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Salalem: Kelma Abeeha
Salalem’s journey to their debut album has been a long but steady rise through the underground music scene in Egypt. Having formed in 2004, they’ve gone from obscurity to regular gigs at Cairo’s top venues like El Sawy Culturewheel and the Cairo Jazz Club, to starring in Vodafone’s 2011Ramadan ad campaign.
One thing the group members have maintained throughout their seven-year existence is a very distinctive musical style and personality. Their lyrics have often been called satirical, and although it’s a little unfair to marginalise their music to just that; there’s no doubt that Salalem like to have fun.
The Salalem sound is hard to pin down, but it often wanders into funk and reggae, whilst all the while sounding quite oriental. They like to experiment, and what is at the heart of this is the fact that they are skilled and creative musicians first and foremost.
Their debut album Kelma Abeeha starts with ‘Al Zol’ (Humiliation), which hits you with reggae vibes laced with brass instrument sounds. The vocals are sung in Sudanese accent, and the words warn a friend against getting involved with a wayward girl.
The title track ‘Kelma Abeeha’ (Swearword) follows, and is by far one of the best songs. Front-man Mohamed ‘Jimi’ Jamal sings about his problems and anxieties as a young Egyptian with a sense of irony and cynicism. ‘Kees El Shibsy’ (Packet of Crisps) is one of the more uncouth songs, shall we say, as ridiculous innuendos invite the female subject of the lyrics to ‘munch on me like some crisps and drink me like a Pepsi’.
However, the album takes a turn with the next song. ‘Khaleeha Ala Allah’ (Leave it in God’s Hands) has a much more relaxed sound and incorporates elements of Sufi chanting. This reflective mood doesn’t last for long, though; ‘Ana Saeed’ (I’m Happy) sees Salalem return to their satirical best. The Latin-funk number talks about a guy whose life is a complete and utter mess. But it doesn’t matter – he’s happy.
‘Fel Otobees’ (On the Bus) has been one of the group’s most popular songs over the years, and typifies their style. The oriental song makes fun of the barrage of posters on buses, advertising everything from food and drink to hair gel. ‘Atama’ pokes more fun, but this time at a character that we all recognise in someone, somewhere. This straight-up rock song mocks the big shots, the show-offs and the big egos that, when you stripped them down, are nothing. That’s about half of Cairo.
Finishing the album is the very catchy ‘Zahma’ (Traffic). Once again, the lyrics deliver what the title promises – it’s about the insistent traffic in the streets of Egypt – with its group’s light and relevant take on bigger societal issues. The idea of traffic is best translated into the song in a section where all the group members speak gobbledegook over each other, and impersonate microbus drivers.
Kelma Abeeha is an enjoyable album whose lyrics are as refreshing as they are amusing. Although lead singer Jimi and guitarist/vocalist Mohamed ‘Walkman’ Ali stand out, every member of the six-man band has a different musical outlook and they are combined to perfect blend.
One of the shortest tracks on the album is ‘DMT Song’. Created with the help of bassist/vocalist, Thundercat, it is the most vocally dense song on the record. Slow and dreamy, with high-pitched, slightly dissonant, vocals, it's a good intro to the next track, ‘The Nightcaller’. Aptly titled, this song features a groovy dance bass underneath a synthesizer melody that sounds ideal for waving your arms around on the dance floor.
‘Getting There’, with vocals by Niki Randa, is reminiscent of Massive Attack. Not only because of the elongated vocals, but the muffled bass beat and dreamy bell sounds could certainly also have spawned from the brains of 3D and Daddy G. The same goes for ‘Hunger’; a song that sounds like it was recorded underwater and also features Randa. Its spacious melody is broken up by a bridge with echoing vocals and harpsichord-like keyboards.
Erykah Badu is the only vocalist to appear on the album that Flying Lotus hasn’t worked with previously. Her vocals work really well on the African sounding track ‘See Thru To U’ - hopefully, Badu will become incorporated into Ellison’s fixed team of vocalists.
‘Putty Boy Strut’ sounds like a broken toy gone mental, with a catchy musical theme that returns in the deeper layers of ‘Me Yesterday/Corded’.
‘Electric Candyman’ features vocals by Radiohead frontman, Thom Yorke, and is a slow track with male and female vocal melodies mixed together in a way that almost sounds disorienting. Yorke’s voice is hardly recognisable, which seems like a waste considering his great, and highly distinguishable, vocal abilities.
Perennial chart-toppers and masterminds behind hit singles like Moves like Jagger, Payphone and One More Night, Maroon 5, are back after a two year hiatus – and expectations are high.
Maps, which was released earlier this years as a single, opens the bands fifth studio album, V, with an upbeat vibe and Levine’s and quite clearly auto-tuned, yet amiable all the same, vocals. The song, just like most of the other songs on the album, is, in classic Maroon 5 fashion; it’s extremely catchy and will almost inevitabely turn into a long-ter, guilty pleasure.
The following track, 'Animals', is somewhat inconspicuous but for Levine’s peculiur howling – literally like an animal – towards the end. Things taka a romantic turn with 'It Was Always You', though the mixture of fast and slow beats and the fact that it largely manages to stay away from clichéd sentiments and cheesy lyrics make it one of the album’s standout tracks.
V then momentarily calms down with the soulful 'Unkiss Me' and then speeds up again with 70’s-inpired chorus of 'Sugar'. Hands-in-the-air, festival-appropriate ballad, 'Leaving California', follows and puts Levine’s high-pitched vocals on full display.
It wouldn’t be a Maroon 5 album without a song about a cheating significant other and 'In Your Pocket' satisfies what has almost become the band’s trademark subject of choice.
From there on, the album takes a turn for the worse, down the boring bubble-gum-pop lane. With themes like demanding a lover’s forgiveness if he ever does her wrong, crooning about getting back to a lover soon and urging a girl to leave other guys and find her way to him in 'Feelings'.
The album, thankfully, ends on a more musically mature note with a touching duet with Gwen Stefani. Piano notes dominate the beat of ‘My Heart is Open’ as Levine and Stefani’s vocals complement each other perfectly.
Ultimately, V is quite indistinguishable from the band’s fourth release, Overexposed. It’s an album that pushes the band further away from the intangible essence that won them so many fans back in 2002 with the release of debut album, Songs About Jane, towards the oblivion of the teen-spirited music they have produce as of late.