This festival dedicated to promoting the most exciting independent music of the Arab region celebrated its fifth edition this year with a line-up curated by Egyptian musician and composer Maurice Louca (whose Lekhfa album was a Top of the World in #134). It was clear from the ten bands on offer that Louca’s tastes are alternative. From the agitprop performance art of Porest to the homegrown angry punk of Lebanese musician Kid Fourteen or the hallucinogenic folk of Richard Dawson, the music was loud and weird in all the right ways.
One of the festival’s highlights was the opening night at the Grand Factory, a chic, industrial nightclub on the top floor of an abandoned warehouse. There, Moroccan-American multi-instrumentalist HAT (aka Hatim Belyamani) opened the festival with an engaging multimedia mash-up of videos of Moroccan folkloric heritage remixed into a danceable beat. The headline for the evening was Beirut’s darling, Yasmine Hamdan. Recognised as an underground icon in the Arab music world, the ex-Soapkills singer performed electro-pop with undertones of Arabic music that was engaging, with sweeping sounds that filled the space and indie rock vibes that kept it all moving.
On the more traditional side of things, on Saturday the impressively young oud player Amal Waqar performed beautiful solo pieces that were delicate and informed by her Berklee College of Music education. On Sunday audiences were treated to the exquisite voice of Egyptian singer Dina El Wedidi, who was once part of the Nile Project. Closing the festival were locally based Syrian rock band Tanjaret Daghet, who stepped in to cover for South Africans Brother Moves On who didn’t manage to make it. This trio produce an out-of-this-world sound and were a powerful close for a festival that really did show off some of the best contemporary music making from the Arab world.
This review originally appeared in Songlines #135 (March 2018) p70. Download a pdf here.