Berlin-based group Out of Nations are yet another one of those fascinating bands who transcend their origins and defy categorization. The shapeshifting instrumentals of frontwoman/multi-instrumentalist Lety ElNaggar and composer Khalil Chahine – who also arranged and produced the album – move effortlessly from Middle Eastern grooves, to more tropical sounds, with a fat bottom end and influences from many other parts of the globe. Their debut album Quest is streaming at Spotify: it’s one of the most entertainingly eclectic releases of recent months.
Bassist Ahmed Nazmi’s atmospheric solo taqsim opens the album’s first song, Khafif, a funky, dancing new version of a late 1800s Egyptian classic by Said Darwish. Guest oudist Hazem Shaheen – of the Nile Project – adds rustic vocals as well as a spare, spiky solo over Nazmi’s bounce, ElNaggar providing atmosphere and ecstatically dancing riffs with her ney flute and soprano sax.
Shifting from smoky, to airy, to lively, she pulls the band up from a pensive intro to a jumping soukous-style dance and then eventually a jazz waltz in Tribute to a Time, awash in Jonas Cambien’s synth orchestration.
Juan Ospina of psychedelic tropical rock monsters MAKU Soundsystem sings the lushly orchestrated, coyly pulsing Fiebre, ElNaggar building to a big crescendo with her fiery soprano lines. The album’s fifth track, titled Out of Nations, is a lushly dubby waltz anchored by guitarist Charis Karantzas’ circling, jangly lines, up to a triumphant interweave reflecting the band’s multinational background. A spoken-word interlude juxtaposing of grim news headlines with even grimmer quotes from white supremacists puts the song in context.
ElNaggar switches to flute for the album’s title track, which kicks off as a lively take on 70s boudoir funk until Shaheen’s oud punches in, followed by a bubbly Nazmi solo and then a triumphant one from ElNaggar as the string section reaches for levantine ecstasy.
Her soaring alto sax and Karantzas’ grittty, sunbaked lines contrast in Kurdmajor, alternating between driivng hard funk and a gorgeous, trickily rhythmic Egyptian-tinged theme. Feluka is a more organic, instrumental take on irresistibly swaying Omar Souleyman-style microtonal dabke wedding anthem music, pulsing along on the wings of guest Islam Chipsy’s quavering synth.
The album’s reaches a peak with Sellem, a slinky vintage 50s Egyptian anthem bolstered by a funk rhythm section, complete with guy/girl chorus, an incisive oud solo and an affecting vocal by Dina El Wedidi. The simply titled Coda capsulizes this band’s appeal, a pensive but kinetic number fueled by ElNaggar’s darkly elegant clarinet, Cambien’s somber chromatic piano and Shaheen’s oud. It’s hard to find a playlist that works this well as party music as it does as headphone record.