In March of 2003, Sam Shalabi of Shalabi Effect and many other projects released Osama, self-described “protest music about arabophobia in a Post 9-11 World”. Using his given name (Sam is a shortening of Osama) as the title, he presents an auto-biographical album that responds to the difficulties he faced during the year following September 11, 2001. He avoids both agenda and self-aggrandizement to present an honest and challenging work.
Osama is quite unlike Sam’s work with Shalabi Effect, for which he is best known. It draws more on hard rock inspiration and its forward and crisp instrumentations are striking. There’s a great sense of motion to this album, of discussion and progression.

The opening track, “The Wherewithall”, contains jarring vocalizations that speak of torment and fear, which, in my interpretation, stands as an expression of the abuse of Arab peoples. It continues on into a climax of wrenching screams with the rising of musical motion that is unsettling and potent. The denouement is entered with melodic humming but returns to the unnerving voices and final burst of instrumentation.
“Mid-east Tour Diary (2002)” introduces clear spoken word in a dialogue telling of some personal experiences of Mr. Shalabi. His emergence from depression and hatred to understanding and love was honest and distinctly emotional. The closing statements are especially striking in their insistance on optimism and plans to end troubles faced by the world.
“D?r El-Bahri From the Air” contains melodic vocals and the greatest pop element of the album. The guitar work is uplifting and the drums accent this. The lyrics, however, are notably of protest and serve as a rallying cry for actions of change.
“Shitmobile, U.S.A.” presents a slightly tedious conversation between a man and a woman which seems to be about dealing with the recent tragedies. The backgound improvisation joins this with sobbing, possibly due to a beating, an interesting dynamic inserted before returning to the conversation, which speaks of connecting and finding positives amid the chaos.
The closing track, “Guantanamo Bay” contains both a gentle song and a harsher instrumentation that is very stirring. It’s a contrast that is both impressively minimal as a piece and indicative of the duality of the album as a whole.
Osama is less direct and clear than what one might expect from a protest album. The personal nature and wonderful musicianship make it very rewarding and moving in a way that is not present in much of modern music. This is an overlooked and extremely relevant work worthy of the effort it will take to find it.

1 comment on “Osama

  1. khaki briefs says:

    Sam Shalabi is one of the most inspiring musicians we know. The Donkeys, who play on Osama, are a great band. More people should hear this record.

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