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Salem Al Fakir: This is Who I Am

by Ami Kealoha
on 09 March 2007

One of the most exciting artists I've encountered lately, Salem Al Fakir (first mentioned on CH six months back in an article about upcoming Scandinavian talents) released his first full-length solo album, This is Who I Am, in January in Sweden. In the six weeks since its release, it has been on the top ten Swedish album charts and just this week went gold.

Raised in Sweden by his Syrian father and Swedish mother, Salem was an unmistakable child prodigy, touring Russia as a solo violinist at 12. Like other über-talents before him—Prince, Omar, D’angelo, Stevie Wonder—Salem now plays virtually every instrument. On This is Who I Am he plays them all in addition to writing, arranging, producing and mixing. His virtuosic abilities on the violin and keyboard instruments are most obvious. But he also holds things down nicely on the drums, bass, guitar, xylophone and who knows what else.

In contrast to his precociously adult arrangements, Salem sings imperfectly with an almost childlike quality. That said, I like his voice and it works. Being the consummate musician that he is, he must know it's his weakness and perhaps the title reflects that.

Though barely old enough to remember the 80s, one of Salem’s many gifts is an ability to craft sophisticated and catchy pop songs fusing the refined feel and rich arrangements of the 70s with the musical simplicity and catchiness of the 80s. His songs are playful and often unfashionably pretty and upbeat, with melodic keyboard solos and bright-eyed lyrics refreshingly free of irony. Short instrumental interludes between radio-friendly songs showcase his skill and deep musicality.

As the title suggests, This is Who I Am is a multifaceted collection of personal-feeling songs. The scope of styles he tackles is staggering, including rock, jazz, soul, folk, melodic pop, classical, blues, gospel and more with influences as diverse as Steely Dan, The Motown Sound, Stevie Wonder, TV theme songs, and Earth Wind and Fire.

Clearly Salem Al Fakir can do just about anything he wants musically. But unlike others before him who've had innate talent without taste and restraint (leading to numerous unlistenable self-indulgent “masterpieces”), Salem is thankfully blessed with both and we are all the better for it.

Due out 15 March 2007 in the U.S., pre-order the release from Amazon or, starting 16 March 2007, it will be available at hus a Scandinavian store in NYC.

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