We’ve all been there. Strolling into our local record shop, we inevitably come face-to-face with the dreaded pretentious record store employee. Like some kind of self-important sommelier of all things obscure in the realm of the recorded note, the record store employee has come to represent everything reprehensible about the sub-culture of millennial hipsters. Always ready to introduce you to whatever’s cool, rare, and far-out-of-left-field in your favourite genre, vinyl geeks give the rest of us music enthusiasts a bad name. I’m sure that anyone familiar with the blistering intensity of Bessie Smith’s early recordings or the haunting tones of Rajdulari Khan’s ragas has come up against the urge to hide their love of ‘unusual’ music for fear of being lumped in with the High Fidelity crowd. It’s a shame that a passion for music has taken this shape these days—it doesn’t have to be this way. So let’s get unusual, but not obscure or pretentious, and dive head first into the world of music from around the globe.
For my inaugural Argosy column on world music, I’ve really been digging Sawtuha, a recent compilation off the German label Jakarta Records. Recorded over two weeks at Mohsen Matri Studios in Tunis and released Jan. 24, Sawtuha (Arabic for ‘her voice’) is pretty political, and deeply badass. It features a selection of hip hop and beat tracks recorded by a group of female musicians from Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Syria. Egyptian hip-hop artist Maryam Saleh, like many of the nine musicians on this album, is a talented multi-instrumentalist in her own right, playing guitar and piano, as well as singing on the powerful opening track “Nouh Al Hamam.”
Despite the overall strength and experience of the artists, however, many of Sawtuha’s strongest moments come from its guest production spots. French producer Blundetto brings what he calls a “stoned soul” quality to Badiaa Bouhrizi’s excellent song “Mana’a.” Meanwhile, German beat-maker and Jakarta Records label-mate Shuko lends an ethereal tone to Syrian artist Rasha Rizk’s mournful vocals on her song “Elegie.” Perhaps the biggest highlight on the album is Tunisian artist Medusa’s track “Naheb N3ch Hyati,” which features production by Olof Dreijer, the legendary Swedish DJ and member of electronic music duo The Knife. Dreijer’s beats on “Naheb N3ch Hyati” are ugly, erratic, and abrasive, bringing a gritty tone to Medusa’s tour de force vocal rap stylings.
Ultimately, while it misses the mark from time to time, Sawtuha is an engaging listen, ready to reveal music’s equalizing powers and kick you in the face, often at the same time.
Jack Britton co-hosts Good Rivers, Great Lakes Mondays at 10 pm on CHMA with Norman Nehmetallah.