Nine songwriters and singers from the Arab world's independent music scene feature on the album released 24 January under the title Sawtuha by the German Jakarta Records label. The compilation includes songs from Egypt, Tunisia and Libya, with a bonus track from Syria.
Sawtuha (Her Voice) was produced during the two-week studio session organised by the Berlin-based NGO Media in Cooperation and Transition (MICT) and funded by the German Federal Foreign Office. The album release is a result of collaboration between Jakarta Records; US-based rapper and music producer Oddisee (Amir Mohamed El-Khalifa, born to an African-American mother and Sudanese father) and Olof Dreijer, from the Swedish electronic music duo The Knife. French producer Blackjoy created remixes for several tracks.
As the international arena observed the development of the revolutions sweeping Arab countries, voices of the independent music scene stood among the strongest testimonies to the unveiling events. They also set proof of the dynamic changes taking place in the music scene, inspiring and directing the creativity of young artists.
Jakarta Records explains that the album "is a vital encouraging testament of rebellion against the repression of democratic rights, gender inequality, and lack of inclusion. The music is an organic mixture of traditional Arabic music, regional influences and various forms of contemporary Western musical genres. A mixture that may sound contradicting at first but makes total sense once you listen to the music."
In response to three years of revolutionary upheaval, protests and violence, "a group of female singers and musicians from Tunisia (Nawel Ben Kraiem, Badiaa Bouhrizi, Medusa, and Houwaida), Libya (Nada) and Egypt (Donia Massoud, Maryam Saleh and Youssra El Hawary) met in Mohsen Matri Studio in Tunis to sing against corruption, despotism, patronisation and narrow-mindedness," Jakarta records explain in the album.
Egyptian Maryam Saleh opens the compilation with "Nouh Al Hamam," a captivating track produced by Oddisee, where Saleh's oriental singing style is smoothly entwined with Western music accents and rhythms.
The second track, "Ghareeb An El Medina," comes from Youssra El Hawary, whose 2012 hit "El Soor" (The Wall) brought local and international attention to this young talented singer, songwriter and accordionist. The song is also produced by Oddisee and remixed by Brenk at Mohsen Matri Studios.
Maryam Saleh returns with a Blackjoy remix of her "Watan El Akk" (Messed Up Country), a song originally released in 2011 and included in Saleh's 2012 debut album Ana Mesh Baghanny (I Don’t Sing).
Donia Massoud from Egypt graces the album with her known title "Gammary," based on rhythms of tabla (oriental percussions) and vocals. Alexandria-born, and recently France-based, Donia Massoud is known for her well researched musical material nurtured by her strong interest in Egypt's folkloric riches. Massoud spent a few years travelling from Suez to Upper Egypt, listening to, analysing and documenting folkloric poetry and music, creating fascinating and deeply personalised arrangements to the many songs and melodies that she performs today.
Sawtuha is an interesting look into themes preoccupying the minds of young women singers and songwriters living in the Arab Spring countries. Tunisian Badiaa Bouhrizi opens her song "Mana'a" with oriental rhythmic patterns to the backdrop of what resembles consecutive explosions. Nawel Ben Kraiem, also from Tunisia, fuses Arabic with French in "Figurine," a song released in 2013 and joins artist Nada in the rap-infused "Don't Lose Your Way."
Another artist from Tunisia, Medusa signs a powerful "Neheb N3ch Hayati" a hip-hop song produced by Olof Dreiger who infused the composition with electronic music flavors. Dreiger also produced "Janna" by Houwaida featuring Chiheb which is one of the first steps in further cooperation between the Syrian singer and the Swedish producer. Another Syrian singer in the album, celebrated for her soothing vocals, Rasha Rizk showcases her talent in "Elegie."
Hours after the album's release, a series of positive comments covered social media. On Twitter, a user named Kavitha wrote: "Some terrific music in there," while @taiyeselasi commented "absolutely brilliant."
Sawtuha includes a total of 12 tracks. The complete line-up of songs is as follows: Nouh Al Hamam by Maryam Saleh; Ghareeb An El Medina (Brenk Remix) by Youssra El Hawary; Watan El Akk (Blackjoy Remix) by Maryam Saleh; Neheb N3ch Hayati by Medusa; Mana'a by Badiaa Bouhrizi and Mana'a Blundetto Remix; Figurine by Nawel Ben Kraiem; Janna by Houwaida feat. Chiheb; Elegie by Rasha Rizk; Don't Lose Your Way by Nada feat. Nawel Ben Kraiem; Gammary by Donia Massoud; Safsari by Nawel Ben Kraiem.
Founded in 2005, the German label is dedicated to underground music, and although it releases a variety of music genres, a large number of their latest productions are marked by hip-hop, rap and electronic music accents. In 2013, Jakarta label released the album Kabul Fire, compiling songs by the Afghan-German artist and producer Farhot.
For more information on Sawtuha, visit Jakarta Records website here.