Arash - “Donya”
Warner Music Sweden
When I wrote the review on Arash's debut, on the day of its release more than three years ago, never could I imagine the international success that was ahead of him back then. Generating a sale of 800.000 copies! However this massive sudden-success came to soon decline in Sweden where Arash is based and had broken through first. As a result his niche has in recent years come to narrow down to mainly Russia, Caucasus and East European countries. Arash's own explanation to the relative commercial weakness of his latest songs in Sweden, despite the list of prominent guest artists featured, has been that its been subjected to "a change of trend". Caused by that or not his new album was released on the Iranian market months before the Swedish release in the end of August and leaked even longer before that on the internet! The new album released on Warner Music Sweden is entitled "Donya" and features work by Arash himself, Robert Uhlmann, Orville Burrell, Angelo Crazianio, Johan Bejerholm, Max Tavahen, Shahkar Bineshpajooh, Cheb Khaled, Kada Mustapha, Lumidee, Ceasar Zamini, Bahman Zamini, Anderz Wrethov, David Carlsson, Petter Lindgård, Aneela, Måns Ek, Sabina Alic, Timbuktu, Yag, Jon Andersson and Jules Johannes Wolfson. The 14-track album is distributed by MZM in the Iranian-American market.
The album opens with a short Eastern mystical intro.
Shaggy looks hardly engaged in the music video of "Donya" and his performance is the title-track stays at the same level! The song acts here as a safe card on the track list, but in reality it disserve its purpose and becomes too safe for its own good!
Followed up by another familiar formula. Just like its predecessor on the debut even this song with the adorable Rebecca was heard on the leaked demo years ago however here revised and renewed! "Suddenly" is simply a mix of Alabina and Khaled, Faudel and Rachid Taha's (from 1,2,3 Soleil) "Abdelkader". Many, including yours truly, have criticized Arash's Persian lyrics for being to the extent of banality simple and badly rhymed! Something Swedes call "nödrim"! And having Shahkar Bineshpajooh co-writing it doesn't really help the case either! However Arash himself has said in interviews that his Persian lyrics get sanctioned and held for editing by his label for sounding uneasy to the Western ears! In other words the condition they are delivered in might be the result of a commercial calculation which misses certain cultural aspects in this regard.
I don't know if its still the previous track that lingers on or "Miduni Midunam" too rings "Abdelkader"? Either way this is another TRADEMARK song with the ETHNO-DANCE sound.
Arash has succeeded in many countries but still in none of the English speaking countries! Neither in US nor in England and according to Arash himself its because its almost impossible to break through in these markets if you don't sing in English or Spanish. Will this duet with Lumidee change it all? I doubt that! The song is well-produced and catchy though. There was a rumour that the rap segment was done by Eve but from what I understand its Lumidee herself who does the job!
The song "Arash" on the debut didn't become a top-selling single on the Swedish charts, however its my favourite track from the album! And the main reason to its appeal is the angelic performance by Helena who even contributes to the similar-sounding "Pure Love" in this album. Unfortunately this time not in Persian, with that charming Swedish accent. This is a DIDO-sounding song which would do well on the radios this fall, if released as a single! Love it!! By the way, the Persian lyrics on this song are the most linguistically adequate ones found on the album!
Now comes a new flavour to be added to Arash's repertoire! Once ordering "Boro" (go) Arash is now begging you to "Naro" (don't go)! Though without a repetition of the word in the title. This synthetic-ROCK flavour is rather popular in Sweden and happens to be one of the styles I personally work with! Needless to say I love this fare and love the way it enriches the variety on the album.
Last time we heard "Chori Chori" it was Aneela featuring Arash. But just like in Rebecca's case the roles have changed and now its Arash who features Aneela, and not the other way around! The single didn't become any major hit here in Sweden when released few years back, however its an enjoyable adaptation of the one-hit-wonder SNOW's "Informer" from 1993.
The way "Laf Laf" begins is very familiar but I cant put my finger on where I've heard this before! The pseudo-Indian accent which coloured the ins and outs of the debut had been kept away so far in this album, but as if Arash couldn't resist anymore it reappears, takes over and dominates in this musically rather interesting song! By the way, unlike how we thought the word-repetition in title seems to still be a matter of habit! If not the choice!
