Two thing came to my mind a few days ago on reading about the instance of bankruptcy filed by one of the biggest selling guitar manufacturers in the world – Gibson Brands Inc. It got me thinking about the future of guitars, and quite a bit about the future of good blues music. Will the guitar survive all the new electronic technology? And will the blues survive without new blood to replace the great blues artists from the past? You know them; John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters, Big Jack Johnson etc. As far removed as the bankruptcy of Gibson, and the survival of the Blues may seem, they are inevitably linked to that marvelous instrument called the guitar – be that electric or acoustic. Hence it’s hard for one to survive without the other. So if demand determines supply, we first and fore mostly need great Blues artists to keep promoting and expanding the culture which already has a deeply entrenched core base all over the world. To my surprise (and ignorance, may I add) one of these talents comes straight out of the Middle East!
The Middle Eastern bluesman, Ali Sleeq picked up the bass 18 years ago, and started his musical journey performing with several bands in Lebanon, including the then popular blues band, Evergreen. In 2005 he moved back to Kuwait after finishing his university at AUB and was a main pillar in pushing the local music scene.
A regular blogger with Speakin’ The Blues, the only dedicated site of its kind in Kuwait, Ali Sleeq is currently signed to Ajna Records and has released his debut album titled “Gonna Die With the Blues”, in April 2018.
What makes the self-proclaimed messenger of the blues, Ali Sleeq, such an essential voice in contemporary blues is that his blend of blues is so concise. Only one of these tracks stretches beyond the 4-minute mark (and only by 5 seconds!) and at least two songs here don’t even reach three minutes. Sleeq knows what he likes and he likes what he knows.
And he’s damn good at it, without ever being pretentious and overblown. The fiery guitar riffs, solos and rhythms provide various flavors of the torture and grace, born from the traditional Mississippi Delta blues formula. Ali Sleeq’s secret weapon, however, is his versatility. The blues might be his vice of choice, but let there be no doubt that this dude knows how to groove too.
Ample proof of that can be found on his groove-infused single, “Mind That Funk”. This is also where Sleeq unleashes his bass playing talents to support his powerful whiskey stained voice. The rolling bass lines and snappy drumming are accompanied by a jangly, strumming guitar and perky organ interludes, which gives the entire track an energetic forward momentum and an infectious rhythm.
Elsewhere on the album, the Ali Sleeq Blues Band continues to show their excellent versatility. From the slow and steady “Fallen Behind” that showcases a soulful guitar solo, to the raucous upbeat electric blues of “Back To The Chicken Shack”. On “Snake Old Blues”, the performance is subtle in nature, the verses quietly accessible, and once it opens up for some vintage soloing, there’s no doubt about the quality of what you’re hearing.
The raw intensity of “That Ain’t Right” linked with “I Tried So Hard” blossoms into a kind of white-hot jam that wouldn’t be out of place at any Crossroads Festival ever. The title track, “Gonna Die With The Blues”, highlights the confidence of the singer, as Sleeq rides the mid-tempo rhythm with a voice that soars.
The bare-boned album closer, “Mississippi Born” conjures tastes of the South on a warm but not-too-humid evening at a backyard barbecue – the smell of smoke in the air, and the taste of whiskey on your lips. Ali Sleeq’s honesty is soothing and the rawness of the Ali Sleeq Blues Band’s music makes it powerful. He is a true storyteller, in the age-old blues tradition.
MORE ABOUT: Ali Sleeq joined the Lounging Criminals, a band who featured and received accolades in various Battle of The Bands competitions in Kuwait. He also started the first and only blues band called The Mojolaters, handling lead vocals as well. In 2010 he was one of the Kuwait Music website’s contributing writers, writing articles, reviews and lessons to that website. He started AvantGarde Music Projects in 2012 to promote local music collaborations, and organized two successful music festivals. The festivals were free of charge to all viewers and was seen on TV and print media. He has since gone solo to provide live and studio time for various musicians, performing in various shows in Kuwait, such as Qout Market and others. He is a supporter of blues music, as a Blues Partner with the Blues Foundation, and is a contributing member to the National Blues Museum, which currently has the biggest blues CD, book and magazine collection in the Middle East.