Sabrina Bellaouel – New album Al Hadr out now!
Following two solo EPs, also on InFiné — 2020’s We Don’t Need To Be Enemies and 2021’s Libra — the French- Algerian producer and vocalist’s unique style of electronic R&B blossoms with Al Hadr, a 13-track album featuring collaborations with dance producer Basile3, experimental club DJ and writer Crystallmess, jazz musician Monomite and pop singer Bonnie Banane, among others. Though written and recorded over a period of several years, the songs of Al Hadr mirror Bellaouel’s contemporary self. “I’m in a very strange time and space right now,” Bellaouel confesses. “I feel like I’m on the verge of something bigger than me that I can’t control, but the album has allowed me to release all of this emotional turmoil. I’m like a warrior, dirtied and wounded, leaving battle to find a peaceful field ahead.”
Born, raised and based in Bagneux, outside the southern périphérique of Paris, Bellaouel lives between worlds. At home, her Algerian heritage and Muslim faith have fused tight familial bonds and a keen sense of history and culture; as “Berbers”, she speaks French and Arabic. In her headphones, she finds comfort in the sparse experimentalism of Radiohead and romantic tales of Jill Scott. On the hot club dance floors of Paris, driving house beats connect her to her body.
In swirling these private and public passions together on Al Hadr — which translates from Arabic as “the present time” — Bellaouel is the most vulnerable she’s ever been on record. Classic neo-soul and silken R&B blend with club electronics. Tender harmonies are sung and rhymes are spoken in English, French and Arabic, exploring love, faith and identity. Samples of drum machines are the backbone for wisps of woodwind, strings, keys and environmental ‘found sounds’, including Bellaouel’s own live recordings.
Structurally, Al Hadr draws from low-slung hip-hop production techniques, with soul-inspired loops creating hypnotic repetitions. “J Dilla once used a metal chain to build a snare sound,” she says, of these rhythmic inspirations, “and the weight of the chain meant that it hit the mark offbeat. I love ‘accidents’ like this in production, so I like to record in my own, close environment; to find happy accidents.”
Keeping the album process (quite literally) close to home, Bellaouel worked almost entirely on her laptop, using Max/MSP (IRCAM) software and keyboards. Her echoing vocals and confessional harmonic riffs, reminiscent of experimental R&B artists like Kelela, were recorded in her bathroom, with microphones hanging from the ceiling.
A major element of Al Hadr is the language of faith as self-love. “Spirituality is an intimate part of my language,” she explains. “At home, with Arabic, my family and I are not afraid to speak about God, but it’s hard to speak about it outside, in everyday French society…. non-Arabic speakers find it strange, even aggressive. But to me, it’s a superior energy that provides me with self love and connection to others.” This language flows through the album. Midway through Al Hadr, Bellaouel breaks the music with an original poem recited by Crystallmess. “Never drink from every cup that is presented to you,
15.06.23 – BARCELONA – Sonar festival