I lay flat on my bed, eyes closed, speaker blaring the siren song that is Tamino’s voice. It is Sept. 23, and I have been waiting for this day since January of 2020, when I first discovered the artist who has since had me wrapped around his finger. ‘Sahar’ marks the return of Tamino post his debut record ‘Amir’ in 2018.
As with any sophomore record release, ‘Sahar’ emphasizes Tamino’s growth as an artist on all fronts – musically, lyrically and conceptually – and brings to light the many unique strengths that he has now cemented as his own. Sitting at around a 45 minute run time, this album is a more stripped down, intimate look into Tamino as an artist.
“Sahar” in Arabic translates to “just before dawn,” the record seeming to live within that exact realm, teetering between the night and the day — darkness and light. Many of the album’s tracks have a similar feeling to them in their themes — often dealing with Tamino’s reflection on the conflicting nature of life and relationships; the push and pull which comes with the people and things which you care most deeply about.
As the first track of the album is so aptly titled, “The Longing” carries itself throughout the record, whether it be that of reaching out to another, an internal reflection or even the need to feel longed after. The starting track begins by setting the musical tone — with quick, light strums of a guitar accompanied by a softer voiced Tamino asking for his lover to “hear me, follow this calling.”
Much of the guitar throughout this album takes on an oud like quality, both in tone and rhythm; even further, there is an actual oud played and embedded in the album, creating an amazing collaboration between the instruments, and acting in its own right as a cultural blend between the West and the East.
Whereas “Amir” was supported by Arab Symphony Nagham Zikrayat, “Sahar” is all Tamino — relying almost solely on his vocals and guitar. While of course there are still the beautiful blends of percussion and other instrumentals weaved within the record, at large this was a real look into who Tamino is as an artist without any other possible distractions. This album is longing, and at large felt as though it were a hand reaching out to its listeners — begging to be heard and held.
I found the melancholy and deeply impactful qualities of Tamino’s music to truly reach maturity in tracks like “You Don’t Own Me” and “The First Disciple,” both of which were singles released prior to the album. “The First Disciple” was the first single released, which now having listened to the whole record, I think was an amazing decision. The longest song on the album, its pacing, progression and overall sound was one of the strongest tracks overall, in my opinion. The song itself almost plays out in the three act format, with audible turning points throughout its tale. Utilizing both the guitar and the oud, its blend of cultural musical motifs perfectly serve the deep, dark, foggy-like environment the song places you in.
“You Don’t Own Me” begins (and ends) with a soundbite from Louis Armstrong’s “Go Down Moses,” which is about the escape of Hebrew slaves from Egypt in the Biblical Age. The soundbite is a slowed down clip of the line “let my people go,” which serves as an incredibly poignant reference given the sentiment of the track, as well as Tamino’s cultural background at large. He describes this feeling of being trapped in a relationship by someone who does not know him. There are so many veins in which this feeling could be applied as it relates to Tamino himself, and even more importantly his listeners. The vocals on this track are some of the most resonant and impactful of the album, and hearing it layered upon the crescendo of the strings, piano and soundbite in the finale of the song is an overwhelmingly immersive experience.
I also found myself pleasantly surprised with the more lighthearted sounds featured in the album, in tracks like “Fascination,” “Sunflower” and “Cinnamon.” These all seemed to experiment a bit more on the production end in their own ways, and brought a fresh new sound to Tamino that I simply hadn’t heard from him thus far. These tracks were able to combat one of my only worries of Tamino’s music thus far: the fear of a monotonous sound or tone becoming present throughout all of his releases.
“Sunflower” was one of my absolute favorite non-single tracks on the entire album. The only song with a feature in it, Belgian artist Angèle’s vocals harmonize so beautifully with Tamino’s own. Her presence serves as the perfect accompaniment for a song about two people who unknowingly long for each other equally and as deeply as the other. The siren-esque quality of the two working with each other on top of the romantic strings of the background oh-so perfectly captured that yearning, and had me swaying my head throughout the entirety of the chorus. It is a beautiful walking contradiction, sounding sweet and somber all in one breath – causing me to feel invigorated and in need of being held all at once.
“Fascination” was the song which I felt leaned most away from Tamino’s regular sound, and I initially favored this single the least. The more I listen to the album all the way through, however, the more I find that Tamino’s voice and the lyrical narrative being built by him blend together beautifully on the track.
Being Arab-American myself, it is hard to describe just how meaningful Tamino’s music is to me. He not only is someone with an objectively immense level of talent, but one whose talent acts as an active representation of an artist from a similar cultural background to mine — who is able to blend these notions of West and East together in art without diminishing or diluting one for the other.
Tracks like “The Flame” and “A Drop of Blood” were reminiscent of the classical Arabic music from the 60s and 70s which 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 into their listeners’ minds.
The album finishes on a perfectly themed track, “My Dearest Friend and Enemy,” which, as its title suggests, brings its listener even further into that space of the in-between once again. When your dearest friend is also your biggest enemy, the person who understands you the most yet is able to ruin you the hardest. Musically, it is one of the tracks which aligns more heavily with Tamino’s earlier releases, though again in a more raw fashion. There’s a moment near the end of the song where his pulling vocals are accompanied by accelerating strings, and I found myself overtaken by the feeling that Tamino is so astoundingly amazing at creating — an overwhelming transportation to another world. He finishes by tying all of the loose strings up in a beautiful bow, asking for his lover to “Leave the truth behind… before I step into darker days.”
All in all, “Sahar” is an album which has only gotten better the more I listen to it and truly serves as a promising sophomore release for Tamino. Though it might seem more simplistic in comparison to the heavily produced “Amir,” Tamino’s strength as a vocalist, lyricist and instrumentalist all proved themselves as being just as strong in their own right. I am absolutely blown away by what he was able to accomplish with this record and am already ripe with anticipation for what he might release next.