For several years, Diwan Bookstore has managed to revolutionize the book industry in Egypt. Now, Diwan has turned its attention to music, venturing in a new project that would introduce Egyptian listeners to untraditional sounds from across the globe, with an emphasis on the Arab world.
Diwan has recently acquired exclusive distribution rights of Lebanese music label, Forward Music; a move that could help bring alternative music to a larger audience.
Forward Music was established in 2003 to encourage new and creative trends in the Arab music scene, presenting diverse genres to the region via fusions and fresh perspectives. The label was founded by Lebanese musician/composer/producer, Ghazi Abdel Baki.
Musicians signed to the label include Charbel Rouhana, Sumaya Baalbaki, Mustafa Said, Ghada Shbeir, Gros Bras, Ziyad Sahhab and Paul Salem. In addition, Forward Music has produced various compilation albums.
The label’s recordings are drastically dissimilar from the timid pop of the WAMAs and the Tamer Hosnys that dominate the local market. These records are original and uncommon, yet thoroughly accessible with an appeal much wider than their average underground counterparts.
Unlike most mainstream mega labels that heavily rely on the customary music videos and wooly marketing strategies, Forward Music focuses solely on the music, letting it speaks for itself.
The appeal of Forward Music’s releases also transcends indigenous and age barriers. The records at hand range from upbeat music that young people can dance to, to the calm, artistically refined compositions older generations can easily enjoy.
Among the most outstanding releases of the label is the “World Music from Lebanon: Volume 2 box-set which includes three albums: Abdel Baki’s “Communique #2, Ibrahim Jaber and Gros Bras’ “Faces, and a bonus CD containing samples of all Forward Music productions.
“Communiqué #2, the second album of a trilogy in the making, can be summed up as an eclectic fusion of colors and sounds. Poems of great mystic Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore and Persian writer Mansur Al-Hallaj are interpreted in a musical form that ranges from complex Brazilian jazz with oriental melodies to modern R&B grooves and Portuguese beats intercepted by serene bridges.
The album also features BBC3’s 2007 World Music Awards winner Ghada Shbeir on two outstanding tracks.
Jaber and Bras’ “Faces embodies the essence of world music by blending an assortment of genres, traditions and instruments in a style that veers towards the experimental in some parts.
Judging by the album’s intricate production, it’s no wonder it took five years to create. The wide variety of musicians and sounds includes a chorus line from Africa, a guitarist from India, another guitarist from Spain, a horn section from France, a singer from the US and a solid rhythm section from Lebanon.
Another unique feature of Forward Music is how it spells out the fears and concerns of Arabs in an eloquent, truthful and genuine fashion; a feat few mainstream musicians have accomplished. A noble example is Charbel Rouhana’s track “El Hamdu Lil Lah (Thank God) that sees him express his gratefulness for being able to obtain a US visa at a time when such endeavor is becoming increasingly difficult, especially for Arabs.
Forward Music says it hopes to draw on the rich musical past of the Arab world and the array of contemporary influences to craft new musical dialects. Its broad goals aside, listening to these records will simply put a smile on your face. The sheer vibrancy, unpredictability and high entertainment quality of this music is something to celebrate.