The down-tempo, moody mash-ups and densely layered material of Hello Psychaleppo are somehow equally geared toward both the dance floor and the loner in headphones.
Hello Psychaleppo is the project of 25-year-old Syrian artist Samer Saem Eldahr, and on his Soundcloud, its productions are tagged with an unlikely range of genres that includes electro-tarab, trip-hop, Bedouin mawwal and drum & bass.
It might seem like an overly ambitious mix, but Hello Pyschaleppo is dynamic and rich. And each track is produced with a sort of a technical savvy that would be difficult to parallel.
I first came across Eldahr, aka Zimo, during a conversation some time ago with Mahmoud Refat. As music curator of D-CAF, Refat has the young artist, who is currently based in Beirut doing a fine arts degree at the Lebanese University, booked for this year’s festival.
The Medrar TV video interview embedded here gives a good sense of Zimo’s musical genius.
Zimo uses visual art as well as music to express the psyche of Psychaleppo, often working with other Syrian and regional artists to create cover and track art for his albums. The artists he has worked with have included three Egyptians: Andeel, Omar Shamma and Ali Almasri.
Listening to his album, ‘Gool L’Ah’ (which is available for free on his website and on Soundcloud), it becomes clear that Zimo has a certain affinity for sample-based music. The result is a somewhat cinematic fusion of hip-hop rhythms, funk and soul melodies, dub grooves and choice samples from the mid-century Arabic pop classics.
He shows his technical prowess straight away with the album’s opener “Flower Jam.” It’s an intricate patchwork of chopped vocal samples that undulate through what sounds like layers upon layers of panned synthesizers, oriental drum samples and a haunting wind instrument. It announces the album’s electronic-East-meets-dub-stepped-West soundscape.
“Musically, Zimo is a paradox. The title of the project calls attention to his roots in Aleppo, but the music has almost no lyrics, and nothing that links it explicitly to the war inside Syria,” Jared Malsin wrote in a recent Vice article.
But despite the many upbeat twists and turns on the album, there is a sonic sense of melancholy or longing, particularly in songs like “Tarab Dub.” In it, Zimo samples a lo-fi version of Omm Kalthoum’s “Min Elli A’al” against a backdrop of a lonely guitar riff that later coagulates into a funky, groove-based electronic jazz number. It is here that Zimo creates, in my opinion, one of the coolest sounding modernizations of a great singer since Mohamed Abdel Wahab put an electric guitar in Omm Kalthoum’s orchestra, for songs such as “Fakarouni” and “Inta Omri.”
“I wouldn’t distort Abdel Halim’s music, as I really respect it. I would like to add to his music,” he says in the Medrar TV interview. “It’s just that the tools we use now are different.”
In “Sufi Hop,” Zimo isolates a simple hip-hop beat while creating an infectious groove and deconstructing what sounds like a Sufi chant. It’s a riveting and complex track that seamlessly weaves together genres.
With his collaborations with visual artists and his beautiful revivals of great, long-gone singers, Zimo holds his audience in the grip of a continually evolving artistry.
He also shows us that even genres we might not love, or ones we associate with certain limitations in our own minds, can be utilized in exciting and innovative ways to create stunning original hybrids of vintage and contemporary music.
He’s not afraid to embrace an ever-changing variety of influences while forging a position on the vanguard of Arab electronic music — a treat for those of us who are nostalgic for a funkier, more soulful sound with Eastern origins.
Hello Psychaleppo will perform on Thursday, April 3 at Sharazede nightclub in downtown Cairo. Until then, as all his work is available for free, why not take a listen?