Monday December 11th, 2023
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Best Albums of 2022 (Middle East & North Africa)

SceneNoise's selection of the best MENA and Arab world albums released across various genres in 2022.

Scene Noise

Looking back at 2022, the year has witnessed an outpouring of albums by a range of regional artists who are continuously developing and progressing the sound of contemporary Arabic music. Cross-genre experimentation appeared as the hottest trend coming out of the region, with more artists stepping outside of their comfort zone to embrace multiple genres in new and inventive ways.

As the year comes to a close, the team at SceneNoise combines a selection of our favourite albums and EPs released in 2022 with entries ranging from rap to electronica, alt-pop, drill, and more.

ABADIR - Mutate

ABADIR strikes again with another unexpected release by the producer, DJ, and writer who has been one of the most active contributors to the electronic music landscape over the past decade. This time with his album ‘Mutate’, ABADIR combines Maqsoum loops and Arabic rhythms at speedy BPMs with Amen breaks (an essential characteristic of jungle music), Jersey club, reggaeton, footwork, and more.

Dance floor bangers include ‘Another One’ and ‘Mutate’, but as the body of work plays out, it’s clear that most of the tracks make for “fatty, straight up dance floor music,” as described in the album’s liner notes.

Abeer Nehme - Bi Saraha

Lebanese singer, composer and musicologist Abeer Nehme’s second album, ‘Bi Saraha’ sees the artist honing in on her fusion of classical Arabic music and pop. Driven by stunning harmonies, vocal prowess, and romanticism, the album travels through love songs, heartbreak, and undertones of loneliness and longing within much of her music.

Nehme’s ballads are a rarity in the contemporary Arabic music landscape; there is something of a lost time found in much of her music and the sophisticated production that brings it to life.

Abo El Anwar - Law Makonash 7awelna

This year saw Abo El Anwar expanding his sonic palette with a constant stream of releases, delivering three EPs as well as a long list of singles.

In his latest EP, ‘Law Makonash 7awelna’, the celebrated rapper breaks down genres such as Shaabi, hip-hop, drill, and trap to their core elements. His approach to rearranging these elements in a forward-thinking manner is an exploration of how Egyptian rap music can continue to develop.

Ahmed Santa - Santa El Gded

Regarded as one of the most gifted lyricists in the Egyptian rap scene, Ahmad Santa has amassed a sizable audience with his witty, off-the-cuff rapping style. 

Taking a step back from his usual boom-bap-inspired sound, the rapper takes on popular contemporary sonic aesthetics such as trap and drill, adapting to the hard-hitting direction of today’s rap scene with ‘Santa El Gded’.

A.L.A - Balance

Hailing from Tunisia, A.L.A  is best known for his clean beats and deeply intimate lyrics. ‘Balance’ is something of a self-actualising record that tackles his musical journey. It arrives as a break from A.L.A’s traditional tone that better enables him to address the topics most intertwined with his everyday life. Delivered through his Tunisian dialect, ‘Balance’ is a circular album that explores an emotional journey, one that opens with an ode to his passion, ‘Fekra w Energy’, and ends with ‘9al w 9il’, a commentary on gossip in the music industry.

Assyouti - Shakhrama

Veering towards a more aggressive sonic palette, Assyouti drifts further from his minimal techno beginnings and, instead, leans into moments of maximalism, speed, and frantic beats on his debut EP ‘Shakhrama’.

Pulling from various left-field electronic textures, the release sounds at times industrial, with moments of deconstructed club music, rapid-firing BPMs, blended with hard techno, and layers of glitch.

Azu Tiwaline & Al Wooton - Alandazu E.P.

Released by Livity Sound in March, Azu Tiwaline and Al Wooton’s collaboration on their EP ‘Alandazu’ is pure fire. Hailing from distinct backgrounds, Tiwaline pulls inspiration from the Tunisian desert and Wooton from London’s urban sprawl; together, they combine to create a sound pushed along by dub textures, ambient electronics, and complex percussions. 

