The title translates as "a patch of shade under the zaqum tree". How delightful. The intention here seems to be to use modern electronica, R&B and grime to convey a sense of ancient Arabic existentialism. Compared to Scott Walker and Omar Souleyman, MSYLMA singer uses Islamic poetry to tell the story of a life from childhood to adulthood all sung in a form of classic Arabic.
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As much as we like to think of music as a universal language, the fact that even a relatively adventurous shop like ours doesn’t stock much contemporary music sung in languages other than English suggests that universality has its limits. Sure we might get a sense of an artist’s intention from the instrumentals but it’s easy to feel alienated the moment you hear words you can’t understand.
As someone with an Arabic speaking parent, the barrier to entry for MSYLMA’s magnificent debut album is likely a little lower, but the fact remains, I don’t understand the words he’s singing. Partly that’s by design, not only is he singing in Arabic, but in a classical Arabic distinct from the version of the language most of its speakers will be familiar with. And yet, and yet. The delivery of those words is so imbued with emotion, with heart, with fear and angst and pain, that while I can’t grasp the specifics, I think my broad understanding ‘Dhil-un Taht Shajarat Al-Zaqum’ might be better than most albums I’ve listened to.
MSYLMA deliver his lyrics in a style not dissimilar from a lot of modern R&B, without ever dropping the cadences and the melodies that some of you may be familiar with from other Arabic musics. The production though, is much closer to grime, and specifically the notion of ‘weightless’ that has been pushed by Mumdance and Logos. Synths are severe and fractured, struggling to carry the weight of the singing. The total experience is almost unsettling in how intense can be. But it’s always heartfelt, and it’s always beautiful.
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- Dhil-un Taht Shajarat Al-Zaqum by MSYLMA
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