wed 22/05/2024

Album: EMEL - MRA | reviews, news & interviews

Album: EMEL - MRA

Album: EMEL - MRA

Tunisian-American singer's latest is fired with feminism and global electro-pop maximalism

EMEL gets her glitzy Gaga jedi on

At a time when conflicts in the Middle East are reaching fever pitch, Emel Mathlouthi represents hope. Her new album MRA, is titled for the Arabic word for “woman” and was created entirely by women, as in, every single person involved with it at any level is female.

She has said of it, “I've come to discover the true meaning of sisterhood… I want us to change the system from within, by and through women.” Happily, this outlook is attached to music that’s sonically exciting.

Based in New York, the Tunisian-born singer first created waves when her initially banned song “Kelmti Horra (My Word is Free)” became an Arab Spring anthem a decade-and-a-half ago, a song she later performed at the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony. Since then, she’s given underground femme-centric concerts in both Iran and Iraq, as well as, controversially, for the Palestinian cause in East Jerusalem.

Her latest album, her fifth, melds electronic dance stylings to Arabic vocalizations and scalings, all amped to a dramatic stadium-level intensity. Appearances by guest MCs from Mali, Iraq, Ukraine and Nigeria Further add to the sense of statement, as does the polyglot language stew throughout (which includes English).

The music ranges from the screwed trap of single “Nar” to mournful chorales such as “Mazel” to the new agey kosmische-flecked “I’ll Leave”, a highlight that recalls Laurie Anderson (with whom EMEL has worked). Lyrically, whatever the language, the drive is towards generalized empowerment rather than anything very specific (eg, translated from Arabic, “I still have a hope/I still have dreams/To build a new path/I will never give up”.

There is a sense the aim might have been electro-pop of the Gaga variety. This is sometimes achieved but, at other times, MRA has a different kind of maximalism, a grandiose gothic theatre, closer, in places, to the epic cinematic sounds of Delerium, William Orbit or Above & Beyond than to contemporary chart music. What MRA has in spades is impressive oomph, a sense of import and occasion, punching out genuine indignation and uplift whilst retaining a modernist magpie musicality,

Below: Watch the video for "Lose My Mind" by EMEL featuring Nayomi

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