Omar Ahmad


Lurien Zittertkopf

July 30, 2023

Tracks in this feature

Tracks in this release

Palestinian heritage meshes with the subtlety of modern electronica, giving deeply personal compositions full of charm and playfulness

A self-taught instrumentalist, Omar Ahmad’s work as a composer, sound artist, DJ and producer is all informed more by his life experiences than the strict boundaries of music-school teachings. His music is inherently an extension of his inner world, possibly moreso than it is for most musicians, Ahmad’s unconventional composition techniques and comfortability in forgoing genre conventions are essential to nourishing the songs of his solo debut, Inheritance is a dynamic collection of songs that meander around gentle ambient electronica, pulsing dance music, and plaintive folk music with hues of glitch and influence from his Arab heritage around the borders. 

Ahmad’s subtlety as a composer is his way of making specific emotions known without stating them outright. Growing up a third-culture kid born to Palestinian parents and raised in the United States, Inheritance invests itself in understanding the past Ahmad carries with him through family history and the ongoing wars in colonially-divided Palestinian territories and understanding himself as an individual, the rhythmic and melodic language of Arabic music colliding with glossy house beats and blankets of synth pads. 

It’s easy to find individual comparison points to other artists in Ahmad’s music – the folktronica of Four Tet, CFCF’s nostalgic EDM, Ryuchi Sakamoto’s melancholic ambient/classical blends – but, in totality, Ahmad’s music is entirely his own, expansive through its use of many different styles and concepts to speak to the many worlds he inhabits. Across its 35 minutes, Inheritance makes space for all of Ahmad’s stories without centering any one of them in particular, letting him engage with different internal perspectives with curiosity and compassion towards himself and the world. 

Ahmad’s organic style treats his music with a warm, easy to listen to finish that doesn’t sacrifice style for emotional depth. While he’s never afraid to strip his compositions back – Cygnet Song is little more than field recordings and multiple overdubs of beautifully fingerpicked guitar, and early highlight Gesso orbits its flickering synths and intimate family recordings around soft drones – much of Inheritance thrives through its ability to weave his personal history around conventional electronica, imbuing familiar sounds with a refreshing individuality and passion. Lead single Lapses is driven by a cushy, simple backbeat drum loop, but Ahmad situates it around pastoral string leads and light electric guitar. Lapses is the album’s thoughtful centrepiece, whose overall simplicity is a counterweight to the clever twist he puts on a dance-y beat. He carries that into tracks like Usra through its house and Arab vocal melody fusion and Sham Oasis with its polyrhythmic hand drums and humid synth beds; Inheritance pays its respect towards Ahmad’s family and the wealth of Palestinian musical history while looking to modern sounds to give his message shape. 

If it’s not a particular innovative take on dreamy, relaxed electronica, it’s certainly a compelling new vision for it, Ahmad’s loving and tender ambient music the perfect shape for his debut to take, the splintered piano and strings all over Losing a Friend careful to keep their glow even as they keep getting interrupted by surprise silence, Ahmad taking inventory of his loss but unwilling to let the memories he has disappear along with it. His heart is in these eight songs every step of the way and sitting with Ahmad through it all is immensely rewarding on a pure emotional level only music this vulnerable can achieve.

But there is lots to love from a technical standpoint, too: the orchestral instrument recordings are crisp and well-rounded, the foreboding piano chords at the start of opening track A Little Time For Me filling the low-end of the mix without being overbearing, recorded closely enough for the richness to be audible but leaving space for the synth drones and strings blanketing it all. Descended From A Wanaque Tree (Borrowed Memory) embraces snappy percussive tones and glitchy, detuned synths where Ahmad taps into a childlike curiosity to explore the world around you and the excitement of seeing something new and beautiful. His DJ work comes through in the understated kick drums around the vocal samples and playful hand drums Sham Oasis throws into the mix, energy stable enough to carry you into the track so his additions can become the focal point. Ahmad’s playful electronica is the oil for the larger machine of his own stories and musical influences to move smoothly around one another. Inheritance keeps all its different components in a wonderful balance and makes it clear how Ahmad’s delicate songcraft can still make for a deeply engaging listen even at its most minimal. 

As an introduction to Omar Ahmad as a solo artist, Inheritance strikes a perfect balance of musical depth and emotional storytelling, easy to get lost in but never losing sight of his message along the way. Each of its songs individually tell their stories with patience and compassion, but, put together, those qualities are emphasised tenfold. There’s a creativity Inheritance finds by falling into the innate unfamiliarity of childhood – how Gesso’s whooshing synths flutter in and out the mix without warning or Cygnet Song captures a single, remarkable moment of stillness – and Ahmad guides that jittery energy with defined song structures where those feelings can drift but never vanish. Inheritance assumes the role of a mirror for Ahmad to reflect his inner world upon, but it reveals itself to be so much deeper, that reflection its own universe where his current and younger self can join and attempt to come to some kind of answer to the questions of his history and what he has to carry forward with him. More often than not, Inheritance’s answer is to sit and look, thumbing through all his past experiences and how beautiful so many of them are.