For Egyptian musician Dina el Wedidi, each project is a kind of journey. Her debut album in 2014, Turning Back, was a trip through history, mining Egyptian folk music and Arab poetry. The collaborative musical and environmental Nile Project she worked on crossed borders, connecting African artists along the river’s route and engaging U.S. and European audiences in the fight to preserve the critical water resource. And Slumber, the album she released last year, invites listeners to ride Egypt’s railway, where horns and hawkers form the backdrop to her swooping vocals. “I sampled Egyptian trains at different stations, the sounds the seats and broken windows make, to create harmonies, melodies and rhythm,” says Wedidi, 31.

Wedidi’s own musical journey is rooted in the region’s history. It began when she learned to sing Egyptian folk songs as a member of a Cairo theater troupe, including an epic Arabic poem rarely performed by women that chronicles a Bedouin tribe’s journey through North Africa. When she formed her own band in 2011, Wedidi melded these heritage sounds with influences from jazz, underground rock, and electronic music. American audiences first heard her perform in 2013, a year after she toured the U.S. under the mentorship of Brazilian icon Gilberto Gil.

Wedidi’s music has inspired change too. A modern operetta she took part in called Khalina Nehlam (Let us Dream) captured the mood of the 2011 Arab Spring protests that toppled Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak. It urged young people to “keep entertaining their different aspirations, and to never lose hope,” she says. This fall, she is embarking on a European tour as part of a collective called Sodassi, a collaboration led by Palestinian singer Kamilya Jubran that aims to explore the region’s musical history and future. The key to creativity, she says, is to keep moving. “You only keep the memories and beautiful lessons you learned from each journey, which will take you on to the next one.”

Dina El Wedidi at her home music studio in Egypt, May 4, 2019. (Christina Rizk for TIME)
Dina El Wedidi at her home music studio in Egypt, May 4, 2019.
Christina Rizk for TIME
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