The gulf state's finest gifts us with a great introduction to khaliji music
Hailing from the United Arab Emirates, singer Mehad Hamad’s 2014 album Matredny Hdood is a very enjoyable set of tunes in the modern Arab pop style, inasmuch as it combines traditional oud-based music that is native to the region with other influences, from Western pop music, dabke techno, rock, and other genres from India and Africa, and the ensuing mix of music is typical of the region. This particular musical style is sometimes called khaliji music, which is a term that specifically refers to the Arab nations on the Persian Gulf and its musical traditions. Though Kuwait emerged as the centre of gravity for the genre in the late 20th century, other Persian Gulf states played catch up in the ensuing years, with Mehad Hamad emerging as one of the United Arab Emirates’ most popular singers and musicians. Usually accompanied by his oud in the early days of his career, he has not abandoned those roots, and the oud is ever present in this album too, despite its modern inflections and production. That is part of what makes this album worthy of a listen in my view. Though he is keen to embrace modern music and change with the times, he is true to the musical roots of his nation, also shown in his lyrics, which are often reinterpretations of folk songs, traditional melodies, and Arabic poetry.
“While it is firmly in the oud music/khaliji genre, these extra additions of other genres, these stylistic flourishes allow the listener to grab onto something different in each song...”
In my view, maybe the best rendition of this Hamad’s khaliji style is on the song Etsalen Yani, which nicely mixes very Arabic-sounding melodies and oud riffs and solos. Dayem Abali is another fun track, with sweeping strings and a synthesiser in the background that would not be amiss in a dabke techno track by Syria’s finest, Omar Souleyman. As such, it is clear that Hamad likes to listen widely and incorporate those sounds into his music, as there even appears to be East Asian influences in the main hook that starts the song Barjeek. Therefore, while it is firmly in the oud music/khaliji genre, these extra additions of other genres, these stylistic flourishes allow the listener to grab onto something different in each song, even if they are largely sounding the same in terms of the vocals and tempo. The album definitely has its strengths and weaknesses in this regard. While I very much enjoyed the mix of modernity and tradition, as well as the creeping in of influences from all over, there’s never enough variety to justify repeated listens, nor is it catchy and engrossing enough for me to be hailing it as a masterpiece. Rather, it is simply a good album that serves its purpose.
Overall, the album is pleasant and passes the time well. It is mostly upbeat and music that you could imagine dancing or moving to, as opposed to simple pleasure listening. This would definitely be one of those albums where I would have liked to know what the artist is singing about, especially because of Hamad's history of repurposing and reinterpreting the words of great Arabic language poets. On this one level I am unable to appreciate it or understand how the lyrical content may affect the overall enjoyment of the music. That said, when it’s good, it’s good, and if you’re already a fan of the khaliji genre or Arabic music in general, then you will almost certainly find this to be a solid addition to the genre. If, however, you are a novice to music from this corner of the world, Hamad is an effective ambassador for Emirati music, and after a few songs you’ll know if this genre is something you would like to pursue further.