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AHWAR ⬩ NADAH EL SHAZLY
10 NOV 2017 ⬩ Clear Vinyl LP ⬩ Black Vinyl LP ⬩ Cassette ⬩ Download
Starting out singing Misfits covers in a local punk band, then moving onto producing her own electronic tracks and making a name for herself in Cairo’s underground scene, Nadah El Shazly’s backstory is not that unusual. Her debut album on the other hand, is an entirely unexpected story.
Two years in the making, Ahwar (Arabic for marshlands) is an otherworldly record, not unlike an abstract mythological story-tale. Opening with the mangled and filtered vocals of the album’s lead track Afqid Adh-Dhakira (I Lose Memory) like an alien dream, the drones of a bowed double bass lead us into a drum groove that lays the groundwork for El Shazly’s sultry and captivating presence, singing: "(I am) coming, from a time far away. Going, escaping. Alone in the wilderness".
The Arabic prose lingers over interjections of slap-back delayed guitar twangs and an avant-garde arrangement of dissonant winds, horns and seemingly random drum fills, ending with an eerie soundscape that wouldn’t feel out of place in a Giallo classic. A daring and potent statement that sets the foundations over which the rest of the album can unravel.
Composed, written and produced by El Shazly herself in collaboration with The Dwarfs of East Agouza’s Maurice Louca and Sam Shalabi on co-composition and arrangement duties, the album was crafted across two continents, between Canada and Egypt, and features the crème of Montreal’s contemporary-classical and improvised music scene, most of whom are members of Shalabi’s own Land of Kush ensemble.
In between El Shazly’s five original tracks, we are treated to an abstract cover version of Sayyid Darwish’s classic Ana 'Ishiqt (I Once Loved). El Shazly’s haunting vocal floats over broken Kalimba and Harp arpeggios which slowly intertwine with a free, bowed double bass improv to nestle within the breaks between Younes Al-Qadhi’s early 20th century verses of love and betrayal.
More than that, it is difficult to really describe, but imagine the worlds of Nico, Björk and Annette Peacock with the Arabic language as their mother tongue, re-approached through acoustic avant-jazz harmony and re-constructed with a dash of Kamilya Jubran’s modern styling of Arabic maqam and you may be somewhere close.
Recorded and delicately mixed through miles of analogue cabling by Thierry Amar at Hotel2Tango and mastered by Harris Newman at Grey Market Mastering in Montreal, the album is adorned with the surrealist artwork of Egyptian artist Marwan El-Gamal and designed with custom typography by Egyptian designer Valerie Arif. All editions come with dual-language booklets featuring the lyrics in Arabic with English translation by Nariman Youssef.
Afqid Adh-Dhakira composed and written by Nadah El Shazly, arranged by Osama Shalabi and Nadah El Shazly.
Barzakh composed by Nadah El Shazly, written by Alia Ayman and Nadah El Shazly and arranged by Nadah El Shazly, Osama Shalabi and Maurice Louca. Features a sample from Dawr Afrahh Wesalak by Abd al-Hay Hilmî (1857-1912) from a recording on Baidaphone.
Palmyra composed and arranged by Nadah El Shazly and Maurice Louca, written by Nadah El Shazly.
Ana 'Ishiqt composed by Sayyid Darwish (1892-1923), written by Younes Al Qadhi (1888-1969) and arranged by Nadah El Shazly and Osama Shalabi.
Koala composed and arranged by Nadah El Shazly, Maurice Louca and Osama Shalabi.
Mahmiya composed and arranged by Nadah El Shazly and Maurice Louca, written by Nadah El Shazly.
Nada El Shazly: vocals, keys, piano (track 1), saz (track 6), kalimba, electronics, programming.
Maurice Louca: folk guitar/folk slide guitar (track 3&6), electric guitar (track 3), keys (track 1).
Osama Shalabi: electric guitar (track 1 & 6), synthesizer (track 3).
Alexandre St-Onge: electronic voice.
Dave Gossage: flutes.
Philippe Lauzier: tenor clarinet.
Simon Millerd: trumpet.
Yves Charuest: alto saxophone .
Devin Waldman: alto saxophone.
Jason Sharp: baritone saxophone.
Sarah Pagé: harp.
Josh Zubot: violin.
Gen Heistek: viola.
Kareem Taylor: oud.
Jérémi Roy: double bass (track 5), divan saz (track 2).
Jonah Fortune: double bass (track 1, 2 & 5).
Pat Conan: drums (track 1 & 5).
Konrad Agnas: drums (track 3).
Pierre-Guy Blanchard: riq, tabla, electronic drums (track 5).
Dina Cindric: choir conductor, piano (track 6).
The Monday Night Choir: Jeremy Eliosoff, Gordon Hashimoto, Martin Howard, David Simon, Spike Taylor, Jeremie Vienneau.
Recorded by Thierry Amar at Hotel2Tango, Montreal, Canada, June 2016.
Vocals recorded by Adham Zidan, Cairo, Egypt, February 2017.
Additional vocals on track 6 recorded by Peter Ayman at Studio Vibe, Cairo, Egypt, March 2017.
Drums on Palmyra recorded by Maurice Louca and Nadah El Shazly at EMS, Stockholm, Sweden, August 2016.
Additional electric guitar recording on Palmyra by Adham Zidan, Cairo, Egypt, Autumn 2016.
Keys on tracks 1, 5 & 6 and acoustic guitar on tracks 3 & 6 recorded by Maurice Louca and Nadah El Shazly in Agouza, Cairo, Egypt, Autumn/Winter 2015-2016.
Edited by Maurice Louca and Nadah El Shazly in Cairo, Egypt, Autumn/Winter 2016-2017.
Mixed by Thierry Amar at Hotel2Tango, Montreal, Canada, February 2017.
Mastered by Harris Newman at Grey Market Mastering, Montreal, March 2017.
Album cover artwork by Marwan El-Gamal.
Design and typography by Valerie Arif.
Lyrics translation to English Nariman Youssef.