The playlist: the best Middle Eastern and North African music of 2015 – with Insanlar, Melechesh and Mdou Moctar

From a Purple Rain tribute that doesn’t have the word purple to the keyboard king of the Nile delta, here are some of the year’s best soundtracks, metal and more

Best track/remix: Insanlar – Kime Ne

This amazing slice of Turkish psych disco was recorded live at MiniMüzikhol studios in Istanbul in 2010. Thanks to Honest Jon’s, it finally got a full UK release – backed by two decent Ricardo Villalobos remixes – earlier this year. These time-dilating grooves, pitch-shifted vocals (the lyrics are modernised verses by the 17th-century poet Kul Nesîmî and 16th-century poet Pir Sultan Abdal), acid house beeps and blats, not to mention smoking bağlama jamming, all add up to an essential Balearic-sounding classic that never outstays its welcome, even at 24 minutes long.

Best metal of the year: Melechesh – Enki

Melechesh are so damn satisfying to listen to. Many metal bands, from the west and the Middle East, try to combine extreme metal with Arabic musical traditions – with a variety of results. But no one nails it like these self-professed Sumerian metal titans, who mix death metal thunder and epic black-metal bombast along Levantine lines. The album features a guest spot by Sepultura founder and world metal enthusiast Max Cavalera and extraordinary art by John Coulthard.

Best soundtrack: Mdou Moctar – Akounak Tedalat Taha Tazoughai OST

Agadez, the largest city in central Niger, is in the Sahara rather than north Africa per se, but like the huge region north of Timbuktu, the city is arguably musically closer to north Africa than central Africa, owing to its Berber and Tuareg heritage. Sahel Sounds’s Bandcamp page has been promising this soundtrack by the Agadez-based Moctar for some time, and it’s finally here. It is the original score to the film Rain the Colour of Blue With a Little Red in It, which charts the creative rise of Mdou Moctar. (It is loosely based on the Prince movie Purple Rain, but there is no Tuareg word for purple, hence the title.) Revel in the song’s liquid guitar playing, carried rattling along on hammering railroad beats.

Best album: EEK ft Islam Chipsy – Kahraba

Out via record label Nashazphone, we finally got to hear the debut album proper by the keyboard king of the Nile delta, Islam Chipsy – backed by his two drummers, Khaled Mando and Islam Tata – and it was worth the wait. EEK had already raised expectations with their blistering lo-fi release, EEK Live at the Cairo High Cinema Institute. The tracks that formed the basis of that work – Trinity and Kahraba – were revisited on the studio album but now exploding out of speakers in pointillist high definition. Of even more interest were the tracks Mouled el Ghoul and El Bawaba, which created propulsive Levantine techno by deconstructing Egyptian classical traditions and weaving them into something more organic.

Best compilation: 100Copies Mahraganaat 2015

Cairo mover and shaker Mahmoud Refat – who manages Sadat and Alaa Fifty Cent, and runs the city’s only dubplate-cutting facility and the 100Copies studio – has been a key figure in popularising the chaabi sound in Egypt and beyond. This compilation album is one of Refat’s productions, and provides a handy snapshot of where this vital scene is at currently. being spotted standing in for one of Islam Chipsy’s drummer’s on a recent European tour

Best mix: Ernesto Chahoud – Jakarta Radio 010 Middle Eastern Heavens II Mix

Here’s an absolutely belting pan-Arabic mix from Ernesto Chahoud, AKA DJ Spindle. Chahoud, who is Lebanese, is the founder of the Beirut Groove Collective, he’s a big collector of Middle Eastern belly dance music and this particular mix, Middle Eastern Heavens II, was made for Jakarta Radio.

Best reissue: Ami Shavit – Alpha 1

Ami Shavit was a reclusive Israeli artist and professor who has a fascination with technology, psychology, philosophy and sound. He assembled a private collection of synthesisers in 1972 after a trip to the US and started work on his album Alpha Mood. It combined his love of Tangerine Dream and Philip Glass with then-emerging technique biofeedback to create a new style of music that would induce a meditative state. Shavit lost his enthusiasm for the project after being conscripted into the Israeli army in 1973; he was left profoundly disturbed by his work evacuating battlefield casualties during the short-lived but bloody Yom Kippur war. Until, that is, he realised this music offered him a chance to cope with what he had experienced. The LP was released as a tiny run of 500 copies by the Tel Aviv record store Mango. After it closed, the project faded into obscurity. The upstanding folks at Finders Keepers have just given it a typically lovely reissue, however, and now you can modify your own brainwaves with synths in the comfort of your own home.

Maddest record of the year: Sadaf – CFC

What is it? I’m still no closer to working it out.

  • John Doran would like to thank everyone who has suggested music for this playlist. Email him about music at


John Doran

The GuardianTramp

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