Arab-American Songwriter Naima Shalhoub Sings of "Two (Rivers in the Desert)" (premiere)

Photo: Tarik "Excentrik" Kazaleh / Courtesy of Rock Paper Scissors

Naima Shalhoub finds healing waters in her new video for the single "Two (Rivers in the Desert)".

Water trickles across Mojave desert sands as Naima Shalhoub strums the first solemn guitar notes of "Two (Rivers in the Desert)" and begins to sing. Precious for its scarcity and its necessity, such a substance in such an arid landscape serves as a poignant symbol for finding -- and making -- purpose and personal truth in what is so often a harsh and unrelenting world.

Shalhoub's inspiration is deeply and delightfully personal. "I smile every time I think about my family on FaceTime in a spirited debate about the Arabic translation of Isaiah 43:19 -- the song's inspiration -- and how it would best sound with the melody my father helped me with," she says, referring to a verse that speaks of divine creation in desperate times -- only too relevant today for many.

For the visual aspects of "Two (Rivers in the Desert)", Shalhoub enlisted nearby artist Excentrik as director, a first-time collaboration that she gushes, "was magical", with both bringing their whole selves and experiences to the filming. "Our respective Lebanese and Palestinian ancestry is extremely important to both of us," Shalhoub continues, "and the whole experience felt like we were in a portal of some sort."

Seeing Shalhoub among the near-otherworldly boulders and resilient flora of Joshua Tree truly truly is a dramatic way of setting the artist apart from the world. At the same time, it makes for a brilliant representation of Shalhoub herself, her music and self so strongly influenced by both her family history -- both parents are refugees from Rahbé, a town in northern Lebanon -- and her life in the San Francisco Bay Area, where she works as both artist and advocate, doing work in schools, juvenile halls, and other community facilities that are crucial to a number of underserved groups.

Much of Shalhoub's work focuses on concepts of healing, which her video evokes in a moment of total reverence, as Shalhoub kneels, face pointed upward to receive baptismal drops of water from the ornately adorned masked figure who has been wandering in the same space as she has been playing for the entirety of the film. Technically, it was a small miracle. "We had only one chance to get it right," says Shalhoub, "and thankfully, it worked out!" While visually, it is a moment of cleansing, the high desert sun shining down to illuminate the peace on Shalhoub's face. "For me," she concludes, "'Two' is ultimately a prayer."

"Two (Rivers in the Desert)" comes out ahead of debut full-length studio album Siphr, set for release on 19 June.





12 Essential Performances from New Orleans' Piano "Professors"

New Orleans music is renowned for its piano players. Here's a dozen jams from great Crescent City keyboardists, past and present, and a little something extra.


Jess Williamson Reimagines the Occult As Source Power on 'Sorceress'

Folk singer-songwriter, Jess Williamson wants listeners to know magic is not found in tarot cards or mass-produced smudge sticks. Rather, transformative power is deeply personal, thereby locating Sorceress as an indelible conveyor of strength and wisdom.

By the Book

Flight and Return: Kendra Atleework's Memoir, 'Miracle Country'

Although inconsistent as a memoir, Miracle Country is a breathtaking environmental history. Atleework is a shrewd observer and her writing is a gratifying contribution to the desert-literature genre.


Mark Olson and Ingunn Ringvold Celebrate New Album With Performance Video (premiere)

Mark Olson (The Jayhawks) and Ingunn Ringvold share a 20-minute performance video that highlights their new album, Magdalen Accepts the Invitation. "This was an opportunity to perform the new songs and pretend in a way that we were still going on tour because we had been so looking forward to that."


David Grubbs and Taku Unami Collaborate on the Downright Riveting 'Comet Meta'

Comet Meta is a brilliant record full of compositions and moments worthy of their own accord, but what's really enticing is that it's not only by David Grubbs but of him. It's perhaps the most emotive, dream-like, and accomplished piece of Grubbsian experimental post-rock.


On Their 2003 Self-Titled Album, Buzzcocks Donned a Harder Sound and Wore it With Style and Taste

Buzzcocks, the band's fourth album since their return to touring in 1989, changed their sound but retained what made them great in the first place

Reading Pandemics

Chaucer's Plague Tales

In 18 months, the "Great Pestilence" of 1348-49 killed half of England's population, and by 1351 half the population of the world. Chaucer's plague tales reveal the conservative edges of an astonishingly innovative medieval poet.


Country's Jaime Wyatt Gets in Touch With Herself on 'Neon Cross'

Neon Cross is country artist Jaime Wyatt's way of getting in touch with all the emotions she's been going through. But more specifically, it's about accepting both the past and the present and moving on with pride.


Counterbalance 17: Public Enemy - 'It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back'

Hip-hop makes its debut on the Big List with Public Enemy’s meaty, beaty manifesto, and all the jealous punks can’t stop the dunk. Counterbalance’s Klinger and Mendelsohn give it a listen.


Sondre Lerche and the Art of Radical Sincerity

"It feels strange to say it", says Norwegian pop artist Sondre Lerche about his ninth studio album, "but this is the perfect time for Patience. I wanted this to be something meaningful in the middle of all that's going on."


How the Template for Modern Combat Journalism Developed

The superbly researched Journalism and the Russo-Japanese War tells readers how Japan pioneered modern techniques of propaganda and censorship in the Russo-Japanese War.


From Horrifying Comedy to Darkly Funny Horror: Bob Clark Films

What if I told you that the director of one of the most heartwarming and beloved Christmas movies of all time is the same director as probably the most terrifying and disturbing yuletide horror films of all time?

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.