‘Blue Dub’, opens up the EP with momentous rhythms, dub references, and intricate sound design. The duo then change gears entirely in ‘Light Transmission’, with a more spacious 2-step framework combined with ambient electronics. The EP is dynamic, atmospheric, and full of masterful displays of tension and release.

Blvxb - Z5M

Saudi musician, Blvxb has had a busy year, releasing two full-length albums that outshined each other. In ‘Space Collection’, produced by music partner and full-time producer, Ruhmvn, the 15-track album takes Blvxb’s signature vocals, and slows them down to give them a more languid quality. Along the way, the two artists combine to create a downtempo, lo-fi trap feel that entangles R&B with an ambient sound design. In his follow-up release, ‘Z5M’, the album takes a different sonic direction. On the surface, his recognizable voice ties the two works together, but it’s also the soundscapes he chooses to lay down as the bedrock for his lyrics and flow. Be it through lush synth pads heard on ‘2028’, slow or speed rapping or the trap beats throughout, Blvxb’s dynamism,  songwriting, and vocal delivery combine to create a sound that is entirely his own.

Cairokee - Roma

Constantly pushing the boundaries of their sound, Egyptian alternative rock band Cairokee’s ‘Roma’ shows the group’s take on modern music production, songwriting, and genre experimentation in an album that incorporates the aesthetics of pop, trap, hip-hop and rock music.

This album has found its way into the playlists of rap and rock fans alike, rightfully earning its spot as Spotify’s most-streamed album of the year in the MENA region.

Don Bigg - ٤in Act 2

Moroccan rapper Don Bigg takes his signature raspy voice further in ‘٤in Act 2’ while managing to incorporate a sense of humour in his ‘skit’ tracks ‘Sanae’ and ‘Alae’ which feature a beat-less monologue. A storytelling element is evident throughout the eight tracks, touching upon heartfelt, youthful and local themes with a raspy vocal texture that’s become definitive to his style since his first album ‘Mgharba ' tal Mout’ (Moroccans Til We Die) in 2006.

Donia Wael & El Waili - Taree2 Tweel

Rising to fame together, the long-time collaborators once again created an exciting mix between Wael’s soulful vocals and playful lyricism and El Waili’s unique electronic sounds in ‘Taree2 Taweel’.

Having first collaborated on hit tracks ‘El 3asal’, ‘3dd El Sokan’ and ‘Bekya’, they put their artistic chemistry to the test again in this four-track EP. In ‘El Qahera’, El Waili introduces a mallet sound that seamlessly blends with Wael’s sincere lyrics and performance, while ‘Taree2 Taweel’ features a daring pop and trap fusion.

El Rass - Ard El Khof

El Rass has consistently provided a thoughtful point of view coming out of Lebanon, and with his latest album ‘Ard El Khof’, the artist tackles social issues facing Lebanon today with tracks such as ‘Dodo’ (slang for dollar), which addresses the country’s economic situation.

The album explores a wide range of musical influences repackaged in a familiar hip-hop context, aligning with the sound that El Rass has developed over the years.

Etyen - Untitled

Hailing from Beirut, Etyen has been pushing forward the Lebanese electronic music scene for almost a decade by providing a unique and refreshing sound that has earned him the title ‘Wizard of Electronica’.

After releasing an impressive body of work with artists from around the region and beyond, Etyen’s debut EP, ‘Untitled’ sees the artist honing in on his highly personalised sound that explores his growth and emotional journey over the years.

Felukah - The Love Serum

In her latest album ‘The Love Serum’, Felukah explores themes of identity, culture, and language through her heartfelt lyricism and performance. The artist has been developing her bilingual songwriting style throughout the years and showcases her lyrical proficiency with this release.

This album is a prime example of Felukah’s unique take on mixing Arabic and western musical ideas in a sonic style reminiscent of old-school hip-hop sampling.