"Joone Man" is a song which in a way follows in the same ETHNO/Rock-n-Roll steps as in other Alex Papaconstantinou productions for Helena Paparizou and Cameron Cartio, among others, but here mixed with Arash's own TRADEMARK sound! The result is refreshing.
Ceasar Zamini was an active member of the Swedish EURO-trio Basic Element in early 90's and had numerous HITS on the Nordic charts back then. Now he appears as a co-writer of the song "Tanham" on Arash's album. This is a mellow mid-tempo song which gives a balance to the otherwise high-paced collection!
Next song called "Doset Nadaram" is a typical Arash song in all aspects! Keeping the fans of this particular style happy. Though not many of them seem to live in Sweden, judging by the recent mellow reactions! I personally enjoy the short 6/8 passage and feel its a pity that not more of it can be found in the ethnic musical melange that this album is!
Now to the, in my opinion, ACE of the album! Sadly its kept for the end of the album and is overshadowed by the former mass. But its a 1st class HIP HOP song with an excellent and commercially potent collaboration! I don't know who the rapper Yag is and whether he too like Timbuktu and Arash is Malmöbo but he makes a strong appearance here which doesn't come short next to Timbuk's marvellous bilingual rap! Timbuktu does seldom record in English these days so its a rare occasion. This song just begs to be released as a single with a video shot in a CLUB! Hint! Hint! hehe
The album wraps up with "Donya (Payami Break Mix)", an 80's inspired mix with a synth-sound overflow! By now you are all familiar with Ali Payami's work which was actually first presented through Arash's debut to the Iranian market.
In my opinion the reason to Arash's relative recent failure in the home market is partially the change of trend as he himself has suggested, but also a fundamental element in Arash's music! An element which contributed to the exotication and success of his music in the past and now to its failure! And that is his Persian lyrics! While the Persian text and songs were part of the magic that spiced up the trademark music and a source of joy and pride for his Iranian fans, they were also the factor that made the radio jockeys hesitant from giving the track enough airtime and spin the second time around. Because while it was fun and refreshing the first time to announce "Bora Bora" (that's how some radios mistakenly referred to "Boro Boro"), it just didn't ring the same bell and evoke the same feeling to hear a similar "mambo jumbo" (keep in mind the cultural context) almost four years later. And the fact that the music too followed the almost exact same formula and trademark sound was more for the worse than for the better, in this case! The pick for the first song wasn't either that thought-through, considering other guest appearances on the album, since Shaggy does no longer enjoy the same status in Sweden as he did a decade ago. But had they released the stylistically different collaboration with Timbuktu as the first single, I'm confident that they would have nailed a HIT! But they didn't and neither did they release the Timbuktu debut from "Arash" as a single! Timbuktu's involvement in a song basically means success, at least for the time being.
Yes, being an international artist means much more responsibility and calculation than you can imagine! Especially if you deal with ETHNIC and CULTURAL fusion in your music. You just cant ignore any constant or variable in the equation! You have to be alert and to some extent also politically correct! Something which I think Arash has managed to be in this album, at least more than in his debut! One important thing is that regardless of all the crisscrossed influences in his music he has had his own Iranian identity as an anchor and constant and that matters more than one might think. In the light of the recent controversial Kamran & Hooman interview and its follow-up explanations on Iran TV, we know that not every artist is comfortable to flag an Iranian identity on a Western market! Whether its due to commercial strategy or not. But Arash has from day one kept it real, with even the lyrics intended to reflect his Iranian identity. Something which might have been for the worse considering the Swedish market, nevertheless he has stuck to his principles! He has also managed to provide a wider range of variety in this album, both in terms of style and sound. However that huge HIT factor which made his debut to such success, in western Europe, is no longer there. Or better said, its there but not exposed! And that is the "element of surprise"! Arash is no longer the flavour of the season. And that is not only because the season has changed but rather that the flavour hasn't! At least not dished out in a way it can be tasted. The new spices are hidden in the cracks and back of the album and have so far not enjoyed an adequate exposure in form of single release. So the album is not a redux and repetition of "Arash" as many in Sweden might think judging by the singles, but rather merely presented as such! And as long as the marketing is conducted to create and support this misperception Arash will have to take his business further and further away from home!
Overall Performance: +++
Artistic Ambition: ++
Commercial Potential: +++
Technical Quality: +++
Aesthetic Presentation: +
Ethical Adherence: +++
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