Salalem: Kelma Abeeha
Alternative & IndiePop
Bassem Abou Arab
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
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.