FL EX - Mesama3een

Looking back at 2022’s rap releases, few acts stand out as starkly as FL EX and the whole Maadi Town Mafia crew. The emerging rap collective has instantly resonated with hip-hop fans through the crew’s unique vocal delivery styles and blunt lyricism. FL EX, Wingii and Husayn have been reimagining what Egyptian drill can sound like, arriving at trendsetting results.

After releasing a few wildly popular singles, FL EX released his EP ‘Mesama3een’, following up on the signature sound he’s established for himself this year, along with a music video for one of the EP’s singles, ‘Logan’.

Husa & Zeyada -  Long Way Home

Husa & Zeyada is a live electric duo that found each other amidst the perilous days of lockdown. The eclectic duo fuse synth bedroom pop with late-night deep house to pioneer a sound that caters to both their interests. Their record, ‘Long Way Home’, is draped in English lyrics that boast an eerie indie-rock sound reminiscent of Flora Cash. Exploring the theme of self-reflection, ‘Long Way Home’ is lyrically introspective, with tracks such as ‘Inside Out’, ‘Wicked Self’ and ‘On My Own’ serving as an intimate lens for self-discovery and the cities they find themselves in.

Imarhan - Aboogi

Dubbed by the Guardian as “the new wave of Tuareg music”, Imarhan is an Algerian band that creates music devoted to reifying cultural gaps. What started as a passion project anchored in meditative Desert Blues tradition, morphed into a commentary on unity and emotional disparities.

Their record ‘Aboogi’ brims with city slang and is a direct analysis of the beauty, diversity and struggles faced in Tamanrasset, Algeria. On the sombre song ‘Taghadart’, Sudanese singer Sulafa Elyas provides a beautiful Arabic verse as Welsh artist Gruff Rhys of Super Furry Animals sings in his home language about the value of family on ‘Adar Newlan.’

Julmud - Tuqoos

This year, Palestinian rapper/producer Julmud made his long-awaited comeback with the highly-anticipated album ‘Tuqoos’.

Looking back at his experiences over the years, the album explores Julmud’s journey of maturity, which has birthed an album that explores experimental musical ideas while maintaining an accessible characteristic throughout.

Logical Da9ud -  Juthoor Masriya

While nearly every other rapper in the Middle East is busy making textured trap tracks, Logical Da9ud releases ‘Juthoor Masriya’ going against the grain in what feels like a homage to old-school, sample-based hip hop. With a flow entirely his own, the Egyptian rapper quickly separates himself from his peers by pursuing a sound that speaks to him rather than the trap trends.

Arriving in the regional rap scene with his 19-track debut album, Logical Da9ud’s take on hip-hop suggests that he is a lyricist who is quietly planting his rap roots to grow apart from derivative releases that make up a big part of the rap scene.

Molotof - Gabal Ahmar

In ‘Gabal Ahmar’, the beloved Egyptian producer Molotof ventures into a side of his music that is more patient and slightly more subdued than his previous work. Released with Rakete, the album gives the impression that Molotof can keep his musical ideas clear and concise while exploring various sonic aesthetics.

This project feels like a more focused side of the producer, in which he is expanding the scope of his discography while experimenting with more western musical ideas and chord progressions. At the same time, he still manages to add his signature mix of Mahraganat synth lines and Arabic percussions.

Nadine El Roubi - Triplicity

Sudan’s Nadine El Roubi has been a force to reckon with ever since her emergence in the regional music scene in recent years. The artist takes a detail-oriented approach in her music, emphasised by pristine productions and rich musical ideas.

Roubi’s EP ‘Triplicity’, produced by Egyptian multi-instrumentalist Kubbara, is an exploration of the natural, divine, and progressive energy that inspires her vision as an artist.

Nancy Mounir - Nozhet El Nofous

Cairo-based composer, arranger, and multi-instrumentalist Nancy Mounir released one of the most timeless albums of the year with ‘Nozhet El Nofous’ (‘Promenade of the Souls’). Released on Simsara Records, Mounir’s album is a “transcendent exploration of musical freedom” and a “remarkable communion with ghosts” as she reimagines the works of Mounira El Mehdaya, Fatma Serry, and more.

