Album Review: A Debut Playfully Bending the Rules
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
Music & Lyrics
Sink your teeth into Kuwaisiana’s Chapter 2 release, a 5-track exploration of Khaleeji and Arab-American identity. Working in Arabic and English, Kuwaisiana is a full-bodied band producing a danceable, dynamic sound that draws on world music and indie rock. Led by Kuwaiti singer-songwriter +Aziz, the 6-piece blends funk, rock, ska with New Orleanian jazz, adding a unique twist to what Indie Arab Rock can sound like.
Born out of +Aziz’s desire to explore parallels between American and Khaleeji cultures, Chapter 2 is the band’s followup EP to Chapter 1, which was released through Universal Music MENA. This 22-minute EP deepens the band’s exploration of the day-to-day experiences of Arab-American youth and the evolving viewpoints of Khaleejis living in the Arabian Peninsula. It will be self-released on Bandcamp and then published to streaming platforms.
Lyrically, +Aziz explores the cultures he knows so well through his metaphor-rich lyrics, which sustain a tension between conversational and a more evocative, poetic perspective. Kuwaisiana is making progress at a time when so much of the world is in flux. Give the EP a listen!
This EP was recorded at Marigny Studios in New Orleans (2021) right before +Aziz’s relocation The 25-minute EP presents a full-bodied sound, mixing funk, rock, ska with New Orleanian jazz, adding a unique twist to what Indie Arab Rock can sound like. As the pandemic wore us all down, the band leader relocated to Seattle to push forward with his vision.
“Kuwaisiana’s, Chapter 1, is an awesomely interesting release by an equally intriguing band from New Orleans with bridges to Kuwait who combine the vernacular of topics between there and the US southern region. They cross bread everything from Cajun to Pop music in their combination of styles that never leave out the two areas in which they’re grounded, yet they have a universal appeal in the process. Chapter 1 wins on that premise alone.” James McQuiston, Editor at NeuFutur
“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… 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.” Martin Wingham, Arab News
“Given the current banal state of popular music, an album and a band like Kuwaisiana are just the tonic that is needed… So here’s to Kuwaisiana for treading new ground and charting a new path. In a musical landscape that sometimes feels too cookie-cutter and too safe, Kuwaisiana are paving new ground, and hot damn, it is awe-inspiring.” Greg Robson, Step Inside This House