Review: Saint Levant fulfils his promise with brooding and nostalgic new album Deira

The eclectic album, a follow up to From Gaza With Love, is a celebration of the part-Palestinian singer's cultural roots

Saint Levant is back with new album Deira. Getty Images
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Sometimes, things get so serious that you just need to talk about it.

Where previous EP From Gaza, With Love had Saint Levant waxing lyrical about his torrid love affairs through stately Middle Eastern melodies, the follow-up release has the continuing war in Gaza as the centre of his ruminations.

Deira has the US-based singer, formerly raised in Gaza by a French-Algerian mother and Palestinian-Serbian father, reflecting on his career rise while his home city is destroyed.

Defiance, hope and some guilt pervade these peppy and hypnotic songs - sung in English, Arabic and French - that also serves as celebration of his eclectic roots.

That sense of longing begins with the opening track On This Land beginning with snippets of Mawtini, the patriotic hymn by Lebanese composer Mohammed Flyafel and considered Palestine's unofficial anthem. The track then transitions to steady percolating electro beat as Saint Levant, almost in spoken word format, raps in Arabic about the disconnection he feels every day.

The production sets the mood for the proceeding 20 minutes: the sleek and throbbing beats have elements of French house music, while the flourishes of accordion and the flutter of the oud speak to Algerian Rai and folk songs of Palestine.

The swagger of Forgive Me, with a marauding beat punctuated by handclaps, betrays the vulnerability Saint Levant feels at his success. While proud to represent Palestine on big stages such as the Coachella festival earlier this year, he doesn't want it to be at the price of forgetting his home.

Saint Levant’s plea to his mother for forgiveness could also be addressed to Gaza as a whole – it is a promise to never forget where he came from

Galbi, produced by Algeria Abdellah Messous, is a beautiful fusion of francophone and Arabic pop with its yearning violin and faded synths. Meaning heart, it is ultimately about exile and the importance of memory.

The brooding 5am in Paris continues that theme as Saint Levant boasts of "his friends in the East and West," yet he still “doesn’t feel like home”.

While feeling emotionally disjointed, it is the sounds he is able to coax from his producers that show he is comfortable on the international stage.

Deira defies easy categorisation. It has pop appeal courtesy of its abundant hooks, while songs like 5am in Paris and Ghalbi retain a sophistication and a sense of adventurism owing to world music.

It is towards the end of the brisk release where the regional influences come to the fore.

The invigorating Allah Yehmiki is essentially a turbocharged North African Arabic folk track that comes with a stylish English verse by US RnB singer Kehlani.

The latter recently showed her support for Palestinians with the arresting music video Next 2 U. While the lead single is Deira's title track, released earlier this month, rides on an evocative sea of violins in this affectionate ode to Palestinian culture and heritage.

The addition of teenage rapper MC Abdul, who made headlines detailing Gaza’s plight through hard-hitting songs, gives the affair extra pathos as he details the resilience of Palestinian youth living under constant bombardment.

Affecting and ebullient, Deira finds Saint Levant fulfilling his promise as an important Arab artist to watch.

Updated: June 07, 2024, 2:02 PM