Nemahsis - Eleven Achers

On Eleven Achres Palestinian artist Nemah Hasan AKA Nemahsis paints a stunningly soulful 6-track picture of her immigration to Canada. Through piano and string drenched pop-ballads you feel intrinsically connected to her journey through isolation.

R3D - R3D

Palestine’s Ramallah-based collective and independent record label BLTNM has been leading the rise of Palestinian hip-hop ever since their inception in 2015. Their songs quickly became resistance anthems, delivered through a poignant and cunning point of view. In their new self-titled triad and EP ‘R3D’, the crew embraces a new sonic direction while staying true to their known and loved voice.

‘R3D’ brought in three new tracks, ‘Ramadan’, ‘Ma Bijish’, ‘Bi Balash’, introducing a fresh face into the label; rising rapper Ramadan. The EP was produced by Al Nather and featured BLTNM household names Shabjdeed and Daboor, with an emphasis on Ramadan’s blunt and satirical lyricism. In ‘Ramadan’, the track takes a more vocal-based direction, while ‘Ma Bijish’ and ‘Bi Balash’ take a sharper direction, featuring orchestral riffs and heavy-hitting percussions.

Rise 1969 - Floating Memory

Based in Lebanon, William Mahfoud, a.k.a Rise 1969 combines his Berlin experience with his UK-roots and the art scene in Beirut in his recent body of work, ‘Floating Memory’, released on the German label, Moodmusic Records. In collaboration with Tim Sean-Lee, Anna Schreit, Phyllis Josephine, Scarlette Shaad, and s.soo, the album is pushed along by wobbly baselines, breaks and spacious ambient textures. Known for drawing influence from punk, techno, drum and bass, ambient and experimental music, Rise 1969’s ‘Floating Memory’ is a journey through some of these sound styles and at the same time, something completely unique.

Safa - Ibtihalat

Released on Lee Gamble’s UIQ label, Mhamad Safa’s polyrhythmic album, ‘Ibtihalat’ pulls from grime, bass, and experimental electronics. According to the album’s liner notes, “Ibtihalat is a cyclical and boundless summoning of an otherworldly force in the face of geographic calamities and contingencies. These invocations are inherent to the musical traditions of Gnawa, Amazigh, Rai in North Africa and Sea Music, Laywa and Samiri in the Arabian Peninsula.” Using predictive algorithms, psychoacoustics, field recordings, and a process of musical synthesis, the beat-based compositions are at times spatial and complex, while at other times, full of dance floor momentum.

Saint Abdullah & Eomac - Patience Of A Traitor

Formed by two brothers, Mohammad and Mehdi Mehrabani-Yeganeh, Saint Abdullah draws influence from both western and eastern musical palettes, resulting in a mixture of minimalist soundscapes and aggressive rhythms.

The duo’s album ‘Patience Of A Traitor’, made in collaboration with Eomac is a refreshing yet hard-hitting mix of experimental sonic textures, playful melodies, lush atmospheres, and explosive drum sounds that come together to bring us an unusual treat.

Shkoon - Firaq (Live Album)

Syrian/German duo Shkoon have been known for their signature Arab-textured electronic fusions, inspiring many producers to experiment with local sound elements. Spanning 90 minutes and 15 tracks the duo revisited some of their older tracks throughout the album, including ‘Ala Moj El Bahr’, ‘Letters’, and ‘Invertigo’, introducing a faster electronic beat.

Firaq sees Shkoon grow into their musical vision, and venture between classical toned-down tracks like ‘Firaq’ which was more melancholic, to reinterpreting Sayed Darwish’s ‘El Helwa Di’ in ‘QQQ’.

