Bab El West: Houdoud

Pandemic isolation can evoke images of The Little Prince, alone on his asteroid, testing the limits of confinement as he imagines transcending space. Similar fabulous journeys are at the heart of Bab El West’s second album, inspired not by Saint-Exupéry but by surrealist poet Paul Éluard’s observation: “’Frontier’ is a one-eyed word but humankind sees the universe with two eyes.” Houdoud (Border) is a natural concept for the Paris-based band whose … More Bab El West: Houdoud

Aziza Brahim: Sahari

On the poignant album cover a girl in ballet shoes and a tutu poses against the backdrop of a refugee camp. Aziza Brahim’s enchanting desert blues are yet to come but the singer-songwriter has already riveted our attention to the story of her people. Brahim herself was born in a camp a year after her mother fled Morocco’s occupation of Western Sahara, Spain’s last colonial foothold in Africa. The 1975 invasion displaced tens of thousands, many of … More Aziza Brahim: Sahari

Souad Massi: Oumniya

“Government,” observed Ibn Khaldoun. “is an institution that prevents injustices, except those it commits itself.” For more than a year, peaceful demonstrators in Algeria have been challenging an entrenched, corrupt regime bent on fulfilling the definition articulated by the fourteenth-century Muslim sage. One of the most eloquent voices in support of the protests is that of Souad Massi, the Algiers-born, Paris-based artist who has spent much of her career … More Souad Massi: Oumniya

A-WA: Bayti Fi Rasi

In Genesis, Rachel leaves Haran with her large family and reaches the Promised Land before dying in childbirth. In modern times, the Rachel who often declared Bayti Fi Rasi (My Home Is in My Head) was a single mother who left the land of her birth—transported in an airlift that took 50,000 Yemenite Jews to Israel in 1949-50—trading oppression in one country for hardship in another. Multitudes remember the biblical matriarch, but if a family is a … More A-WA: Bayti Fi Rasi

Amira Kheir: Mystic Dance

The base camp for Mystic Dance, Amira Kheir’s third album, appears on the cover: The pyramids of Meroë, 200 kilometers (125 miles) down the Nile from Khartoum. The locale is an identity marker for the Sudanese-Italian singer-songwriter, a starting point for a musical fabric woven from classical Sudanese and ancient Nubian sounds laced with soul and jazz, rock and desert blues. On the dance-journey, Kheir, who now lives in London, visits traditional … More Amira Kheir: Mystic Dance

Youssra El Hawary: No’oum Nasyeen

During the Arab Spring, when authorities in Cairo built walls to block demonstrators from Tahrir Square, Youssra El Hawary recalled a satirical poem she had read a few years earlier about a wall. Seeing the verse in a new light, she put it to music, then went—accordion in hand—to one of the new barriers and filmed a video. Her clip, El Soor (The Wall), went viral, jumpstarting her career. She formed a … More Youssra El Hawary: No’oum Nasyeen

Koum Tara

Like most urban settlements, Lyon began with people and currents from other places—Roman refugees camped at the confluence of the Saône and Rhône rivers. For two millennia the rivers have framed the city’s heart and in recent years La Confluence, France’s largest urban renewal project, has transformed the area near the original encampment into a vibrant residential, business and cultural hub. Now Lyon is home to another kind of convergence, a dazzling … More Koum Tara

Bab El West: Douar

The concept of Bab El West’s first full-length album was born in Brittany when Habib Farroukh spotted a road sign for the town of Douarnenez. The Moroccan-born singer-composer and two French-born band mates compared notes and discovered that “douar” has almost the same meaning in Breton (land or domain) as in Arabic and Berber (village). Thus emerged the enchanting, imaginary hometown-homeland of their music, at the crossroads of … More Bab El West: Douar

Carmen París & Nabyla Maan: Dos Medinas Blancas

If you had to choose one biography as a window to the splendor and diversity of Al-Andalus (Muslim Spain), a good choice might be the scientist-philosopher-musician-poet Ibn Bâjja. Though much of his work was lost, his theories on astronomy and physics were preserved by Maimonides and Averroes, fellow polymaths who shared his fate—all outlived the age of coexistence and died in exile. The modern … More Carmen París & Nabyla Maan: Dos Medinas Blancas

Seydu: Sadaka

With his smooth and generous voice, Seydu is poignant in singing about the impact of war, incisive in warning of corruption, reverent about the beauty of African women and upbeat regarding the power of a smile. Such themes animate Sadaka (The Gift), his third album, broadly focused on the redemptive power of giving. Born into a musical family in Sierra Leone—a nation scarred by the slave trade and, more recently, by blood diamonds … More Seydu: Sadaka