A heady sense of irreverence hangs over the debut album from Kuwaisiana, a US-based indie outfit led by Kuwaiti singer-songwriter +Aziz. The record’s wanton style-hopping and language-swapping has the sense not of willfully breaking the rules, but playfully bending them with a swagger and a smile.
It may be no coincidence the band was born in New Orleans, a notorious cultural melting pot strafing the Mississippi River and sitting at the end of the mythical Highway 61. Drawing fitfully from their surrounds, the septet’s sonics are bolstered by bursts of brass and the lilt of (apparently synthesized) accordion, conjuring a rootsy, Cajun vibe around +Aziz’s raw, DIY-rock approach.
At the best moments, a barn-storming, street-party abandon overcomes these slightly flat, self-produced recordings: The stonking gypsy-punk bedlam of “Gabba Barra” feels oddly reminiscent of Gogol Bordello, while “Nada” is a straight-up ska-punk strut. An irresistible chest-thumping, stop-start chorus lifts the monotonous bass riffing of “Gashxi” from the Louisiana swamps.
But there is a potent spice found amid this audio stew. Split into two “sides” — the first in Arabic, the second English — the lyrics on “Chapter 1” carry subtle weight as a reflection on the modern Arab experience, and potentially have an ambassadorial role to the band’s primarily American market. “My bloody valentine/In love with Palestine,” yells +Aziz over the sleazy funk-rock riffing and Stax-style horn stabs of “The Journalist.” Mingling the personal and political with similar potency, the Caribbean nod of closer “Say Yea” dwells almost comically on the efforts young Muslims face to win the approval of their lovers’ friends and families.
Crossing Muscle Shoals-soul with the inebriated sway of a sea shanty, the slower “Men in Power” serves as a lament of both national pride and patriarchal power, before exploding into a wild, headbanging singalong, complete with a yearningly epic outro of Springsteen-style proportions. And this will prove +Aziz’s greatest gift — the ability to channel his concerns into big, hooky choruses which feel instantly familiar, presenting the modern Arab-American experience with the inclusive theatrics of Middle American stadium rock.
Written by Martin Wingham, originally published on Arab News, 5.26.18