Tamino - Sahar

Tamino-Amir Moharam Fouad, better known by his stage name Tamino, rose to prominence after taking first place in a Belgian radio contest five years ago when he was just 21 years old. As he concluded his U.S tour, he simultaneously released his sophomore album ’Sahar’. With a mysterious depth to its melody, ‘Sahar’ follows the same momentum that defines Tamino’s work; slowly unfurling intensity. His track ‘A Drop of Blood’ is accompanied by traditional oud and pays homage to the singer’s grandfather and the legacy he so powerfully left behind.

Tamtam - ISMAK

A Syrian-Saudi artist who’s worked alongside global producers, Tamtam is a singer/songwriter whose soulful ballads always contain empowering sentiments. Breaking the shackles that misogynistic societies place on women, the evocative melodies delivered in both Arabic and English combine with the genre-bending productions to blur the lines between tradition and modernity.

Tayar - Nos El Bahr

Inspired by a wide range of genres and musical influences, Jordanian indie duo Tayar are continuing the legacy of bands such as Autostrad and Jadal by infusing thoughtful songwriting with cathartic instrumentals.

Their 2022 release ‘Nos El Bahr’ is the duo’s foray into genre-bending, as the EP mixes electronic and dance music aesthetics into a tried-and-true alternative rock framework.

Toumba - Rosefinch

Working under the moniker, Toumba, Amman-based producer Yazan Zyadat released his first EP on wax in November titled, ‘Rosefinch’ on London-based record label Hypnic Jerks. Driven by percussive club anthems and subtle references to Jordanian folk music as heard in the key phrases of ‘Multipack of Limes,’ and the EP’s title, ‘Rosefinch,’ after the national bird of Jordan.

In the next track, ‘Sa7rawi,’ the sub-bass kicks in to drive the album forward. By the time we reach the closing track, ‘Tidallal,’ we enter into more deconstructed Arabic textures heard in what sounds like a distorted qanoon, interrupted by broken beats.

VA/IRSH - Did you mean: Irish vol. 2

Launched in 2020 in a collaboration between Rama and ZULI, the IRSH collective was born out of a desire to break free from the oversaturation of house and techno within Egypt’s dance music scene. As a result, IRSH liberates its artists from the dance floor and instead gives them the space to present sets of music in a Boiler Room, live stream setting.

This past July, the collective released its second compilation with 14 tracks from some of the region’s most experimental producers who travel across left-field electronics from ambient to bass-ladened jungle, and deconstructed music. The album features names like El Kontessa with a deconstructed pop into electronic track sampling Sherine’s ‘Sibni’, to Post Drone’s stunning ambient synths, and Liliane Chlela’s lo-fi bass banger, alongside tracks by ON4B, Yaseen, 1127, Ismael, and more. The album’s rich curation becomes an exercise in exploring newness in sound from some of the most creative producers the region has to offer.

Wingii - Star

Making his mark on the Egyptian rap scene, Wingii rose to prominence in record-time with his hit track ‘Khamsa’, ft. FL EX, which raised the bar for Egyptian rappers venturing into drill sonics.

Wingii’s EP ’Star’ stands out as one of the year’s most impactful releases, as it started a conversation around the musical aesthetics prevalent in Egypt’s rap scene today. Since he appeared on the scene, we have seen an ever-growing list of artists following in his footsteps by embracing similar sonic aesthetics and delivery styles.

700 Bliss (DJ Haram & Moor Mother) - Nothing to Declare

Philadelphia-based DJ Haram makes up one-half of the duo 700 Bliss with Moor Mother, an activist and musician. In May, the duo released their debut album on Hyperdub, ’Nothing to Declare’ full of surprising twists, turns, and social commentary. The album also features a riveting curation of guest artists, including Palestinian producer, Muqata’a, Alli Logout, and Lafawndah. While the album is charged by the activism they share, its sonic aesthetic is driven by their interest in “noise rap, jazz, house-party catharsis, loud percussion-hey analogue sound design and cheeky skits,” as written in the album’s liner notes.