The Wasla Festival – coming to Dubai on Jan. 20 – promises to be one of the biggest events yet for the alternative Arabic music scene.

Bringing together great acts from around the Arab world to perform a wide range of genres, the lineup includes some of the biggest alternative acts in the Arab world. 

Get ready for Lebanon’s Mashrou’ Leila, the hugely successful Algerian singer-songwriter Souad Massi, acclaimed Tunisian protest singer Emel Mathlouthi, who rose to fame in the Arab Spring, Jordanian rock outfit JadaL and fusion trio Salhi. 

We’ve selected a track from each of them that you should definitely add to your playlists! And if you want to see them live in Dubai, click the festival's Facebook page for details.

1. Mashrou’ Leila – Fasateen

Along with “Shim El Yasmine”, this song helped establish Mashrou’ Leila as a cultural force to be reckoned with. The indie-folk sound the band were mining back in 2010 (they’ve since shifted gears into electronic indie-pop) is beautifully realized on this track – a lilting acoustic guitar and a shuffling rhythm section overlaid by a plaintive violin line and Hamed Sinno’s distinctive throaty vocals. But it’s the lyrics, questioning societal pressure to get married, that really grabbed attention and marked the beginning of the band’s quest to #OccupyArabPop. 

2. Souad Massi – Raoui

“Raoui” is a great example of Souad Massi’s exceptional talent for intertwining her beautiful vocals and melodic guitar lines to create a resonant emotional connection with her listeners that few artists can match. The Guardian describes Massi as “one of North Africa’s finest, most original singers”, and “Raoui” shows why.

3. JadaL – Ana Bakhaf Min El Commitment

From its warbling opening keyboard notes,“Ana Bakhaf Min El Commitment” has the kind of insane ear worm quality of, say, Peter, Bjorn & John’s “Young Folks”. But what starts out as a sweet pop tune explodes into a rock anthem, neatly encompassing JadaL’s range in under five minutes.

4. Emel Mathlouthi – Ma Lkit

With its delicate xylophone intro,electronic bird calls, distorted bass and rhythms, and anthemic chorus, “Ma Lkit” illustrates why Emel Mathlouthi has garnered acclaim as one of NorthAfrica’s most exciting creative talents. Her theatrical, emotive vocals have drawn comparisons to Bjork, and seen Ahram Online call her “the Fairuz of her generation”.

5. Salhi – Saana

Fusion trio Salhi are all acclaimed musicians in their own right. So when percussionist Imed Alibi, jazz trumpeter Michel Marre and Sufi singer Mounir Troudi get together, you know they’re going to create something exceptional. Salhi combine aspects of traditional Bedouin folk music with poetic Sufi influences to create a trance-y vibe in which it’s easy to get lost, as in this 10-minute live take of their track “Saana”.