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16 Indie Artists We Loved in 2016

It’s hard to deny that 2016 was a difficult year. From the rise in the number of refugees globally to increased death tolls in Syria and Yemen, the world has seen a great deal of tragedy this year. During such times, it is important to turn to the arts to remind ourselves of the creative potential of humanity and how we can cultivate a sense of collective resiliency in spite of these ubiquitous  destructive forces. 

These sixteen artists from across the Middle East and North Africa teach us how to find joy and creativity in any place and at any time. We admire them for that, and we look can’t wait to see what’s in store from them next year! 

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1. Alsarah – Sudan, Indie, Pop, Traditional

Alsarah is an ethnomusicologist and musical artist extraordinaire with a transnational background, growing up between Sudan, Yemen and the US. Drawing from Nubian and Arab music, Alsarah characterizes her work as “East African retro pop.” Alsarah’s album, Silt was released in March 2014, and her most recent album, Manara, was released this September. As described on her website “the questions ‘What is home?’ and ‘What does it sound like?’ lie at the crux of the creation of Manara. As Alsarah explains “Sometimes we leave home willingly, sometimes we are forced out, sometimes we plan to go back, and sometimes we don’t know if we will ever see our loved ones again. But one thing we always know is that we don’t want to forget, or be forgotten. As the sea takes us, Manara is the lighthouse anchoring our journey, and the keeper of our secrets. Not a destination, but rather a marker along the way.”

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2. Ghogha – Iran Hip Hop

Ghogha is an Iranian rapper, lyricist, and singer from Tehran, currently living in Stockholm, Sweden. Beginning her music career in 2005, Ghogha is much more than just an artist. She is a powerful force in the Iranian hip hop scene, collaborating with artists, advocating for them, and supporting them from across borders. Her lyrics cover a range of social topics with a focus on war and women’s rights, and her tireless activism and support for other artists makes her one of our favorite rappers in the Iranian scene. 

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3. Edd Abbas Lebanon, Hip Hop 

“MC, Producer, core member of the Arabic hip hop group Fareeq el Atrash and co-founder of the Collective known as “Men Wara el 3adaseh,”  Edd started as a lyricist in 2003 and then got into production before the release of Fareeq el Atrash’s first self-Titled album in 2010. The second album, “al Mawjeh el Tarsha” was released independently in 2013. Edd released his first solo project “el Moutarakam” in 2012, and has collaborated with indie hip hop artists from all over the Middle East, including Fahrass, Bill Amaliyeh, DJ Lethal Skillz, Qarar & Samer AK, Regional Artists Like Deeb from Egypt and Stormtrap from Ramallah.” Edd Abbas’s cutting political critique, numerous collaborations, and irreverent humor always has us coming back for more.

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4. Tamtam – Saudi Arabia, Pop, Indie

Indie pop musician Tamtam from Saudi Arabia makes music centered on important issues of gender equity and liberation. Her song “Gender Games” recounts the pain of being held to a double standard and “We’ve Got Wins,” acts as an anthem for survivors of breast cancer. With a soulful voice and buoyant spirit, Tamtam fills us with hope for the future of women in indie music.

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5. Kabreet – Yemen, Indie, Pop

The amazing Yemeni/German duo Kabreet make global indie pop music combining Arabic lyrics with percussion based and synth-heavy sounds. They see their music as a bridge between different parts of the world, creating something totally new that merges both of their different musical influences and approaches, and we love it!  Kabreet is a German/Yemini based music duo consisting of artist Ibi Ibrahim and journalist Hanno Stecher. 

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6. Terez Sliman – Palestine, Folk, World

Terez Sliman is a Palestinian singer, songwriter and voice-movement coach. Her beautiful collaborations over the past year have included a project with artists Yazan Ibraheem and five others from the Golan Heights band, Toot Ard. She describes the project, “Terez, Yazan and Friends,” as one that “speaks of a hope that brings us back to the most beautiful beginnings – love- to life’s blossom – people- and to the eyes that laugh despite all the sadness of the universe. A musical journey, its home is the skies and earth is simply a station.”

Her second recent collaborative music project “Mina” is with Portuguese singer Sofia Portugal. Mina (Arabic for port) revives and renews traditional folk songs with new influences from around the world. The band’s thoughtful songs map out magnificent trajectories of cultural exchange.

