For some time, being in a band largely meant your performances were limited to weddings. In the nineties, that all changed. Since then, numerous waves of young musicians emerged to reframe the Arab world’s music scene.
From Beirut to Cairo, the sound of the region changed thanks to their experimental nature. Genres were merged together, and Arab heritage, with all its diversity, was incorporated into their tunes and lyrics.
Songwriters, musicians, singers, and producers teamed up to form powerhouses that would later grow to become catalysts of the music renaissance we’re witnessing now.
If you wanted to get a taste of the region’s band scene, these are some of our favourites.
The Beirut-based indie band got its start in 2008 with four then-students at the American University of Beirut. With five albums under their belt now, vocalist and lyricist Hamed Sinno, guitarist and multi-instrumentalist Firas Abou Fakher, violinist Haig Papazian, and drummer Carl Gerges form arguably one of contemporary Arabic music’s most iconic bands. Their sensual electro-pop tunes merge with lyrics about political freedoms, human rights and Arab culture making it to venues from Tunis and Amman to Amsterdam and Barcelona.
One of the very first indie bands to come out of the region, Beirut’s Soapkills were pioneers of the local electro scene. Marked by Yasmine Hamdan’s sensual voice and Zeid Hamdan’s delicate guitar tweaking, the band released four albums and another live one between 1997 and 2005.
One of the most famous rock bands in Tunisia, Myrath incorporates regional instruments into their heavy mix of power metal and cinematic prog rock. Originally formed in 2001 by guitarist Malek Ben Arbia, who was only 13 years old at the time, the band expanded along the years and released their official debut album Hope in 2007. Three more albums followed suit.
The Lebanese indie dance quartet formed by Anthony Khoury and Joey Abou Jawdeh have been in the game for a decade. Their 2015 single ‘Eza Shi Nhar’ led them to mainstream success, scoring performances across the region and Europe. This year, the band has released their fifth studio album A’da.
The Canadian-Bahraini duo have exploded in the global pop scene since co-producing and writing Drake’s 2013 6-times-platinum hit ‘Hold On We’re Going Home’. Toronto-based singer Majid Al-Maskati and producer Jordan Ullman have taken their R&B and Dance music to another level, signing to Canadian record label OVO Sound the same year, and releasing their first official EP, ‘A Place Like This’ in 2014. They have been on world tours and made stops at major festivals. Lately, they have released ‘Caught Up’ featuring Khalid in 2019.
The list would not be complete without Egypt’s Cairokee (the name is a mix of the words ‘Cairo’ and ‘karaoke’). Officially formed in 2003, the band features Amir Eid (vocals and rhythm guitar), Tamer Hashem (drums), Sherif Hawary (lead guitar), Adam El-Alfy (bass guitar) and Sherif Mostafa (keys). Cairokee is best known for their major 2011 hit ‘Sout El Horeya’ which has over 4 million views on YouTube and was ranked a world record as one of the most watched videos in the shortest period of time. That was only the beginning of a long run of hits and success that stretches until this day.