Friday June 14th, 2024
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Pollution Opera: An Avant-Garde Exploration of Dystopian Realities

‘Pollution Opera’ is a project by Egyptian sound artist Nadah El Shazly, and Welsh producer and experimentalist Elvin Brandhi.

Omar Ghonem

Pollution Opera: An Avant-Garde Exploration of Dystopian Realities

Egyptian sound artist Nadah El Shazly and Welsh producer Elvin Brandhi's 'Pollution Opera' confronts the grim realities of our world head-on. This collaborative album is a futuristic portrayal of a dystopian landscape, where experimental noise and electro-acoustic fragments paint a distorted picture of disarray. The album's 10 tracks are a chaotic blend of breathless shouts, environmental recordings and synthesized distortions, reflecting a world teetering on the edge.

The project began in 2020 during a motorbike ride through Cairo, where the city's intense noise pollution became a source of artistic inspiration. "I am from Cairo. The noise that is on the street is definitely much louder and more aggressive than our album," Nadah El Shazly tells SceneNoise. This initial encounter with Cairo's clamor was the catalyst for 'Pollution Opera,' which evolved through recordings and sessions in Egypt and Uganda. The duo's residencies at Nyege Nyege in Kampala saw them use motorbikes as a metaphorical stage, mirroring the city’s bustling energy.

Their creative journey extended to a live audiovisual performance, enriched by video material from their travels, reworked by Egyptian artist Omar El Sadek during the Banlieues Bleues Festival in France. The result is an album that the artists describe as a raw and unapologetic mix of emotions. Tracks like 'CRÎi Me A River' feature haptic knocks and guttural growls intertwined with El Shazly's evocative Egyptian singing, while 'Danse Le Flou' juxtaposes breathless vocal samples with irregular percussion.Nadah and Elvin introduce an unlikely feature on the record with their collaboration with Egyptian hip-hop producer Lil Baba. "We are big fans of Lil Baba!” El Shazly says. “One day we were talking and we sent him the songs, and asked him if he’d want to collaborate and he said yes!" This collaboration proves Nadah’s wide artistic horizons in blending diverse musical influences.

The evolution of their collaboration also included a significant moment involving ZULI. "ZULI invited Elvin Brandhi to do a remix for the ‘Trigger Finger Remixes’ album released by Haunter Records,” El Shazly shares. “Elvin first tried to remix ‘Your tracks are too short’. but worked the stems beyond recognition which resulted in the track ‘Your tracks are too dark’. She instead remixed ‘Don’t fall out the Window’ for Zuli, and this first attempt was done in exile. She was actually working on this while staying with me in Cairo, when we also recorded our first track ‘Cairo???’, so it always was somehow an out of body collaboration between Elvin, ZULI and me. When she played this track I fell in love with it instantly, pressed record and did that one take vocals on the spot, which is what you hear on our album."Despite the overwhelming chaos, moments of calm emerge, such as the auto-tuned opener ‘Pollute Bold’ and the melodic rhythms of 'Crisp Heart,' offering a fleeting sense of order amid the disorder. Brandhi's avant-garde noise music background and El Shazly's fusion of electronic and classical elements combine to create a unique postmodern opera. Reflecting on the album's conceptual nature, El Shazly says, "Pollution is an ongoing opera. Act I is out as a music album, and live audiovisual performance. It’s possible the next act will be a book!"

El Shazly's connection to Cairo's musical heritage also influenced the album's creation. "Cairo is known to have had an incredible heavy metal scene, with big shows and festivals at regular venues, and big annual festivals during the day. I grew up listening to many of our local heavy metal bands and was influenced by the music when I was just starting to make music myself."

Both artists lend their unique positioning and idiosyncrasies to ‘Pollution Opera,’ embracing the unpredictable nature of their creative process. "It’s exciting to follow a thought or an idea until the end and see where it takes you!” El Shazly says. “Music gives us a chance to express things that sometimes you just can’t express with words, if you allow it. Like painting." Through 'Pollution Opera,' they explore existential questions with a playful yet ironic approach, leaving listeners to ponder the answers.

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