'Fedwat Oyounak': Why Ahlam’s new album is made for the age of streaming

The Emirati singer returns with the first of two albums planned to be released this year

Ahlam has returned with her biggest album to date.

After teasing fans last week by posting snippets of new songs, the Emirati singer (full name Ahlam Al Shamsi) finally released her much-anticipated album on Monday on streaming platform Deezer.

Titled Fedwat Oyounak – Part 1, the album is the first of two planned instalments, each comprising 13 songs, with the follow-up set to be released later in February.

Such is the feast of music on offer that UAE fans caused Ahlam to trend on Twitter after the first album was unveiled, using the hashtag #Ahlam2021.

Some of that attention is also down to the minor controversy surrounding the album cover image, which features the singer donning an elegant gold-coloured dress and wearing a reported $1 million of diamonds courtesy of Lebanese atelier Nsouli Jewellery.

Where, at times, Ahlam’s fashion choices are meant to provoke, on this occasion it is more in line with the album’s theme.

Fedwat Oyounak – Part 1 is an album steeped in nostalgia and matters of the heart, with songs reflecting on love and longing.

Backed by an A-list cast of producers and songwriters, Ahlam's latest opus reaffirms why she is one of the biggest names in Khaleeji pop.

Here are three things you need to know about the release.

1. Royal connections

Ahlam worked with some of the most popular lyricists in Khaleeji music, many of which are poets are from Saudi Arabia's royal family. That esteemed list of collaborators includes Prince Khalid bin Faisal and Prince Badr bin Abdul Mohsin.

2. Varied sounds

It has been reported that the 26 songs that made the final cut for both albums were chosen from 40 recorded songs.

With so much material to choose from, it is only right that Ahlam provides listeners with various musical styles.

The album's title track is an elegant number that begins with a luscious orchestral arrangement before settling into a sturdy mid-tempo groove.

Hazeen really doubles down on the percussion and is a fine showcase of the syncopated rhythms that define Khaleeji pop. The radio-friendly Daftar wa Memhah, meanwhile, benefits from added female backing vocals.

Weaving all of those styles together are Ahlam’s vocals. More than her smoky tone, what elevates her above many of her colleagues remains her phrasing, which is always on point.

3. An album for the streaming era

Is releasing 26 new songs in the space of a few weeks too much of a good thing?

While fans will certainly dig into the material, it poses the question of whether Fedwat Oyounak – Part 1 and the next release part two will be judged as too unwieldy.

Then again, perhaps Ahlam is no longer thinking about the album format in the traditional sense.

Where regional peers continue to release records with the usual 10 to 14 tracks, it appears that Ahlam is taking inspiration from what’s happening abroad.

With streaming now being the name of the game, Ahlam is following the popular music trend – particularly favoured by US hip-hop artists – of populating streaming sites with as much content as possible.

This would make Fedwat Oyounak Part 1 one of the first major albums by an Arab pop star released with streaming domination in mind.

While it remains to be seen whether other regional acts will follow her lead, fans of Khaleeji pop still have a lot to enjoy here.