Deena Abdelwahed is a radical musician with a noble cause. She uses her music to rally against social injustices like gender inequality and homophobia, which comes through in both her lyrics and her at times confrontational club sound. By combining modern club sounds with synthesised Arabic instrumentation and lyrics sung mostly in Tunisian Arabic, Abdelwahed's debut album, Khonnar, critiques both Arab society and the way it is perceived.
In an interview for the Wire, Abdelwahed explained the meaning behind some of the songs on Khonnar. "Al Hobb Al Mouharreb," meaning love as refuge, concerns the migrant crisis and intercultural partnerships for the sake of asylum. "Rabbouni" speaks out against societal control and the taming of generations. "Saratan," about gender inequality, and "Fdhiha," a song in defence of the young, showcase a range of vocal effects, from ethereal smears to high-pitched ululations. By transforming her voice into many, you could say she embodies the marginalised communities and people she defends with her work.
Abdelwahed's conceptual approach is present in Khonnar's instrumentals, too. Take "Tawa," which merges an Arabic melody with non-traditional rhythms––"an attempt to do a dancey ballroom track," as Abdelwahed recently described it. It's an ironic play of preconceptions, she's said, "because that opening melody is what you expect from an Arab musician but the rest of the song has nothing to do with being proud of Arab culture." This thoughtful approach is typical of Khonnar.
However unusual it sounds, the LP makes you want to dance. "A Scream In The Consciousness" is the exception, a challenging, arrhythmic track, composed mostly of bleeps and pulses, that was made during a ten-day residency at Stockholm's EMS Studios. Abdelwahed's voice comes through not in a scream, but in a low, unrelenting moan. It's this kind of symbolism that makes Khonnar both a political statement and a daring piece of art.
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