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Egyptian-based jazz composer and bandleader Maurice Louca has shared “The Leper,” the first song off his forthcoming album Elephantine, out Feb. 1, 2019, through Northern Spy.
Louca has become a vanguard of sorts for his country’s experimental music scene, with his 12-piece ensemble producing some of the most forward-thinking jazz music of the past few years. His musical heritage is emblematic of the heritage of Egypt at large—as a young boy, he first found solace in the Western sounds of MTV and psychedelic rock. When Egypt was gripped by a Satanic panic and banned live rock performances, he turned to classical and contemporary Arabic music, folding in the language of street-level pop called shaabi, as well as avant-garde and electronic music. The vibrant DIY community that emerged following the 2011 Arab Spring continued to shape Louca’s music, giving his orchestra an underground edge.
“The Leper” is both a document of his heritage and a dire address on the state of affairs. It’s a musical pidgin-tongue, combining microtonal drones, cosmic Arkestra jazz, swelling psychedelic rock textures and galloping Yemeni breakbeats into a shifting, shimmering work that moves nimbly over the course of its nearly nine-minute runtime. The song reads as a response to the increasingly strict governmental response to the youth music movements across Egypt, where the average gig requires 14 governmental permits, in addition to other requisite bribes and payoffs. “When you have millions of people and around 10 venues,” Louca said, “there’s something wrong.”
Listen to “The Leper” below.