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Wade through Nadah El Shazly’s marshland

The Cairo-based composer shares her instantly classic debut recording, Ahwar, this week.

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Nadah El Shazly live in Cairo. - SUBMITTED
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  • Nadah El Shazly live in Cairo.

Nadah El Shazly w/JOYFULTALK
Saturday, March 31, 8:30pm
Garrison Brewery, 1149 Marginal Road
$20/pwyc

When you have a debut album to release, how do you decide what direction to take? If you're Cairo-based composer/singer Nadah El Shazly, the answer is simple: All of them.

"Because it's my first album, there are a lot of ideas and influences that have been boiling up inside of me since I was younger," says El Shazly about her debut album Ahwar, released in November.

The Egyptian native, currently on an international tour, is visiting Halifax this weekend to perform and discuss the themes present on her release. There are many: Love, insanity, separation and even ecology are topics El Shazly explores on Ahwar, which is Arabic for "marshland."

"Historically there's a connotation to marshlands being a vast place where you can get lost if you don't know your way," says El Shazly. "To me, it's a fantastical place where you always feel the tension of losing your way, but it depends on how you look at it—it could very well be a new home."

Recorded between Cairo and Montreal, El Shazly collaborated with Sam Shalabi and Maurice Louca to craft the eclectic eight-track album, which sees the musician blend electro-acoustic elements and vocal manipulation with traditional Egyptian sensibilities. Tracks like "Afqid Adh-Dhakira" highlight her creativity and vocal prowess, and treats listeners to unique scales (Bayati, Higaz and Nakriz) uncommon in western music.

And her talents aren't going unrecognized. El Shazly is quickly gaining acclaim in her hometown as well as around the world for her music. In fact, Apple Music recently added standout track "Mihmiya," a song about the illusion of security and a violent understanding of love, to its Global Chill playlist, ensuring her captivatingly beautiful sounds reach a wider audience.

"I discovered her at a festival in the Netherlands called Le Guess Who," says Andrew Patterson, creative director of OBEY Convention. "Her performance blew me away, so I'm glad we were able to have her come to Halifax."

Patterson says El Shazly's visit is important, as musical performances by Arabic artists are a rarity here. "I think it's important as an arts organization to give a platform to people who might not have the opportunity to be heard," he says. He believes audiences, regardless of background and musical taste, will be wowed by El Shazly's sonic stylings in the same way he was when he first listened to Ahwar.

"There's something so unique about it but familiar, even for someone who isn't well-versed in music from the Arabic world," says Patterson. "It's a record I would expect someone to make well into their career because it's so intricate and thoughtful. I can't speak highly enough of it."

As for El Shazly, she's excited to share with all who come to hear the music she put much care into crafting. "I worked very slowly on this record and didn't make any compromises with any of the ideas," says El Shazly. "I am just really excited the album is being heard." 


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