, Nadah revived this trembling song with a painted-animated video by Marwan Elgamal. All that she sings in those 6 minutes is:

“There was a protectorate / Youthful sleep / Bullets of silk / In your absence / My ribcage expands / Protected”.

Nadah El Shazly on FacebookTwitterSoundcloudBandcamp.


Jordan. You might have heard about Amman-based singer-songwriter Nur (نور) when she released the video “Khaleek” in late 2017. A few months later, she came back with a new, even more dramatic – and we dare say even more beautifiul – song called “Mray”.

Based on piano and Nur’s vocals, the track grows over its 3 minutes up to a semi-symphonic final. And the lyrics suit the drama: “Where are you getting away from me / You’re breaking my heart”.

Over the recent months, Nur relased several new songs, each with a slightly different taste, and you can check them out on her Soundcloud.

Nur on Facebook, Instagram.

Sara Boy
“onlyonlviii versaiii”

United Arab Emirates. Probably one of the most soulful new voices in the entire Gulf scene, around the half of the year the singer and songwriter Sara Boy gave us a mellow R&B release just perfect for the (then) upcoming summer.

It seems Sara Boy is one of those contemporary artists whose origin is “global”. She has been raised somewhere in South-East Asia, we heard, but currently, she calls Dubai her home. Yet you wouldn’t guess any of that just from her music.

Sara Boy still seems like someone looking for her own place also in music, but maybe that’s one of those artists who never settle – and that’s actually good news for us.

Sara Boy on Soundcloud, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook.

Trio Abozekrys
“Don’t Replace Me by a Machine”

Egypt. Cairo-born brothers Abdallah and Mohamed Abozekry – playing on saz and oud respectively – were destined to collaborate officially at some point. And last year we finally heard them together, along with the French drummer Nicolas Thé.

Their album called “Don’t Replace Me by a Machine“, could be analysed and dismantled into its sources and influences – Egypt, Turkey, Iraq, contemporary jazz… at least you can try it. But it’s much better to just sit down and enjoy this sometime feverish, sometime touching, always captivating effort.

Let’s hope we’ll keep seeing the name Abozekry appear in plural.

Mohamed Abozekry on Facebook, www. Abdallah Abozekry on Facebook, Soundcloud.


Tunisia. There is one problem music critics love to have actually, and that is when picking the best song from an album could only be done by drawing lots. And that’s the case of Ÿuma’s latest relase “Poussière d’étoiles”.

This young Tunisian female-male duo of Sabrine Jenhani and Ramy Zoghlemi already appeared in our 2017 list with the song “Hleli”, which also appears on the new LP. But there’s 12 other reasons for their comeback this year.

If you like intimate but powerful acoustic folk, don’t stop at “Ankou” and check out Ÿuma’s new album in its entirety.

Ÿuma on FacebookTwitterInstagram.


Egypt. What we could possibly add to the official (?) description of this impossible track:

“Nari” reportedly features four MCs (Abyusif, Mado $am, Abanob, and R-Rhyme), but you wouldn’t guess it: ZULI’s sliced, warped and recombined their disembodied contributions into a wondrously abstract tapestry of manipulated vocalisation, draped around a devastating beat and resulting in something that sounds a bit like an ’04 grime banger heard through a busted shortwave radio.”

And now you can stream ZULI’s new LP “Terminal” on Bandcamp.

Zuli on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Soundcloud.