My views, observations, questions about everything in this world ....and that country they call Egypt.

23 December 2007

Wust El Balad's Album Review

I have been following the Egyptian band Wust El Balad for a long time now, ever since they started playing in that corner of cozy club After Eight in downtown Cairo. They played there twice a week for years maybe. Their live shows were amazing, everyone danced to their latin/rock/arabic fusion. It was great. Back then, that was unprecedented. The weren't any other indie bands like that at the time, it was just the usual Arabic pop that people listened to. The band concept is a very recent addition to the Egyptian music scene thanks to Wust El Balad to a very large degree. Not only that, but they were also among the first to combine the western band instruments with an Arabic sound... i.e... electric/acoustic/bass guitars. The oud player added a very nice touch to their sound though he was not a constant member of the group. They even experimented with the banjo many times, successfully. Their sound was very rich, diverse, and cared not for any boundaries. Even their lead singer experimented with beatboxing during the live shows!

You must be wondering why I'm using the past tense. Well, that's because I have been a little disappointed in them the last year or so. They are no longer that small indie group. They are now mainstream and they have catered to that. They sound more poppish nowadays much like all the Arabic pop playing on tv, though they still retain part of their old sound. And it's not just the type of music they play that has disappointed me, but also their performance on stage.

However, that does not undermine their impact. Current Egyptian bands like Cairokee, Black Theama, Limousine, and Salalem, etc owe a lot, if not everything, to Wust El Balad. I hope they get their groove back soon.

Well, finally their long awaited album is here. I think this album has been in the making for a long time cause I remember talking to them a few times in 2003 after their concerts when they told me that they're releasing the album soon! Well here is my review, song by song:

01 Arabily (Come Closer)
Above average. I like this song though I think it would have been better had they recorded it live. The rhythm/drums just feels a little electronic and it lacks their trademark three-rhythm-guitars sound. The material of the song, i.e melody & lyrics, is good but could be done better in my opinion.

02 Wust El Balad (Downtown)
Average. This is fan favourite that usually closes their set and can last up to up to 15mins. I am very familiar with this song from their concerts and I have to say that the live version is 1000 times better. It features a lot more soloing, both vocal and instrumental. This studio version does not do it justice and makes it sound like a silly kids song. Why did they leave out the part when the song becomes a jazz song, a classic arabic song, then goes back to the main chorus? That was great genre mashing. Err!

03 Shams El Nahar (Morning Sun)
Excellent. I like this song a lot. I haven't seen it being played live before, maybe it's new. It has this very obvious Jewish/Klezmer feel to it; I'm not sure if they're aware of this or not. I am a fan of Klezmer music if you don't know. The saxophone solo is very well done and fits the song. The lyrics are happy and seem to be about the singer's soon-to-be-acquired freedom.

04 Antika (Antique)
Sucks. Well I never liked this song to begin with, live or not, though it is a big fan favourite in concerts. The lyrics are too cheesy for my taste and music a little childish. However, this CD version is tolerable. They arabic tabla seems more pronounced and that gives it a little oriental touch.

05 Yemken (Maybe)
Average. Is it me or is Adham's voice a little off at times in the song? If you haven't known, Adham is the band member that usually sings in the Arabic style/scale. Sometimes this doesn't work that well with the western music, this is such a case... or maybe I haven't acquired the taste yet, but most likely the former. The guitar and bass solos though are nice.

06 Hela Hop (Untranslatable)
Sucks. I hate this song. Hate it!!The melody is childishly trivial it becomes annoying. What the hell are they singing about? I hate when they sing together like a choir. One of their worst songs ever... yuck.

07 3am Mina (Mr. Mina)
Average. This is another fan favourite. The lyrics are about Coptic/Muslim peaceful coexistence told in a story about two characters, 3am Mina and Sheikh Amin. I like it though the live version again is a little better.

08 Magnoon (Crazy)
Average. The song just gets a little too repetitive for me but the lyrics are good. The song is about globalization and the singer being "crazy in love" with human beings!

09 Etkalemy (Talk)
Average. I don't know, it's too slow and lacks any distinct sound!

10 Kol Lel Maliha (Ask The Maiden)
Excellent. The song is formerly known as Eritrea. This is the CD highlight for me. It expresses Wust El Balad's experimental spirit. It is a very unusual song by any standards and defies classification into any genre. The intro starts with the electric guitar and oud echoing the song's catchy motif. It is followed by a sweet classical guitar solo, then a oud solo, then a rock/metal guitar solo. Good stuff!! The vocals come in with the indecipherable lyrics, I'm not even sure if it's arabic. There's a lot going on in this song including ambiance chords and time signature changes. Adham does a good job with the oriental vocals. They do not go back to the intro motif in the outro though I wish they had.

It looks like my review was largely negative, oh well. They should look into releasing a live album cause that's where they really shine in my opinion. And I wish they had put their better songs on this CD. Tracks like Ayouha Al 7ob, Khalas Mesafra, Tesra', and Ya Leil should have been on here. Anyways, keep rocking Wust El Balad and stay free...