The Palestinian club scene you never knew you needed.
زنّوبيا translates to Zenobia in English which means ‘Force of Zeus’. Taking on the God of Lightning’s name is fascinating as Zenobia are an electronica duo from Israel that merge together Arabian pop melodies with Palestinian and Syrian rhythms. Then they go clubbing with it. ‘Halak Halak’s is an exotic and heady mix of club sounds and majestic melodies that give you an ancient-future feel that I rarely hear in music today.
Across the albums ten tracks, each song has a fun synth lead that powers out the Arabian melody like a synth reed instrument infused with 90’s dance keyboards. Underneath there are two rhythm tracks. One will be full of traditional instruments that often play Dabke rhythms. These are old folk dances often played at happy ceremonies like weddings. The second rhythm track is a more traditional dance beat with synth handclaps, big kick drums and tinny cymbals. It makes the album feel like you are having a bit of a family get together with a few drinks and getting a bit rowdy. Tracks like ‘Sa7rawe’ bring out male chorus chants to enhance that celebratory vibe further.
Drawing inspiration from Egypt, Syria, Lebanon and Palestine means that different tracks pull from different folk origins for those hidden rhythms and synths. For instance, ‘Desert Hafla’ is like a psychedelic belly dance from Egypt that blurs into a mirage as its synths bleed out. Elsewhere ‘KSR KSR KSR’ and ‘Funky Egal’ dabble with that psych-synth feel as it plays the same flexible synths over and over again to create a hedonistic feel. Add in some crazy voice snippets and you have Arabian dance gold.
The mild issue with the album is that aside from ‘Halak Halak’ and ‘Yalla Yalla’, all the tracks hit the same tempo and feel. They all also use the same sound palette and rarely change up from a wiry synth, wub wub basslines and those two rhythmic patterns. The album runs well as a continuous party but as you play the album in its entirety, I found I appreciated the tracks towards the end of the album less because I had got ear tired. As a result, I’ve taken to dipping into the album at two or three tracks at a time and then I enjoy them all equally. There is one standalone track called ‘Shaglaba’ which switches up the drums to a drum and bass style but I’d like to see more variation in the future from Zenobia.
However, that criticism aside, Zenobia are early and young pioneers in the Palestinian electronic music scene. This scene didn’t exist until very recently so they are trailblazing in their region and say that their music a mixture of improvisation and audience feedback to create the songs from live to studio and back again. It is an interesting way to create music and I hope that leads to some more experimentation in the future. If you want to hear Arabian music in a totally new light, Zenobia is well worth your time.
Recommended track: Desert Hafla
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