We all know that music transcends languages and can truly be considered the universal thread. A particular genre that most take for granted on the Western side of things is Rock. Regardless of how you cut it, from its harder form to the likes of alternative and indie, it awakens different aspects for an artist and listener. In the world of Arabic music, I’ve stumbled across many great electronic artists, as well as revolutionary electronic-pop acts, but rarely have I found indie-rock acts. The incredible Yasmine Hamdan is considered a pioneer in the Middle East due to her indie-electro ensemble that formed in 1997, Soap Kills— whose name comes from a Zeid Hamdan song that “referred to the reconstruction of Beirut after the Lebanese Civil War,” — and will always be held high in my book (and Hamdan is a true rock musician on stage), but very indietronica.
Due to many reasons, rock wasn’t always welcomed in the Arab world and it wasn’t until 2000 where “major rock bands” were finally formed. It allowed political venting to come to light, new ideals to be contemplated, Western progressions to be implemented, and a new sound to be appreciated. While the majority comes from Jordan, whose population is mostly comprised of a younger audience, the want for rock music is stronger than ever, noting alternative rock booming in Beirut, allowing a cathartic release. You don’t need to know any local dialect, or Arabic, to appreciate each sentiment these artists have and the continuous influence they have on all music lovers. Here’s a somewhat updated list on who you should listen to (aside from Soapkills), and newer artists on the scene. Some are in English.
Jadal “Malyoun مليون”
Formed by Mahmoud Radaideh in 2003 Amman, Jordan, Jadal is considered one of the first Arabic rock bands in the area. Jadal fuses traditional styling of Arabic music, noting some stances with certain “coding” in Radaideh’s vocal delivery, but with a heavy dosage of distorted guitars, and at times, a grunge approach through drumming. The track featured, “Malyoun,” highlights their tempo switches, the alternative-grunge embedded in their rhythm section, and pleasant melody.
El Far3i “Bein Kol El Nas”
Palestinian-Jordanian musician, El Far3i, possess many indie-folk qualities that fall between the subgenre of rock, but his passionate vocals and provoking lyrics speak to the essential roots of rock. Melodic and conceptual, El Far3i’s tracks are usually accompanied by an acoustic guitar but this wasn’t his first musings. He is known for his hip-hop and rap tracks, as well as his involvement with electronic act 47Soul, El Morabba3, and previously drummed for Sign Of Thyme. El Far3i’s deep and emotive strums are usually bare as his tone carries the story. Very influential as he meshes genres, always holding onto his gritty rasp. El Far3i means coming from a branch which is a symbol of growth and reaching outwards to the world by feeding from the roots.
Mashrou’ Leila “Roman”
Indie-rock band from Beirut, Mashrou’ Leila, is a refreshing dosage of sounds and concepts. Sparking many controversies for their lyrics revolving around politics, sex, and “failed love,” Mashrou’ Leila relies on modern electronics, violin strings, and harder progressions at times, for a riveting collection. Their latest single “Roman” touches on the band’s vocal harmonies, playful synths, heavy bass lines, and frontman Hamed Sinno’s distinct tone that carries a vast amount of ranges.
Ayloul “Shoghol Shareef شغل شريف”
Jordanian band, Ayloul, formed in Irbid in September of 2013, and took its name from the “Syriac word for September.” Stated that understood the “effectiveness of music to communicate ideas,” their first single touched on political impacts in Jordan and can be heard within the members delivery. “Shoghol Shareef” is slightly upbeat, but circles around post-progression and lush compositions. Multiple tempo switches, incredible vocal ranges, and vast soundscapes make this one of the most enjoyable tracks to reflect beneath the sun’s rays. Ra’ed Al-Tabari’s emotionally charged vocals wrap the rapid drumming and gentle chimes in comfort.
Postcards is one of the first “dream-pop” acts I’ve stumbled across based in Beirut that I needed to include, and also all in English. They contain a very atmospheric and relaxed state of mind that is led by Julia Sabra’s dreamy vocals. The trio is drenched in melodic soundscapes and breathtaking expansion that drifts from track to track. Their discography holds variants of indie-folk, as well as shoegaze and noise rock.
Luay Hijazen “La tkhafi لؤي حجازين – لا تخافي”
Hailing from Amman, Jordan, Luay Hijazen is a producer, songwriter, and keyboardist that leans towards electronic-rock, but also has soft indie tracks, such as “Sebeni Bhami,” which is an encapsulating ballad. “La tkhafi” is a middle ground for Hijazen’s soft keys, and textured production, that grows in a climatic stir by the break, followed by a crunchy guitar solo that gives the track a fuller and rich sound. Oriental musings play towards the end, tying the track and Hijazen’s construction beautifully together.
Safar “Wa Namshi و نمشي”
Beirut trio, Mayssa Jallad (lead vox), Elie Abdelnour (guitar), and Fadi Tabbal (guitar, synth, beats), deliver a poppier side to rock while incorporating a very cinematic structure in their music. Jallad’s vocals slither between synths and electronic beats, swaying to Abdelnour’s chords. The trio’s chemistry is very well received and their innovative cover of M.I.A.’s “Paper Planes” made me appreciate them more. Due to their roots also being in New York and North Carolina, majority of tracks are in English.
Akher Zapheer “Cacharel اخر زفير – كاشاريل”
Akher Zapheer is considered a Jordanian “grunge punk” ensemble, who formed in 2007. Taking a break from 2013-2016, the band reemerged with a different rotation of members, ready to release new music to follow-up, what seems to be their only album, ‘Converse Culture.” The track “Cacharel” is one of their best to appreciate the band’s romantic, and goth approach, very reminiscent of early 2000s in Western Music. Keys are potent, beautiful, and grace frontman Basem Sayej’s vocals. Melding deep bass riffs with alternative-rock progression, this track is an overall favorite. The track also takes an interesting break, pulling cues from a jazz stance and accompanied by soft, female vocals, before bursting with scuzz.
All female, Beirut-based band, Iklil, is everything one needs to appreciate heavy reverb, funk, and experimentation. Marru El Charif (lead vox, keyboards), Joy Zahar (guitar, vox), Lea Haddad (bass, vox), and April Centrone (drums, vox) harness an incredible amount of energy into fast paced, and commercially pleasing tracks, bursting with addictive hooks. El Charif’s vocals are blues-rock inspired and possesses an incredible amount of control, holding back when needed, to gently harmonizing with the rest of the band.
Khebez Dawle “Belsharea’ خبز دولة | بالشارع”
What started as a one man project in Syria, has led to a full ensemble in Beirut. Khebez Dawle is definitely a heavier progression of post and alternative rock with dramatic breaks and explosive verses. The track featured, “Belsharea” allows the band’s versatilty to be seen, noting somber and slow melodies, building up to their signature crunch. One of their more tender tracks, “Belsharea” is overall a beautiful composition and one of the best from their self-titled album. The band is currently on hiatus, as frontman and founder, Anas Maghrebi announced his upcoming solo EP, noting personal experiences to be heard and 5 English tracks featured.
Cover photo: Iklil, courtesy of Facebook