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Bands to Watch: Kaza Mada

Halfway through their rollicking Monday night performance at the Cairo Jazz Club, two things became immediately obvious about Kaza Mada. Firstly, their invigorating sound stems from a unique and hard-to-pull-off blend of multiple musical styles, equally balancing the experimental and the accessible. Secondly, for a band that’s only been around for three weeks, they’re pretty great. So good, in fact, that celebrated composer Omar Khairat felt compelled to drop by just to check them out (although Al-Masry Al-Youm failed to spot him in the crowd).

With a sound that combines traditional Middle Eastern music with a wide variety of genres—predominantly electronica, rock and jazz—Kaza Mada are far removed from the growing horde of local and regional acts vying for the title of the Arab Radiohead or Oriental Pink Floyd. Those two bands do feature on Kaza Mada’s long and diverse list of influences, but they’re kept company by the likes of Djemil Tamboury, Sheikh Mohamed Rifaat, Portishead, Tchaikovsky, The Bug and Mohamed al-Asabgy.

This diversity is what best characterizes Kaza Mada, and is evident in the band’s name, which means Multiple Horizons, as well as its members’ disparate musical backgrounds. They were selected by Tamer Abu Ghazaleh, the 24-year-old musical virtuoso who contributes his remarkable oud and buzuq skills to the band’s multi-layered sound.

Abu Ghazaleh’s bandmates are equally accomplished in their own fields. Guitarist Mahmoud Radaideh gained attention as founder and frontman of the hugely poplar Jordanian rock ensemble Jadal, while Lebanese electronics wizard Zeid Hamdane has numerous credits to his name, mainly as a music producer and driving force behind acclaimed underground outfit Soap Kills.

Folk singer Donia Massoud, on the other hand, never imagined she’d be involved in any project that relies so heavily on electronics. Already enjoying a sizable fan base in her native Alexandria, Massoud explains, “I come from a purely acoustic background. Before I met the members of this group, I was against electronic music. It wasn’t even that I wasn’t a fan—I opposed the concept of it.” After initial meetings and jam sessions, however, Massoud quickly came to realize that, “it’s not necessarily about the genre, it’s about what the artist produces.”  

The four musicians first met in the summer of 2010, when Abu Ghazaleh invited the others to join a five-day workshop in Athens, organized by Eka3, a company he founded in 2007, dedicated to “the production, distribution, booking and licensing of independent Arabic music acts.” With their styles and sensibilities immediately gelling, the group fell into a comfortable work routine.

“We worked in shifts,” recalls Hamdane. “Tamer and Donia would stay up all night coming up with different melodies, and then they’d sleep all day long,” during which Hamdane would mull over their compositions, adding his own unique touch. “I prefer to start working early in the morning,” Hamdane shrugs. Despite the differences in work methods, at the end of the workshop, the group had nine songs ready to be performed for a live audience. As Radaideh puts it, “What we had in common was stronger than our differences.”

The drive behind Kaza Mada came out of a need to “break boundaries and defy limitations,” explains Abu Ghazaleh. “The question we faced originally was how to combine all these wildly different styles, how do you sustain that and succeed at coming up with a new sound?” Like Massoud, Abu Ghazaleh also found inspiration in his bandmates. “I’ve learned a great deal from each member and what they’ve brought to the music,” he says. “From Donia’s presence as a vocalist, to Zeid’s sensitivity, to Mahmoud’s roughness and impulsive, raw power. All these elements were like individual light bulbs flashing on in my head.”

The group’s obvious chemistry and ease with one another extends offstage as well. Despite having known each other for only a few weeks, the band members interact—and perform—like a well-oiled machine.

“You know Radaideh can’t really play the guitar,” Hamdane whispers when his bandmate momentarily leaves the table. “It’s all just really well-synchronized playback.” Of course, he’s joking. Radaideh not only plays his guitar, that night at the Jazz Club he literally shred it, tearing a string at the climax of the band’s thumping performance of “Bye Bye Azizi,” or, as the guitarist mutters into his mic at the song’s end, “bye, bye, strings.”

The rest of the band’s set was equally energetic, even during quieter moments such as “Mish Mohem,” a song that revolves around Massoud’s soaring vocal performance. Commanding yet fragile, her voice was improbably complemented by Abu Ghazaleh’s hypnotic strumming and Hamdan’s bursts of electronic bleeps and whistles, in one of many examples of Kaza Mada’s successful incorporation of a seemingly complete musical history in the span of a few minutes.

The highlight of the night, however, came in the form of “Allalla,” a pounding, hypnotic beat. The final composition was also impressive, if only for its ability to incorporate a mouth-harp without sounding corny.

Before making their exit, the band’s members reminded the audience of their final scheduled performance, taking place this Thursday at Al-Azhar Park’s Geneina Theater. Judging by Monday night’s show, this will be one concert not to be missed.

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