Playlist #36: It’s All About That Beat

Click here for the full playlist on YouTube and Spotify.

This playlist aims to focus on the pulse and passion of percussionists – in essence, the rhythm, the pulse and the heartbeat of most musical pieces, veering away from the saturated coverage of singers and giving the stage to percussionists of the southern Mediterranean. 

This riveting playlist has been curated by renowned Tunisian artist, musician, splendid percussionist and festival director Imed Alibi.The current director of one of the Arabic-speaking world’s longest standing music festival; Carthage Festival, has selected solo percussionists from across West Asia and North Africa, highlighting both their solo projects and iconic collaborations with iconic artists.

The percussion section in modal or maqam  music (Modal music uses diatonic scales that are not necessarily major or minor and does not use functional harmony) is abundant with instruments that form the iconic backbone of modal/maqam music; from the well known tabla and daff (frame drum), to the riqq (small handheld tambourine), the Egyptian mazhar (an oversized riqq), sajat (finger cymbals) and Moroccan qraqeb (iron-like castanets). These are often combined to add a wide palette of timbres, tonal ranges and ornamentation.

This playlist kicks off with a live performance by the acclaimed Algerian percussionist Rabah Khalfa, as he accompanies the Algerian Kabyle icon, Idir. Khalfa is regarded as one of Algeria’s best percussionists and has worked with musical legends including Souad Massi and Marcel Khalife. In the second song of the playlist, Souad Massi’s “Ech Edani”, he delivers an impeccable tabla performance accompanying the chanteuse, alongside his masterful introduction into the song.

Another musical collaborator of Idir’s is the spectacular Algerian percussionist, singer and composer Karim Ziad. Ziad has released four albums starting with his 2001 Ifrikya, followed by Chabiba in 2004, Dawi in 2007 and Yobadi in 2010. He has also collaborated with North African stars like Cheb Mami and Khalid. You can check out his drum performance  in this playlist, as well as his performance with Gnawa protoje Mehdi Nassouli at the Opus Festival where they skillfully marry jazz with Gnawa and North African rhythms.

Rony Barrak’s “Darbouka Solo” echoes in the chambers of your hearts with every rapid strike of the instrument. The Lebanese musician, darbouka player and composer has been sharing his percussive skills with the world since the tender age of four. His “Tabla ‘n’ Funk” piece from his 2010 album Darbouka City brings a funky flavour to a bassy beat. You can also check out his previous discography; the 1999 album Aramba and 2005 Karizma.

In Palestine, Galilee-born Palestinian percussionist Youssef Hbeisch has become renowned for developing a unique style combining complex Arabic rhythms and using a varied array of unusual instrumentss. Besides having taught at the Eduard Said National Conservatoire of Music in its Ramallah, Bethlehem and Jerusalem branches, he has also collaborated with musical giants such as the renowned oud maestro Simon Shaheen, sufi and Ottoman musician Süleyman Erguner, Ibrahim Maalouf of the Oriental Music Ensemble, and the Palestinian oud brothers Le Trio Joubran. He also forms a duo with Palestinian oud player Ahmad Al Khatib. His solo performance in the playlist was part of his collaboration with the innovative Palestinian ensemble Khoury Project in a piece entitled “A Walk in Jerusalem”. On the collaborative side you can take in some beats from his performance with Le Trio Joubran at Olympia.

Iranian percussionist, singer and composer Habib Meftah is one of Iran’s most esteemed percussionists. Firmly rooted in the music of southern Iran he blends folk music with contemporary sounds, all while making his own instruments. The Dom Dom is one of his innovative percussion instruments based on the Iranian two-sided cylindrical Dammam.  Habib Meftah  has also collaborated with global musicians Le Trio Joubran and Titi Robin. Debuting as a solo artist in 2005 with the album Deyzangeroo, he followed up with his second solo  album Shibaali in 2020. You can savour his latest release “Salmaan” as well as his  immaculate performance of “My Heart” with Iranian musician and composer Shahab Toulouie fusing Persian and Flamenco music. 

Topping up the playlist are the works of esteemed curator, percussionist and musician Imed Alibi. Imed Alibi has collaborated extensively with musicians and singers, the likes of Emel Mathlouthi, Rachid Taha, and les Boukakes. In his 2014 debut album Safar Imed Alibi worked with Tunisian violinist Zied Zouari, French musician Stephane Puech and the album was produced by Robert Plant’s venerable guitarist Justin Adams. His following 2018 album Salhi combined sufi, jazz and a local Tunisian musical genre, Salhi working alongside French composer and trumpet player Michel Marre and Jazz and Sufi music singer, Mounir Troudi. The same year, he launched a new music project – Frigya.  Meaning “Africa” in the Tunisian dialect, the project brought together the learnings from years of in depth research into African sounds and Tunisian rhythms and created a masterpiece linking the African and Arab worlds through percussion and voice. In the finale of the playlist you can catch watch his solo performance of Frigya, in addition to a collaborative piece with Burkinabe singer, songwriter and composer Kandy Guira  called “Cosmo”. 

Joyful and pounding, drifting and dreamy, this playlist highlights some of the best contemporary percussionists from West Asia and North Africa. Turn the volume up and let the rhythm take over.


What are MARSM Playlists?

Marsm’s bi-weekly playlists take on the musical history, trends and upcoming productions from the music scene in the Arabic-speaking countries. Each playlist focuses on a new theme, showcasing both underground and established artists – from the more dance-able to the most experimental – and everything in between.