With the current state of Egyptian pop, audiences have found refuge in alternative genres. Often labeled ‘independent’ or ‘underground’ music, but without any specific meaning ascribed to either, one thing that is clear is that this music defines itself as being different than what is offered by mainstream Egyptian or Arabic pop. By default, such music is given merit simply by the virtue of being ‘different’, but in some cases a closer look at the music itself reveals much style and little substance.
There has been considerable hype surrounding Property of Nadya Shanab and their new album El Mahrousa. It is a hype that is limited to a certain scene and community, but hype nonetheless.
The album can be described as a fusion of Arabic and western elements with an emphasis on a wide range of acoustic instruments and a mix of Arabic and English vocals. The lyrics are ultimately what ruin the album. Both in Arabic and English, the lyrics are simplistic and unsophisticated. At times they sound positively adolescent, something I found very difficult to forgive given that the lead singer, who also wrote most of the songs, studied music.
The Arabic lyrics in particular suffer from a bad case of having no structure and awkward phrasing, with the lead singer trying to force them to conform to the tune, ultimately making any native speaker cringe when sentences are unnecessarily stretched or shortened, like forcing a square peg into a round hole.
The music on the album is good, within that particular genre, but still nothing you haven’t heard before. Shanab’s voice can be beautiful but not only is it an acquired taste, the sound on most songs is not tight enough and on many of the tracks her voice melts into the instruments.
Then there is the issue of Shanab’s inability to properly enunciate basic Arabic. Experimentation with language and singing is one thing and one could forgive her peculiar phrasing and pronunciation if the album was not clearly trying to evoke images of Arab heritage.
From the name El Mahrousa to songs like Cairo Minarets and the arbitrary sprinkling of every other song with Ya Leili and Ya Ainy, the album romanticises this heritage. A heritage which emphasises singing in Arabic much in the same way one would recite poetry, meaning that proper singing and enunciation is a must and anything less would be a bastardisation of this tradition. For the sake of this album, only a rigid understanding of Arab heritage is needed, because this is what the album imposes upon you every chance it gets.
While the album tries to pay homage to Egyptian heritage both in terms of style and substance, it ultimately belittles it and reduces it to a few random words here and there that include the likes of Aseela and Asmar. The western elements are better done and the album would have sounded much better if it were not for the use of Arabic elements ,as seems to be a gimmick in an otherwise good but unexceptional album.