Our Favorite Songs by Modern Middle Eastern Artists
A certain image might pop into your head when it comes to Arabic music, reminiscent of long weddings and your parents’ oldies playlist. But a recent crop up of younger artists from the MENA region has put a refreshed spin on their traditional roots, creating a new wave of Arabic music for our generation. Discover Social Unseen’s playlist that sheds light on North Africa & Middle East’s coolest new artists.
Lolo Zouaï – Desert Rose
Laureen Rebeha Zouaï (aka Lolo Zouaï) is a 25-year-old American singer born in Paris, France, to a French mother and an Algerian father. Her debut album High Highs to Low Lows was released in 2019, and quickly made the artist known to the outside world. Not signed to any record label, she has independently created a signature soulful style that blends R&B with French and Arabic sounds.
Desert Rose is the eighth track of her debut album. Lolo filmed the music video in the coastal town of Essaouira, Morocco. During an interview with Clique TV published on YouTube in January 2020, Lolo revealed about the song: “My dad didn’t teach me Arabic – which is something that I’m sad about – but there are certain words that I remember from my childhood. So, for Desert Rose, I wrote it as a love song to my distant family in Algeria. It’s one of the most important songs I have ever written. It comes from a very emotional place in my heart. People who have listened to this song have told me that it’s one of their favorites because they could relate to it in some way.”
Mashrou’ Leila – Lil Watan | مشروع ليلى – للوطن
Mashrou’ Leila ( مشروع ليلى ) meaning “one-night project”, is a Lebanese alternative rock group made up of four members: Hamed Sinno (lead singer), Haig Papazian (violinist), Carl Gerges (drummer), and Firas Abou Fakher (keyboardist). The group was formed in 2008 when the members met at the American University of Beirut, in the Architecture & Design department. Most of the group’s members are architects now, in addition to being accomplished musicians and multi-instrumentalists. They made their musical debut almost a year later with their first album Leka@eka3, instantly becoming a huge success thanks to the group’s use of Arabic vocals despite this being rarely done in the alt-rock genre at the time.
Lil Watan is the sixth track of Mashrou’ Leila’s third album named Raasuk (2014). The song includes lyrics expressing strong disapproval of the Lebanese Government, with the music video serving as an artistic commentary on the people’s feelings against the government. The song holds a powerful message close to the group’s heart, wishing for a better future for their country. Despite Lil Watan‘s lyrics, it’s the perfect track to wake up to in the morning and start an amazing day.
Miraa May – Nobody
Miraa May (aka. Amira, which means “Princess” in Arabic) is a 24-year-old Algerian pop singer and songwriter based in the UK. She garnered fame in 2013 when she released a cover of Drake ft. Jhene Aiko’s song From Time. The cover caught the attention of Salaam Remi, the American record producer known for working with Nas and Amy Winehouse. Miraa subsequently signed with Louder Than Life Records and started producing music defined by her feminine R&B and Hip Hop style.
Nobody is the first track on Miraa’s 2018 EP Care Package. The nostalgic and powerful song talks about things like family, love, and faith.
WAFIA – I’M GOOD
Wafia Al-Rikabi (aka. Wafia) is a 26-year-old Syrian-Iraqi singer based in Australia. She was born in the Netherlands and studied biomedical in university before eventually focusing on her true love: Music. Her Let Me Love You by Mario cover was streamed over 5 million times on SoundCloud, resulting in her being signed by indie record label Future Classic. She released her debut EP XXIX in 2015.
Wafia’s single I’M GOOD was released in 2018 and voted number 14 on Triple J’s Hottest 100 of that year. The post-breakup song has a retro-chill vibe and is perfect to listen to when you need a little confidence boost.
Majid Jordan – Gave Your Love Away
Madjid Jordan is an R&B duo composed of Majid Al Maskati (Canadian singer of Bahraini roots) and Jordan Ullman (Canadian producer). They met during their time as students at Toronto University and formed their duo in 2011. They were since noticed by OVO Sound, the record label co-founded by Canadian rapper Drake, producer Noah “40” Shebib and Oliver El-Khatib. They released their debut EP A Place Like This in 2014.
Gave Your Love Away is the second track of their 2017 album The Space Between. It expresses heartbreak and regrets from a lost love, in their signature retro-groovy style. The coupling of the nostalgic lyrics and the old-school melody makes for a unique sound that feels perfect for our generation.
Dounia – UNRELIABLE
Dounia Tazi (aka. Dounia) is a 23-year-old Moroccan-American singer, songwriter, model, and activist. She first became known as a body-positive model on Instagram, before launching her music career in 2017 with her independent EP Intro To. In 2019, Dounia performed in several music festivals in the USA such as BUKU Music + Art Project, SunFest, and Soundset Music Festival.
UNRELIABLE was released in May 2020, a diss track for all the disappointing men. It’s a great song for letting off steam and forgetting your past.
Article by Meriem Toumi