Alif have been pushing the boundaries of what Arabian music can be since 2012. Their euphoric blend of Eastern and Western styles have made them an underground hit. Their debut album Aynama-Rtama is finally here, released on Nawa Recordings, after recording began in Beirut and Cairo in 2014. At just over 40 minutes, it’s a cohesive beast that demands repeat listens.
Aynama-Rtama opens with a distorting stringed instrument, I’d like to say guitar but I can’t be 100% sure so I’m going to leave it with stringed instrument. Then deep and guttural vocals kick in and there is a richness to them. It sounds like the owner enjoys super strong cigarettes and coffee but in between bouts of drinking sweet mint tea. As the song progresses, the music is reminiscent the Massive Attack’s classic Inertia Creeps. Dense rhythms interlock with dexterous and lyrics riffs, from that stringed instrument again, while a bass underpins everything with a deep-throated rumble of its own.
'Al-Juththa' (The Corpse) has Western-electro influences thanks to a synth loop that, while it doesn’t change much, never outstays its welcome. Again, that stringed instrument is put through its paces as the owner shows us how versatile it is. In all honesty, 'Al-Juththa' sounds like an Arabian take on the Drive soundtrack. As it progresses you can picture late night motorways with cars bombing down, listening of this totally stylised, yet utterly authentic track at full blast as they head toward midnight rendezvous.
Aynama-Rtama is a solid collection of songs that successfully merge Arabian styles with Western motifs. Lyrically I have no idea what is being sung but unsurprisingly as a Brit I do have the same problem with French, Italian, Spanish, Icelandic and African musicians who sing in their native tongue. However, and as weird as this seems, I do get what Alif are on about. You don’t need to understand a language to know that they are using words as powerful as the music they’ve created. Yes it might be a form of Arabian Beat poetry but it sounds relevant and important. Which is a lot more than can be said for a Western music at the moment.