Islam Chipsy – “Kahraba” (2015)

I’m part of a Facebook group called “Now Playing,” which is basically a place where people can post pictures of whatever they happen to be listening to at the moment.  It’s primarily a vinyl page, but people post the occasional tape or CD as well.  I see stuff I know well, and stuff I’ve never heard of before there.  Just about everything you can image shows up, and sometimes something new will catch my attention.  That happened a few weeks back, the night before we left for Los Angeles, when someone posted a picture of the new (mid-June release) Islam Chipsy album and was gushing about the Egyptian musician.  I put that name in my memory bank, and sure enough saw a copy of it at Amoeba a few days later in their “World” section, so I picked it up.

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Islam Chipsy is one member of the three-piece known as EEK.  To be honest I wasn’t entirely sure if I should credit this as “Islam Chipsy” or “EEK”… and I’m still not entirely sure.  EEK appears on the spine, along with the name of the album (Kahraba), but the jacket front is given over entirely to Chipsy’s name.  So I went with Islam Chipsy, since he seems to be the focus of most people’s attention.

There are numerous interviews and articles about Chipsy online, and you can track those down if you want.  He’s been playing keyboards and doing electronic music for over a decade and seems to have a robust live schedule at clubs, weddings, and festivals in his homeland.  He’s starting to get some international recognition now, and despite the recent unpleasantness in the Egyptian political situation has made a few European appearances and recently also played in New York.

Chipsy’s music is decidedly “Eastern” to American ears, having instrumental sounds and timing qualities we mentally associate (rightly or wrongly) with northern Africa and the Middle East.  Musically Kahraba reminds me more than a bit of the Syrian dance/electronic legend Omar Souleyman, though with the noticeable difference that all four songs on the record are instrumentals – no singing or voice samplings.  There’s a lot of repetition within his music; this isn’t typical EDM that builds and builds and then gives you the big break as a payoff.  In fact the song is just as likely to come to an abrupt end while seemingly going full throttle.  There’s a chiptune quality to some if it, but it’s not purely 8-bit kind of music – there’s plenty of depth, and I can almost envision how fast Chipsy has to be playing to keep the breakneck pace.

I enjoy hearing artists incorporate traditional music styles from their home country into their music, and the dichotomy between the ultra-modern sounds of EDM and the those of more traditional “folk” forms is always interesting.  Chipsy and EEK nailed it on Kahraba, bringing the two together in a blend that is new to us who aren’t from their region.

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