During recording sessions in Cairo as part of an upcoming album, Berlin-based band Out Of Nations decided to rearrange a traditional folk song as a dedication to the country they were in, and to which some members trace their roots. Inviting Dina El Wedidi into the studio to contribute the vocals, the single ‘Sellem‘ was recorded. This debut single will be released exclusively on Dandin for the Middle East and North Africa during Eid on June 27, ahead of a worldwide release slated for July 11.
“I met Dina in 2012 when I first moved to Cairo and really liked the raw emotion in her voice,” ElNaggar told 3/4, “While we were working on some other tracks in Cairo with Hazem Shaheen, Islam Chipsy, Abdallah Abozekry, and a string-ensemble led by Mohamed Medhat, we decided to do one [final] track as a sort of dedication for Egypt … and Dina was the first name that came to mind – she sings in a way that feels like it belongs somewhere between very traditional and very modern, and that fit what we imagined for our version of ‘Sellem Alay.'”
Inspired by the unique makeup of its formation, Out Of Nations is a world music band that reflects the peripatetic nature of its members. Formed by Egyptian-Mexican-American artist Lety ElNaggar, the six-strong ensemble boasts six separate nationalities between them and infuse their technically proficient compositions with generous dollops of Funk, Latin, Pop and Jazz.
And that is apparent in ‘Sellem’, a traditional song of unknown origin, but so ubiquitous that it is instantly recognisable in Egypt. The challenge for ElNaggar and the band was to rework it in a modern way, with the rearrangement heavily reliant on a modern bass/drum rhythm section and the decision to go “full-on funk” during the Lazmeh, the traditional instrumental interlude found in Arabic music. Releasing the single during Eid is a conscious attempt on the part of the band to contribute to the festive nature of the period.
It was also an attempt on ElNaggar’s part to pay homage to the rural origins of her family roots. “I especially wanted to do something that reflected a bit of where I come from – my family’s village in Beheira, since that’s actually the first place I first heard ‘Sha’abi’ music, which I love. We wanted to do something Sha’abi for the time and spaces we’re living in,” she said.
Out Of Nations is ElNaggar (Reeds), Jonas Cambien (Belgium – Keys), Charis Karantzas (Greece – Guitar), Thomas Stieger (Germany – Bass), Ayman Mabrouk (Egypt – Percussion), Christian Tschuggnall (Austria – Drums) and produced by Khalil Chahine. As is evident by their lineup, the band’s music is unsurprisingly a cornucopia of different styles and genres. And if all this is best categorised under the moniker of World Music, the connotations extend beyond the music as well.
Made popular by Peter Gabriel’s music festival WOMAD in the eighties, world music has been an easily digestible phrase sometimes misappropriated to market non-Western genres. In the time since and with the advent of technology making music ever more accessible (if not necessarily more appreciated), the debate on what constitutes world music and its place in the pantheon of musical categorisation becomes ever more complex. As such, it can present a challenge to its exponents, who must navigate the changing meanings of categorisation as well as the geographic expectations placed on its practitioners.
In its formation and style, Out Of Nations aims to challenge these notions. “You don’t have to look a certain way or have a certain pedigree to write and perform world music. I just write music like this. It’s not an intentional thing – it just happens that way,” ElNaggar said in a press release, “There are lots of young artists like me who are starting to operate outside of nations. We see people as people and music as music before we consider what nation the person or music comes from.”
ElNaggar’s musical excursions have taken her from New York to Berlin by way of a three-year tenure spent between Cairo and Beirut. She joined forces with Chahine to develop her music compositions and from that collaboration, Out Of Nations began to take shape. The resulting cosmopolitan mix of musicians served to reinforce the borderless appeal behind the music and the people who make it.
“The band was formed to express via music the idea that we could live in a world where people are seen as humans before they’d be seen as members of a nation,” ElNaggar said, “We think that’s the future, and it’s one of the things that clicks between us as a band. When we play together, it feels like we’re living in this future world, and at the same time it seems natural.”
Staying true to the nomadic motif inherent to this musical project, recording of the upcoming Out Of Nations album took place across five different studios between Berlin, New York, Cairo and Beirut. The songs recorded in Cairo featured guest artists such as keyboard virtuoso Islam Chipsy and Oud player Hazem Shaheen of Eskenderella. Shaheen was also present on ‘Sellem’ alongside Ahmed Nazmi on bass, Mohamed Medhat on violin, Hany Badry on Nay, Alia Shaheen with additional vocals and Hany Bedeir alongside Mabrouk on percussion.
The last-ditch recording and subsequent release of the single ‘Sellem’ is also an attempt to speak to “international musical influences at a time when [the] political climate and humanitarian disasters have dampened morale across the region. We want to remind the world of the uplifting, positive sides of the region’s daily life and cultural expression.”
Viewers in the Middle East can watch the video for Sellem here.