Beirut-based producer Fadi Tabbal’s Tunefork Studios has given rise to many a thrilling regional act, but SANAM are probably the first that truly resemble a supergroup. The sextet includes singer, actor and audio-visual artist Sandy Chamoun, accompanied by multi-instrumentalist Anthony Sahyoun, bassist and songwriter Antonio Hajj (Tamara Qaddoumi, OVIID), guitarist Marwan Tohme and drummer Pascal Semerdjian of Lebanon’s dream pop luminaries Postcards, and buzuk player and composer Farah Kaddour. The band define themselves as “a marriage and an exorcism of traditional Egyptian song/Arabic poetry and improvised rock, free jazz and noise”, a unique formula that saw them performing to sold-out venues on their recent European tour. Their debut LP is an absolute must-hear.
Following her exceptional 2021 debut LP “Desert,” Palestinian singer and guitarist Rasha Nahas made the bold choice to release a record sung exclusively in Arabic. The results of the experiment are compelling: on “Amrat,” the Berlin-based artist not only retains her flair for powerful songwriting and impactful lyrics, but thrives in expressing herself in her native language, symbolically reclaiming her birthplace, Haifa, and the Palestinian identity at its heart through a fusion of skillfully crafted melodies and pristine, impassioned performances. Nahas continues to evolve, settling into a creative maturity that grows more impressive on every release.
‘Under the Sun’
The Wanton Bishops
2023 saw the triumphant reemergence of the Wanton Bishops, who dropped their first full-length record in almost a decade. On “Under the Sun,” frontman Nader Mansour maintains the confident turn in sound from the heavy influence of blues rock that dominated both the Bishops’ debut album and their early identity. Mansour doubles down on the use of Arabic-styled synth melodies and guitar riffs that he had begun to explore on the 2016 EP, “Nowhere Everywhere,” which feature most prominently on tracks such as lead single “We Are One.” The new record is a consistent and imposing comeback from one of the heavy hitters of the regional indie scene.
Noush Like Sploosh
UAE-based songwriter, visual artist and filmmaker Noush Anand — aka Noush Like Sploosh — recorded “WhimCycle” in Dubai 10 years ago. This year, she finally got over what she calls “creative shame” and set the record free. As an emblematic totem of the singer’s eclectic approach to her art, the album is a theatrical tour de force driven by Noush’s vocal energy, multi-instrumental guest performances and Joshua F. Williams’ sympathetic production. On standout tracks such as “3 Act Circus,” the strings ‘speak’ in a manner that is both entrancing and expressive. A genuine accomplishment and essential listening.
‘Marjaa: The Battle Of The Hotels’
In her first solo studio effort, singer and composer Mayssa Jallad (Safar) chronicles the Lebanese Civil War, taking the listener on a journey across the five-month period between October 1975 and March 1976. On every track, Jallad navigates the ethereal instrumentation with a vocal timbre and harmonies that are as spellbinding as they are haunting. The narratives of loss, division and displacement evoke the heartbreaking reality imposed on Beirut’s inhabitants, with the song titles serving as a chronological map constructed by the songwriter to mark key points in the armed clash spotlighted by the album. A moving, engaging piece that dexterously carves out its place in this year’s list.
Japan, Man is an unlikely pairing of Letty Acra, a Lebanese-English singer who started writing music at 14, and Julian Cassia (also known as Almost An Artist), her uncle and prolific composer, arranger, singer and multi-instrumentalist. The project began as a one-off single, “Stop Staring,” which garnered almost a million streams on Spotify, eventually blossoming into a six-track EP, “The Bad Days.” On the duo’s full-length debut, Acra entwines her husky, mellow vocal style and elegant falsetto with Cassia’s analogue and electronic instrumentals, enabling a seamless amalgam of sonic templates and influences. It’s a sweetly absorbing bedroom-pop account of the trials of teenagers in the 21st century.
Saudi rapper, comedian and actor Moayad Alnefaie has a deep and longstanding passion for hip-hop and traditional Arabic poetry. On ‘Batn El Shaer’, he mines the common ground between the two artforms with immaculate wordplay and the profound linguistic heritage of the verses he deals out with surgical precision. He is the first hip-hop artist to sign with his MDLBEAST Records, giving the Saudi Arabia-based company its first foray into a broader, non-electronic music milieu. Moayad’s groundbreaking first record features his Palestinian-Jordanian peer — rapper, singer and lyricist The Synaptik — along with multidisciplinary artist Warchieff, among others. The rhyme virtuoso remains one to watch as he stirs up the regional hip-hop scene.
German-Syrian electronic music duo Shkoon complemented the release of their new concept LP, “Masrahiya” (‘theater play’ in Arabic), with the announcement of a 17-date tour starting at Egypt’s pyramids of Giza, and featuring stops in Riyadh, Beirut, Dubai, London, Amsterdam and Zurich. The record leans into the kind of storytelling that Shkoon have become famous for, distilled into three, distinct chapters — tragedy, politics and irony — and woven into an elaborate embroidery of elation and emotion. Shkoon sway effortlessly between tongue-in-cheek explorations of life’s complexities to poignant homages to heritage and a sense of belonging, often traversing the frontier between reality and fiction. An act whose catalog and live performances are worth delving into at length.
The Moroccan rapper (real name Taha Fahsi) released his sophomore LP in 2023, further consolidating his status as one of his country’s most-popular artists following his triumphant 2021 debut album “Caméléon.” Fahsi transmutes his recent personal and legal tribulations into “27” with both humility and poise while collaborating with eminent producers and other high-profile contributors to bring his vision to life. Through his finely tuned delivery of incisive rhymes and verses, ElGrandeToto scores yet another hit record and shows why he’s in the vanguard of Morocco’s most exciting musical exports.