There is a strong contingent of innovative and eclectic female artists that are part of the regional indie scene. With genres ranging from electro and jazz to roots and folks, here are five acts you need to sample.
No history of the Arabic indie scene can be written without highlighting the major contribution made by Hamdan. The Lebanese singer made her mark as the frontwoman of the ground-breaking electro rock duo The Soap Kills before moving on to other projects including electronic music duo Yas and an acclaimed solo career. Before settling in Paris, Hamdan lived in Abu Dhabi, Beirut and Athens – an experience she incorporated in her work through the playful use of various dialects. Earlier this year, she released her second solo album Al Jamilat (The Beautiful Girls).
The Algerian artist's music is informed by a deep love for American country and roots. After studying the guitar in her teens, Massi joined the Algerian rock band Atakor in the early 90's. The politically charged songs, as well the growing notoriety, meant Massi received so many death threats that she relocated to Paris. It was in the French capital that she started a solo career with her superb 2001 debut album Raoui, a collection of folk songs sung in French and Arabic. Massi hasn't looked back since and released six albums and headlined Dubai's inaugural Arabic indie music festival, Wasla, in January.
The Tunisian singer's work is an alluring mix of ethereal and firebrand. Bored by the whimsical songs she was writing at college, Mathlouthi dived into political subject matter. Her 2011 protest songs Ya Tounes Ye Meskina (Poor Tunisia) and Kelmti Horra (My Word is Free) were banned from Tunisian radio and subsequently adopted by protesters. Her debut album, also titled Kelmti Horra, added a tasteful dose of trip-hop to her folk stylings. Her atmospheric follow-up, this year's, Ensen (Human), was released by hipster New York based label Partisan Records and is gaining industry buzz.
The Palestinian singer is slowly amassing a cult following due to her eclectic projects that make use of her elastic jazzy vocals. Born in Haifa, Sliman's studies in music and education inform her craft. Her solo work sees her using lyrics inspired by Arab poets – such as in Salat (Prayer), a song inspired by A History Torn Apart in the Body of a Woman by Syria's legendary Adonis – to regional children's folk songs such as the jovial Ashtata. With her side project Mina World Music, Sliman collaborates with Portuguese musicians Rui Ferreira, Hélder Costa and André Oliveira for jazz reinterpretation of Arabic folk standards. Sliman's work both entertains and inspires.
When Damian Albarn wants to work with you then you must be doing well. Syrian singer Faia Younan, whose husky tones featured on the Albarn led electro-pop group Gorillaz's single, Busted and Blue, from last year's lauded album Humanz, had her pegged as a tantalising new regional talent. The 25-year-old, who was born in Syria and educated in Scotland, announced herself in 2014 when she dropped an online video of the song To Our Countries. The great reception resulted in a successful crowd funding campaign for a string of singles. This year, Younan fully showcased her talents with debut album Baynatna Fi Bahr (A Sea Between Us), a beautifully delicate collection of baroque Arabic folk songs.
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