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7. Salome MC – Iran, Hip Hop

Salome MC is a standout figure in Iranian underground hip hop. Along with her fierce Iranian hip hop artist contemporary, Ghogha, Salome MC is making waves with explicitly feminist themes in her work. Her most recent songs “Odium” and “Callous,” celebrate the everyday women who continue to resist and excel despite the limitations of a patriarchal world, 

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8. Nadah El Shazly – Egypt, Experimental

Born in 1989, Nadah El Shazly is an Egyptian singer, composer and music producer based in Cairo. El Shazly composes and produces her own music using and various electronic approaches and also plays the Saz, keys, and percussions. Her versatile vocal prowess was shaped by experiences in choral and jazz settings. These influences can be found in her dream-like avant garde compositions which pair experimental and traditional influences with Nadah’s fantastic vocals to create an evocative listening experience. Nadah is also part of the experimental duo “Shorba” with dancer Mohamed Shafik.

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9. Serhado – Kurdistan, Hip Hop

Born in Sweden to Kurdish parents who escaped from Turkey, Serhado is a big player in the Kurdish hip hop scene. In 2007, his album Xewna Jiyan, Dream of Life, was the first Kurdish hiphop album released in Turkey. His second album Xeyala Evin, Dream of Love, was released in 2009. Serhado continues to advocate for Kurdish autonomy, despite increasing pressure from Turkish authorities. Serhado has become one of the most popular Kurdish performers worldwide.

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10. sandmoon – Lebanon, Indie, Pop, Folk Rock
sandmoon [sic.] is an indie pop/folk band from Beirut, Lebanon fronted by Sandra Arslanian. The band was formed in 2010 when it released its first album, raW. In 2013, the band was revamped and a second album, Home, was released in autumn 2013, featuring the eponymous single “Home,” which received wide acclaim and heavy radio airplay in Lebanon. sandmoon’s latest deliciously crooning folk pop EP #InTheEnd was released this summer.

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11. Boutheyna Alouadi (AKA Medusa) – Tunisia, Hip Hop

Boutheyna Alouadi known as Medusa is a rapper from Nabeul, Tunisia. Beginning as a break dancer at age ten, Medusa entered the world of rap at 16. In 2011, her song “Tounsiya Fière De L’être” went viral and was shared over 3,000,000 times. Boutheyna has made an indelible mark on the underground rap scene with her take on of feminism, revolution, and other issues in her socially conscious hip hop.

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12. Aynur – Kurdistan, Traditional, Folk

Aynur is a Kurdish singer/songwriter and musician from Turkey. She was born in 1975, in Çemisgezek (in the province of Tunceli). In 1992, her family fled to Istanbul in the course of the conflict between the Turkish military and the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). She attended ASM Music School in Istanbul and studied music and singing. Her first album “Seyir” was released in 2002. Aynur achieved significant success through the song she sang in Kurdish in the film “Gönül Yarası” by Yavuz Turgul. Aynur became the first to sing a Kurdish song live in a film shot in Turkey.

Aynur’s beautiful voice has earned her a reputation as one of the most beloved contemporary Kurdish artists. Reviving traditional Kurdish folk songs is a political act, and she performs such acts of cultural resistance for audiences all over the world.

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13. Veritatem Solam – Egypt, Metal

Veritatem Solam (”Only the Truth”) is a metal band that “intends to break the web of lies that has been woven throughout the history of humanity with a wake-up call for a world biased by political, economic and religious deceit.” Founded in Cairo, Egypt in 2006, the band combines the sounds of old-school melodic death and black metal with technical and progressive patterns, resulting in a distinctive musical experience within the metal sphere.

Veritatem Solam’s band members merged their diverse backgrounds, which contributed to form a fresh and unique sound. Veritatem Solam’s first EP, Unholy Protrusions of Divinity, was released in October 2016, and the band looks forward to “invading stages around the world while spreading the message of truth and exposing the lies of the mighty manipulators.” Rock on! 

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14. Jawhar – Tunisia, Indie Rock

“Jawhar’s soulful songwriting “opens a new path where the East takes the form of large American landscapes.” Jawhar has created his own signature style of world-folk music that one could probably describe as midway between Arab chaâbi and Nick Drake’s dreamy folk lullabies. After “When Rainbows call, My Rainbows fly,” hailed by the press as a “mindblowing debut album by a song-writing prodigy” by Les Inrockuptibles, FR, the Tunisian singer-songwriter re-explores his roots and his mother tongue to make them sing differently.”

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15. Dariush – Iran, Hip Hop, Rap 

Dariush is a Tehran based hiphop artist and rising member of the underground Iranian hip hop scene. Dariush dropped his first mixtape in 2012 at age 17, and has continued to produce edgy, political work ever since. 

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16. Cherine Amer, Egypt – Rock

You probably know Egyptian indie rocker Cherine Amer from the badass all women’s metal/punk band Massive Scar Era, but she’s also an amazing solo artist, working under her name and the monicker “Cheen.” We were big fans of Massive Scar Era and continue to love Cherine’s pioneering solo work. 

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