I’m lying on my bed, eyes closed, the speaker ringing out the siren song that is Tamino’s voice. It is September 23 and I have been waiting for this day since January 2020, when I first discovered the artist who has since wrapped me around his finger. “Sahar” marks Tamino’s comeback after his debut album “Amir” in 2018.
As with any second record release, “Sahar” focuses on Tamino’s growth as an artist on all fronts – musically, lyrically and conceptually – and highlights the many unique strengths he has now cemented. like his. At approximately 45 minutes in length, this album is a more stripped down and intimate look at Tamino as an artist.
“Sahar” in Arabic translates to “just before dawn”, with the disc seeming to live in this exact area, oscillating between night and day – dark and light. Many tracks on the album have a similar sentiment to them in their themes – often dealing with Tamino’s reflection on the conflicting nature of life and relationships; the push and pull that comes with the people and things you care about most.
As the first track of the album bears its title so well, “The Longing” is carried throughout the disc, whether it is that of going towards the other, an inner reflection or the need to feel desired. The opening track begins by setting the musical tone – with fast, light strumming from a guitar accompanied by a softer-voiced Tamino asking his lover to “hear me, follow this call”.
Much of the guitar throughout this album takes on an oud quality, both in tone and rhythm; further still, there is an actual oud played and integrated into the album, creating a stunning collaboration between the instruments and acting in its own right as a cultural blend between West and East.
While “Amir” was backed by the Arab Symphony Nagham Zikrayat, “Sahar” is all Tamino – relying almost solely on his vocals and guitar. While there are of course still some nice mixes of percussion and other instruments woven into the record, overall it was a real insight into who Tamino is as an artist with no other possible distractions. This album is nostalgic and overall it feels like a hand reaching out to its listeners, begging to be heard and held.
I found the soulful and deeply punchy qualities of Tamino’s music to really come of age in tracks like “You Don’t Own Me” and “The First Disciple”, both of which were singles released before the album. . “The First Disciple” was the first single released, which now after listening to the entire record, I think was an amazing decision. The longest song on the album, its pace, progression and overall sound was one of the strongest tracks overall, in my opinion. The song itself plays almost in the three-act format, with audible turns throughout its history. Using both guitar and oud, its blend of cultural musical motifs perfectly serves the deep, dark and hazy environment the song places you in.
“You Don’t Own Me” begins (and ends) with a soundtrack from Louis Armstrong’s “Go Down Moses,” which is about the escape of Hebrew slaves from Egypt in the biblical era. The soundbite is a slowed down snippet of the line “let my people go”, which serves as an incredibly poignant reference considering the feeling of the track, as well as the cultural context of Tamino as a whole. He describes that feeling of being trapped in a relationship by someone who doesn’t know him. There are so many veins in which this sentiment could be applied when it comes to Tamino himself, and more importantly his listeners. The vocals on this track are some of the most resonant and impactful on the album, and hearing it layered over the crescendo of strings, piano, and soundbite in the song’s finale is a hugely immersive experience.
I was also pleasantly surprised by the album’s lighter sounds, in tracks like ‘Fascination’, ‘Sunflower’ and ‘Cinnamon’. These all seemed to experiment a bit more on the production side in their own way, and brought a new sound to Tamino that I just hadn’t heard from him until now. These tracks were able to combat one of my only worries about Tamino’s music so far: the fear that a monotonous sound or tone would become present in all of his releases.
“Sunflower” was one of my favorite non-single tracks on the whole album. The only song with a feature, the voice of the Belgian artist Angèle harmonizes so well with that of Tamino. His presence serves as the perfect accompaniment to a song about two people who unknowingly desire each other just as deeply. The siren quality of the two working together over the romantic background strings oh-so perfectly captured that desire, and had my head bobbing throughout the chorus. It’s a beautiful walking contradiction, sounding soft and dark in one breath – making me feel invigorated and needing to be held all at once.
“Fascination” was the song that I felt deviated the most from the usual Tamino sound, and at first I preferred this single the least. However, the more I listen to the album cover to cover, the more I find that Tamino’s vocals and the lyrical narrative he constructs blend beautifully on the track.
Being an Arab-American myself, it’s hard to describe how important Tamino’s music is to me. He is not only someone with an objectively immense level of talent, but someone whose talent acts as an active representation of an artist from a cultural background similar to mine – who is able to blend these notions of Western and Orient in art without diminishing or diluting one for the other.
Tracks like “The Flame” and “A Drop of Blood” were reminiscent of the classic Arabic music of the 60s and 70s that I grew up listening to. The deep, swelling vocal qualities of Tamino’s voice remind me so much of artists like Abdel Halim Hafez, whose love songs seem to embed rose-tinted lenses in the minds of their listeners.
The album ends with a perfectly thematic track, “My Dearest Friend and Enemy”, which, as its title suggests, takes its listener even further into this in-between space. When your dearest friend is also your greatest enemy, the person who understands you best can ruin you the hardest. Musically, it’s one of the tracks that most closely aligns with previous Tamino releases, but again in a rawer way. There’s a moment near the end of the song where his driving vocals are accompanied by accelerating strings, and I found myself overwhelmed by the feeling that Tamino is so unbelievably amazing at creating – an overwhelming transport to another world. He ends by tying all the loose strings in a beautiful bow, asking his lover to “leave the truth behind…before I enter darker days”.
Overall, “Sahar” is an album that only gets better the more I listen to it and really serves as a promising second release for Tamino. Although it may seem more simplistic compared to “Amir”, Tamino’s strength as a singer, lyricist and instrumentalist proved to be just as strong on its own. I’m absolutely blown away by what he’s been able to accomplish with this record and I’m already ripe with anticipation for what he might come out next.