Review: Tunisian Singer Emel’s Record “Ensen” / Show Next Week

The first time I heard Emel Mathlouthi sing on the radio I immediately pulled my car over and called the radio station to find out the name of the song. It was haunting, beautiful, forceful, and like nothing I had ever heard. The song was “Ensen Dhaif,” and that I found it captivating should be no surprise. As it turns out, Mathlouthi’s tunes are protest songs, and they have been an inspiration to much of the Arab Spring movement. A Tunisian by background, Mathouthi’s music was banned in her native country under the repressive Ben Ali regime. However the songs spread anyway – through Tunisia and the Middle East, where they gave hope to those suffering under autocratic regimes.

Stateside we should be thankful that we can appreciate Emel’s music under far less dire circumstances (though we now seem to be drifting towards an autocratic regime of our own). We can enjoy the tunes both for their message as well as their sheer musicality. Mathlouthi has created her own genre, fusing elements of Middle Eastern traditions, electronic music, and Western rock. She sings in gorgeously poetic Arabic, and if you can’t understand the words at least the sentiment comes through loud and clear.

Emel’s sophomore record Ensen has been released this year via Partisan Records (find it here). It includes the single “Ensen Dhaif” as well as an incredible range of others, from absolute bangers like “Thamlaton” to the restrained and exquisite strains of “Fi Kolli Yawmen.” It’s an extraordinary record, whether you are looking for a little revolution or simply something to dance to.

Emel will be performing next Wednesday (5/10) at the Cedar Cultural Center (tix here) and this should not be one to miss.

     — Jon


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