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East meets West and pop meets soul in the latest album from Dutch international music star, Rajae El Mouhandiz, released this past Saturday.
But of all the words to describe Hand of Fatima, Sufi-inspired might be the most fitting.
The album is a musical meander through the life and times of Rajae, a 30-year-old North African Muslim woman who grew up in Amsterdam and who uses her international background to inspire her music.
Released three years after her debut album Incarnation, Rajea’s latest offering delves into everything from the heartbreak of a father’s neglect of his family, to love and self-esteem, to navigating a society obsessed with material wealth. But underlying all of her songs is a subtle reminder of the forces in her life – her belief in “compassion, the Almighty, and the afterlife” that make the struggle worth it.
Her song “Subhan Allah” is a smooth Arabic and English melody dedicated to freeing herself from “mental slavery”. It’s the musical version of a Sufi thikr circle, where participants gather to chant the attributes of God.
Not the freedom of any society will make me equal to a man / I fight my battles alone you see.
And I try to free my identify from this mental slavery / taught myself how to see mortality, weaving a web of different moralities ooh / Thank God for plurality oh oh oh oh ooh
A classically trained musician, Rajae refuses to stick to one just one musical genre and her album is all the better for it. She incorporates English, Arabic, Dutch, German and French into songs intended to make you think.
In the title track, “Hand of Fatima”, Rajae invokes the image of the palm-shaped amulet popular in the Middle East and North Africa as a defense against envy, to call out all those who try to bring the artist down.
You hate me, cuz I believe in prophesies / You hate me, hate me, cuz I deserve what’s given to me / You hate , hate, hate me, cuz I submit to the Almighty / You hate me because I believe in endless possibilities
But if the possibilities seem endless, it may be because Rajae has spent years honing her craft on a musical journey that has allowed her to work with some of the world’s leading producers.
Born in Morocco to a Moroccan father and Algerian mother, Rajae and her family moved to The Netherlands when she was a child.
She began to play the French horn at the age of 8. By 15, her musical career began to take off when she left her family’s home to study music full-time and was later admitted into the Dutch Conservatory, a prestigious music college in Amsterdam.
In “Peace in the Middle East”, she opens with a round of harmonizing, before pleading to her listeners to “read between the lines” to help make the world a better place.
I want a safe home for my future kids / in a world that treats them equal / cuz to a universal God we are all first class citizens
Rajae uses her music to tackle social politics as well, as evident in the song “Malcolm Lateef Shabazz”, a musical ode to the grandson of Malcolm X.
In it, she praises the example of leadership left by Malcolm X, and opines “we’re so much stronger than before.”
But she includes a warning:
And it is true yeah what they say / This matrix ain’t reality / we take the lies as truth and then / forgetting to honor our legacy
Rajae relies on the up tempo beat of drums and bass to give her music a soulful edge. In some instances, though, they overpower her otherwise haunting vocals, allowing the depth of her words to get lost in the melodies. That is a shame for an artist who clearly has so much to say
However, her international upbringing seems to have inspired the musical tapestry that is Hand of Fatima, and that in turn gives her music a little more edge than the average pop fare.