Friday, May 10, 9 p.m.
Rozz-Tox, 2108 Third Avenue, Rock Island IL
Cairo, Egypt-based experimentalist and vocalist Nadah El Shazly performs at Rozz Tox on May 10.
El Shazly approaches the acts of composition and performance from the perspective of an improbably vast collage of sound sources and vocal strategies. Her remarkable 2017 LP Ahwar found her assuming the roles of lead vocals, production, and electronic manipulation, positioned at the center of a huge, disembodied ensemble of instrumental collaborators that contributed individual fragments of sound to populate her dense mixes. Album opener “Afqid Adh-Dhakira (I Lose Memory)” establishes El Shazly's production modus operandi in triumphant and bewildering fashion. Her voice enters the mix with heavy effects and glitch processing before evening out into a more legible lead performance of skewed, gorgeous vocal work. Around this focal point, the track presents countless one off details that enter the mix for tiny moments at a time: a free-jazz drum take, winding brass lines, crumbling torrents of atonal guitar, heavily bowed orchestral string instruments, serialist piano flourishes, and much more. The song really warps your brain when these individual production elements, which seem to be interacting in a state of pure chaos, latch together into shared melodies or grooves, as if to show that whatever seems random is actually waiting to link back together with the other instrumentation before splintering apart again.
Later on Ahwar, El Shazly dials down the level of and density and allows her pieces to stretch into longer, meditative passages before they crumble yet again into entirely new stylistic territories. The spellbinding “Barzakh (Limen)” opens with a hallucinatory aria that plants her voice against an evolving bed of oud, violin, and divan saz. The rhythms lope and spin through time as the atmosphere thickens with more instruments layered into the backdrop. At the halfway point of the eight-minute track, El Shazly turns on a dime into the world of down-tempo house music, as crisp 808 toms and throbs of technoid bass bounce over synthesized hand-percussion. As if the track hadn’t presented enough divergent styles at that point, the beat eventually melts away and a layered choir of close-mic vocal moans takes over, landing somewhere between Tibetan throat singing and the vocal collage odyssey of Björk’s Medulla. At the end of the day, to pick apart the individual elements that constitute El Shazly’s tracks is an infinite task that misses the point of her wide vision for production. Having gathered so many genres and instruments into her toolbox, her compositions demonstrate the possibilities of endless recombination and juxtaposition that mirrors the chaos of the modern world.
Nadah El Shazly plays Rozz-Tox on May 10 with an opening set by Signal Decay, admission to the 9 p.m. concert is $10-13, and more information is available by calling (309)200-0978 or visiting RozzTox.com.