See what you hear: a look at Lebanese album art

What do a prism refracting light, a naked baby swimming towards a dollar bill, and the Hindenburg disaster have in common? They’re all iconic album covers! As important as the music itself is, the visual aesthetic and format in which it is presented to the listener are just as essential.

In many cases, album artwork has pretty much been the defining factor that would dictate whether or not you were gonna leave a record store empty-handed, or with an exciting new musical acquisition that could either be a life-changing discovery that you will forever cherish, or a total disappointment and complete waste of your time and hard-earned money (screw you Gym Class Heroes. Screw. You.)

For this reason, I’d like to take time to give props to some albums that have come out of the Lebanese alternative music scene throughout the years, albums that went the extra mile in terms of design or packaging. These aren’t the only great looking albums over here, but they are some of my favorites, so let’s take a look, shall we?

SoapKills – Cheftak (2002)

A true Lebanese classic, this album by iconic Lebanese trip hop duo SoapKills boasts one gorgeous cover and design, done by Fadi Baki and Hatem Imam. The cover is intended to be in the style of a vintage Arab movie poster, one with some suspense and romance by the looks of it.

The painting-like illustration (by Baki) and anachronistic vintage-style Arabic typography work well to invoke the look and feel of old Arab cinema, a fitting parallel to the content of the album, which features some modern reworks and remixes of songs that also come from an older era, such as Aranis which borrows lyrics from Omar Al Zaenni’s Kello Ndeef and Tango which is a remix of Nour el Houda’s Tango el Amal.

Scrambled Eggs – Happy Together, Filthy Forever (2006)

The cover of post-punk band Scrambled Eggs’ Happy Together, Filthy Forever, designed and illustrated by Malak Beydoun and Yasmina Baz respectively, depicts a group of people gathered atop Beirut’s famous Pigeon Rock, mingling amongst one another, waiting for their turn to leap off the edge into the Mediterranean waters below. This is a very powerful image to me which can be interpreted in many ways.

I like to think that these people on the rock represent a young generation of Lebanese citizens who choose to live their lives differently from how the rest of society does, not caring about all the politics and chaos, just like how the rock itself exists alongside the city, but is kind of isolated from everything else that goes on within it. And these isolated teens, they’re carefree and adventurous, jumping off rocks and stuff…

The Incompetents – More Songs from the Victorious City (2008)

The Incompetents have never been what you’d call a conventional band. Not surprisingly, their debut album More Songs from the Victorious City did not come in a conventional package either. Designed by Alfred Tarazi, the album curiously features a hollowed out die-cut sleeve for a front. The sleeve houses 8 interchangeable square cards with visuals, one for each track on the album.

The cover of the album is variable: whichever card happens to be at the front becomes the album’s cover, until you decide to shuffle them again. Each card is the work of a different creative talent, from designers to illustrators to what seems to be a preschooler (no seriously, one of them is literally a child’s drawing), and contains lyrics and credits for the corresponding track. Incompetent? Far from it…

Meen – Live (2009)

When releasing their aptly titled live album, Live, comedy rock duo Meen chose an odd yet strangely fitting visual for its cover, designed by Hovsep Guerboyan: a near-identical replication of the iconic Ghandour biscuits package. But this tasty aesthetic treatment isn’t just some Warhol knockoff move; it actually makes a lot of sense.

The band’s sound is heavily based on good ol’ fashion classic rock, coupled with humorous and relatable Lebanese-dialect lyrics that endeared them to local audiences. So, the Ghandour biscuits work quite effectively as a symbol of what they’re all about, as it holds both great nostalgic value and undeniable Lebanese identity.

OkyDoky & Radio KVM – Tasjeelat Motafarriqa (2010)

I’m about to sound like a total hipster here, but: you’ve probably never heard of this one. This EP by Beirut-based electronic music duo OkyDoky and Radio KVM was never actually intended as a major commercial release, but was instead a humble self-made collection of live recordings from various gigs the two have played together.

Nonetheless, it makes a great case for the fact that just because you’re not putting out a fancy mass-distributed album, doesn’t mean you can’t give it some kickass artwork. In this case, that kickass artwork was provided by Fouad Mezher, depicting the two producers in gritty black and white surrounded by the tools of their trade. Big things come in small packages, including standard plastic CD-R cases.

Fareeq el Atrash – ‘Al Mawjeh el Tarsha (2013)

You don’t always have to go overboard to achieve a stylish feel for your album. Just look at Arabic hip hop band Fareeq el Atrash’s second album, ‘Al Mawjeh el Tarsha, designed and illustrated by Farah Fayyad. Going for the minimal approach, the package features a nice and simple three color scheme with yellow as the main color and black and white being the secondary ones.

The front displays some peculiar scribbly portraits of each band member’s head (not to mention the awesome Arabic language band logo designed by Omar Khouri), while the interior and back cover have some neatly arranged text. Simplicity used effectively.

Hello, Psychaleppo – Gool L’Ah (2013)

Beirut-based Syrian electronic musician Hello, Psychaleppo’s debut album Gool L’Ah has a very distinct sound and a very distinct look. The album comes enclosed in a sewn sleeve of plastic-like fabric (sorry, can’t identify every material through touch alone) with David Habchy’s designs printed onto it.

The design is bright and vibrant, with a rigid grid theme hinting to the precise and calculated electronic aspect of the music, while the black and white illustration of Oum Kolthoum in the center serves as a nod to the legends of tarab, which the music samples from and reinvigorates with its high-energy beats.

Another more visual aspect worth mentioning, though not directly part of the album’s design or packaging, is the Gool L’Ah Musical Artworks project, in which 12 artists from across the Middle East were commissioned to create posters inspired by a track from the album. The result is a series of diverse and spectacular posters showcasing 12 unique graphic interpretations of the album’s music, which you can see here.

Mashrou’ Leila – Raasuk (2013)

With their latest album Raasuk, Mashrou’ Leila had set forth a goal for themselves: to #OccupyArabPop. They certainly didn’t overlook the album’s design as an essential aspect in doing so, with frontman Hamed Sinno taking on the visual duties himself. The album packaging has an overall theme, which is air travel.

The cover features a man inflating a lifejacket, the interior depicts the band seated within an airplane, and the inside sleeve is adorned with a pattern of seatbelts. Finally, a folded insert containing lyrics and credits has a poster on the flipside which shows illustrations in the style of airline safety instructions, depicting a bellydancer putting on and inflating a lifejacket, then striking some poses.

 I believe that the lifejacket is a metaphor for breast augmentation, and it’s not such a drastic leap if you think about it, you know, with the inflation aspect and its position on your chest and stuff. But what’s the deal with boob jobs? Well, the album itself deals with themes such as struggling against the acceptable norm and resisting conformity (most explicitly conveyed in the track Lil Watan), and even the message behind the whole #OccupyArabPop campaign that preceded the album’s release was to break down barriers, destroying the notions of what an Arab pop star is expected to be and offer an alternative to the stereotypical botoxed boob-jobbed bimbos we’ve all gotten tired of. So logically: airplanes.

Honorable Mention:

Edd Abbas, Lipos & Elepheel – Tripnol (2013)

That Omar Al Fil really outdid himself with this one…


This piece was originally published on


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