Listen to a playlist of Algerian and North African sounds curated by Sabrina Bellaouel
The best music from the MENA region
With a solid set of lauded releases under her belt, Sabrina Bellaouel's highly-personal debut album 'Al Hadr' looks set to introduce a new legion of listeners to her distinctive neo soul-meets-R&B-meets-club sound.
Created over the course of a decade, the record sees the French Algerian artist touch on themes of gender, romance, faith and astrology — combining hypnotic, nostalgic melodies with cutting-edge electro-futurism. 'Al Hadr' expands on Bellaouel's work on EPs 'We Don't Need To Be Enemies' and ‘Libra’, and features collaborations with artists such as CRYSTALLMESS, Bonnie Banane and Monomite.
“I’m in a very strange time and space right now,” Bellaouel says on the album. “I feel like I’m on the verge of something bigger than me that I can’t control, but the album has allowed me to release all of this emotional turmoil. I’m like a warrior, dirtied and wounded, leaving battle to find a peaceful field ahead.”
A notable deviation from Bellaouel's style on 'Al Hadr' is its utilisation of hip hop style loops, “J Dilla once used a metal chain to build a snare sound,” she says. "The weight of the chain meant that it hit the mark offbeat. I love ‘accidents’ like this in production, so I like to record in my own, close environment; to find happy accidents.”
To mark the recent release of her debut album 'Al Hadr', Sabrina has compiled a playlist of the best music from the MENA, from traditional Algerian folk music to fresh cuts from North African artists from both Arabic and Berber cultures.
Read a Q&A with Sabrina Bellaouel and listen to the playlist below.
Your recent single Eclipse is all about lunar changes and fuses Algerian Raï music with house music. Can you tell us more about the significance of the genre and astrology you?
I m always inspired by the unknown. My music is an exploration of genre, styles, identity, and our relationship with technology. It was natural for me to fuse club music with what’s encoded in my DNA. Raï and house music go pretty well together. They exist individually in the same plan and system just like the stars and planets. Astrology is just a pretext for me to speak through poetry.
Al Hadr is your most club focussed release yet - what were your formative clubbing experiences like in Paris? What do you want to hear when you are in the club at the moment?
I am drawn to a lot of different music. I like to dance to house, techno, old-school R'n'B, dance, rap… I wanna hear slappers but I also do appreciate creative mixes. So, before my night out, I investigate the DJ who’s gonna bless or curse my ears :)
You love to collaborate - Al Hadr features Crystalmess, Bonnie Banane, and Basile 3 among others. What made you choose these artists?
I am very proud of all the artists featured on this album. Basile 3 is a very sensitive and skilful musician who helped me sharpen my vision. Crystall Mess is like a warm embrace full of wisdom that has, without knowing it crystallized the essence of the Al Hadr message. We close the album with a duet with my dear sister Bonnie Banane who I admire so much. The song is a beautiful way of saying goodbye to what we have outgrown.
Your single ‘Trust’ explores Aladdin heroine Jasmine’s relationship with her heritage and perspective. Do you see parallels between yourself and Jasmine? And how would Jasmine’s story look in 2022?
Jasmine is the first Arab princess I saw on television. She embodies the quality of a truly powerful woman. She is fighting against fitting in with some traditions and limited beliefs. Her archetype is very subtle, more universal. Jasmine is in the crusades and that was a very serious catalyst for exploring my identity as an Algerian woman born and raised in France. If I could rewrite the story, she would be the Sultana of Agrabah and would have the choice to get married or not.
What’s coming up for you this year?
We are going to announce the Al HADR 2023 tour this year alongside the release of Al Hadr. Also, new collaborations and remixes are planned too. I cannot wait and feel blessed.
Can you tell us about this playlist?
This playlist features old-school Raî and brand-new artists from the MENA. I am sharing a bunch of very creative north African artists who celebrate both Arabic and Berber cultures.
Sabrina Bellaouel's debut album 'Al Hadr' is out now, stream & buy here.
Megan Townsend is Mixmag's Deputy Editor, follow her on Twitter