Apparently 2013 was the year of the twerk and the selfie. And if our social media feeds from the past few weeks are anything to go by, it’s also the year of the end of year round-up. And while it would be nice to see much less of Miley Cyrus next year, as far as round-ups go, you can never have too much of a good thing.
For us 2013 was a year when London echoed with some of the most glorious sounds from Beirut, Algiers, Bangalore, Islamabad and beyond. To celebrate the year gone by, and to flag the hope for years to come, we’ve put together this Youtube playlist of our favourite musical performances. 16 songs representing the best of the best. The story in chronological order is below – or you can go straight to the playlist by clicking here.
1. Husn-e-Haqiqi, Arieb Azhar. In February and then again in April, Pakistan’s Arieb Azhar brought Sufi soul to London, first at SOAS and then at the Alchemy Festival. We wrote about Arieb’s spellbinding baritone, and Husn-e-Haqiqi – his best song to date as far as we’re concerned – in our post here.
2. Buleria con Ricardo, Anoushka Shankar. In April, Anoushka Shankar and band performed her album ‘Traveller’ at the Southbank Centre’s Alchemy Festival, plucking away at our heartstrings with their fusion of the sitar and flamenco guitar. Buleria con Ricardo is one of the more up-tempo pieces, and thrilled us to our toes.
3. Chal Diye, Zeb and Haniya. Also featuring in the Alchemy Festival were Pakistan’s Zeb and Haniya. We raved about their folksy/ jazzy/ bluesy performance here and to anyone who’d listen for months after. The magnificent Chal Diye is Haniya’s ode to her home city of Islamabad, which has also been home to both of us at various points in our lives.
4. Onnam Kandathil, Asima. We also discovered Asima – a vocal and percussion ensemble from Kerala who fuse western and Indian rhythms and harmonies – at the Alchemy Festival. They brought the Southbank Centre cheerfully alive one late spring evening, and we’d love to see them again.
5. Jasmine, Jai Paul. Having stunned listeners with his debut single ‘BTSTU’, the enigmatic British-Indian record producer Jai Paul released his second demo – the wonderful Jasmine – in April. There has been some controversy since (find out more about that here), but an official album is yet to appear. Like many others, we wait impatiently for it.
6. Mori Araj Suno, Atif Aslam. In May, Mira Nair’s much-awaited film The Reluctant Fundamentalist, (which we wrote about here) based on Mohsin Hamid’s novel of the same name, released in the UK. The film’s highlights included the recreation of Lahore in Delhi, Riz Ahmed’s performance, and the music score by composer Michael Andrews. We’ve chosen the dark and moody Mori Araj Suno, superbly rendered by Atif Aslam, as our top pick of the soundtrack.
7. Nagada Sang Dhol, Shreya Ghoshal. Superstar Bollywood playback singer Shreya Ghoshal was also around in May, performing at the Royal Albert Hall. We struggled to pick one song from her impressive repertoire, and decided ultimately to give ourselves historic license and go for the exhilarating Nagada Sang Dhol from the movie Ram Leela, which released in the UK a few months later in November, and knocked everyone’s socks off (in part due to its moustachioed leading man). Do watch the video on this one – it’s dizzying stuff!
The El Gusto Orchestra
8. Subhanallah Ya Latif, El Gusto Orchestra. A busy June started off special. We were seriously blown away by the El Gusto Orchestra, a 25-piece Muslim-Jewish ensemble which brought châabi – the music of the Casbah in Algiers – to the Barbican (we wrote about them here). The vitality of the musicians, and the unadulterated joy they brought out in the audience surpassed anything else we’d seen this year. Check out Subhanallah ya Latif, and just imagine it live.
The audience at the Souad Massi/ Rachid Taha performance
9. Amessa, Souad Massi. Also in June, French-Algerian superstar Souad Massi, brought her raw, soulful sounds to Barbican – but with a new, electronic edge. We’ve chosen Amessa as our favourite track from that performance – but could have easily gone for any number of others.
10. Ya Rayah, Rachid Taha. Rachid Taha was the other French-Algerian superstar on that epic double bill at the Barbican. Neither the man, nor the song that brought the house down that night need any introduction. You’re welcome.
11. Nadia, Nitin Sawhney. June was also the month of Nitin Sawhney at the Roundhouse. While Nitin was his usual legendary self, and Joss Stone was there too and on fairly good form, that performance was all about the phenomenal Nicki Wells, who provided vocals in English, Arabic, Hindi and Bengali, and floored us with her mastery of an extraordinary range of musical traditions. We’ve chosen her rendition of the classic Nadia for your delectation.
12. Black is the Colour, Natacha Atlas. The inimitable Natacha Atlas brought her incredible musical and stage presence to the Elgar Rooms in the Royal Albert Hall in October, accompanied by a seven-piece band. The set included songs from her magnificent album Ana Hina, from which we’ve chosen the dazzling Black is the Colour, which is sung in English.
13. Fasateen, Mashrou3Leila. In October, Mashrou3Leila, Beirut’s boundary-pushing indie pop band played their first UK concert to a venue packed with Lebanese hipsters, and… us. We had to wait two hours for it, but they showed us a rollicking good time, including Fasateen – one of the band’s best known ballads.
14. Vay, Sezen Aksu. Turkish diva Sezen Aksu was also in town in October and played to a packed out Royal Albert Hall. Known as the Queen of Turkish pop, the prolific singer is now on her 24th album (or thereabouts). We’ve chosen the song Vay from her latest Optum.
Faiz Ali Faiz and Chicuelo
15. Dil Jis Se Zinda Hai, Faiz Ali Faiz and Chicuelo. October rounded off resoundingly with Faiz Ali Faiz and company, guitarist Chicuelo, and vocalist Carmen Linares reprising a ground-breaking 2005 collaboration of flamenco and qawwali artists, which aimed to explore the common roots of the two traditions. Our initial scepticism gave way to an experience that was intensely joyous and profoundly moving at the same time, and we hope it won’t be another seven years before we get to see another performance (a slightly different configuration of artists performed at the Barbican back in 2006). We’ve chosen the sublime Dil Jis Se Zinda Hai. The clip is quite long, so you might want to skip to 3:30.
16. Ya Rabb, Sachal Orchestra. Pakistan’s break-through jazz ensemble, Sachal Orchestra were due to perform at King’s Place in November, but very sadly that concert had to be cancelled because two of the key musicians were denied visas. Still, here is Ya Rabb, their Sachal’s lilting take on REM’s Everybody Hurts, which was released from their second album Jazz and All That earlier on in the year (our post on that release is here), and deserves a special mention we reckon.