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5 Arab Indie Bands to Add to Your Playlist

posted on: Sep 29, 2021

By: Isra Saleh / Arab America Contributing Writer

Many dates the growth of independent music (often referred to as indie music) to the first sparks of the Arab Spring in 2010. Outside the mainstream and away from the gaze of major labels and their subsidiaries, independent musicians crafted their uniquely blended rhythms with a combination of authentic songwriting and sounds from flavorful local and international genres.

Indie musicians especially benefited from the wave of alleged political freedom that came with the Arab Spring. They were given the chance to speak up on hard-hitting topics and taboos, like mental health, sexual relationships, and racism. From the Palestinian hip hop crew “DAM” one of the very first to rap in Arabic, to the Moroccan band “Bab L’Bluz” that is reclaiming the blues of North Africa, to one of Lebanon’s best bands “Adonis”, to the Egyptian rock band “Cairokee” that is known for its revolutionary music, to the exceptional Jordanian band “Ayloul”. Arab America has put together just the right tracks for you that will empower you, inspire you, and hype your playlist.   

1. DAM

DAM, Arabic for “ever-lasting”, began working together in the late 1990s. Struck by the uncanny resemblance of the similarity of the streets in a Tupac video to the streets in their own neighborhood in Lyd, Tamer Nafar, Suhell Nafar, and Mahmood Jrere were inspired to tell their stories through hip hop.  Later on, in 2015, Maysa Daw officially joined the group and they released their first single together, “Who You Are”.

DAM’s sound is unmistakable. Their music is a unique fusion of East and West, combining fierce Arabic rap with Arabic rhythms, Middle Eastern sounds and melodies, and deep bassy urban hip hop.

2. Cairokee

Cairokee first started by the name “The Black Star”, performing their favorite covers in both English & Arabic at various gigs around the country. It wasn’t until later that they decided on the name “Cairokee”; inspired by both the words Cairo and karaoke, and mixing up the two words, meaning the band is singing along with Cairo.

The idea of writing their lyrics, playing music, and performing live for local and global audiences (all before the age of 30) was a dream come true for all the band members who have always been childhood friends. Their first major hit was “Sout El Horeya”, which has millions of views on YouTube and was ranked a world record as one of the most-watched videos in the shortest period of time. Soon after their success, came “Matloob Zaeem” and “Ethbat Makanak” shortly followed by more hits.

3. Adonis

Adonis, the four-piece Lebanese band has been taking their fusion of old Arabic classics and pop-rock anthems on a journey from their humble village beginnings to international theaters for almost a decade now. The band first came into sight with its debut single “Stouh Adonis” in 2012, a dance tune relaying night-time adventures on the rooftops of their small suburban town.

Adonis has since performed at major venues and independent festivals across the Arab world, such as the Amman Roman Amphitheatre, Cairo’s Al Geneina Theatre, and Dubai’s Step Music Festival, releasing four studio albums and writing music for Netflix, Unicef, Pepsi, Lipton, Brazil’s Globo TV, and the Lebanese Ministry of Tourism.

The band’s latest album “A’da” was launched in February 2021.

4. Ayloul

Ayloul, Arabic for September, was born in Hauran Plain, a long-forgotten area in the northern city of Irbid, Jordan. Between Hauran and the farmers’ song at the time of the harvest, Ayloul emerged with its six members. Their music often engages with the political and social challenges that their homeland faces. “Bahr Mayyet” is one of their songs that address the phenomenon of honor killing and gender-based violence that plague the Jordanian kingdom.

Before Ayloul, Irbid was the second largest city in Jordan and almost completely lacked a modern music scene. They write their songs in Arabic and draw on a wealth of musical backgrounds and genres, with Pink Floyd marked as one of their sources of inspiration.

5. Bab L’ Bluz

“More than anything we’re a rock band,” declares frontwoman African-Moroccan woman, Yousra, who sings, ululates, and fires riffs from her goatskin-covered awicha (small guembri) like a Berber warrior goddess.

The band is devoted to a revolution in attitude which dovetails with Morocco’s ‘nayda’ youth movement – a new wave of artists and musicians who are taking their cues from local heritage, singing words of freedom in the Moroccan-Arabic dialect of darija. Ancient and current, funky and rhythmic, buoyed by Arabic lyrics, soaring vocals, and bass-heavy grooves, and named after the youth movement, Bab L’Bluz’s new album Nayda! seems to pulse from the heart of the Maghreb.

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