The Egyptian band Eskenderella has released its first album, called Safha Gedida (A New Page), in the form of a double CD with 17 songs.
"Dedicated to the revolution, its martyrs, its wounded and its revolutionaries who still insist on realising their dreams," says the short dedication included inside the album.
The album is a pinnacle in the band's work over the last decade.
Eskenderella was launched in 2000 by Hazem Shahine with the aim of reviving the songs of Sheikh Imam and Sayed Darwish. Eskenderella's repertoire also includes music to lyrics by poets such as Zein El-Abedine Fouad, Salah Fouad Haddad and Salah Jahine. While drawing on Egypt's musical heritage, the band brings their iconic compositions close to people's hearts.
The band witnessed a temporary halt of activities and, in 2005, following a two-year hiatus, it announced its return with new members in the line-up.
The 2011 uprising prompted Eskenderella to create original compositions to lyrics written by the Haddad family of poets. Both Amin Haddad and his son Ahmed Haddad are colloquial poetry figures, reflecting on the changes taking place in contemporary Egypt – themes which dominate the band's new album. Many of Eskenderella's original songs were born in the midst of the uprising, precisely in Tahrir Square.
In a humorous tone, lyrics by Amin Haddad accompany the songs Yohka Anna (Once Upon a Time) 1 and 2, which openly denounce corruption and theft – pitfalls that characterised Egypt for many years before the uprising. Yohka Anna 1 is sung by a 13-member choir, while Yohka Anna 2 features a solo by Shahine in which he paints a panorama of Egypt's history.
Paralleling these compositions are other songs that reference socio-political aspects and other images from the country's recent turbulent history.
The album's title track is particularly significant. Not only does it mark the band's turning point, it also expresses hope for a new Egypt after the uprising.
"Let tomorrow open a new page ..." are lyrics by Ahmed Haddad, which we recall being sung during the uprising in front of a packed crowd in Tahrir.
No doubt, it was about time for the band to define its own identity. The video for this song shifts between Shahine playing oud and scenes from the Egyptian streets, with prominent Egyptian artists and activists joining the chorus line.
Another song, Rageyeen (We Return), written by Shahine with lyrics from Ahmed Haddad, goes back to the uprising and perfectly reflects the relationship between the past and present. The lyrics evoke the glory of the past which young people are now trying to repair. Rageyeen carries a very strong rhythmic pattern that underscores concepts of determination and persistence. Naturally, infused with this powerful enthusiasm, the song has been among the most frequently performed compositions in Tahrir Square.
Four songs – Gamila Masr (Egypt Is Beautiful), Wahed Al-Watan (Homeland Is Unique), Hayou Ahl Al-Sham (Salute the People of the Levant) and Al-Suez (Suez) – included in the album draw on the words of the poets' grandfather, Fouad Haddad (1927-1985), a master of colloquial poetry.
Shahine's music is built upon taqsims, traditional Arabic melodic progression and improvisation. While doing so, the 13 voices of Eskenderella seek to share the soul of the Egyptian street and its everyday life.
All compositions included in Safha Gedida are imbued with a critical vision, humour and a pleasant dramatisation. It's definitely an interesting album to listen to.
This article was previously published in Al-Ahram's French weekly, Hebdo