As one third of Sun City Girls, Alan Bishop is one of the towering figures of the American musical underground of the last 30 years, and his musical output knows very few boundaries, whether in his solo guise as Alvarius B., or through the global releases of the Sublime Frequencies label, which he’s operated since 2003. Sam Shalabi is a key musician in Montreal’s experimental scene, with Egyptian roots and a decisively warped approach to music-making. He is best known as a founding member of the Shalabi Effect quartet, and appears regularly in various free improv and avant-rock ensembles. Shalabi recently founded Land Of Kush, an intriguing orchestra inspired by the Egyptian big-bands of the 60’s and 70’s, which has released two records to date.
Sam Shalabi and Alan Bishop are old friends, but their delirious piece for Plot for a Biennial, the music section of Sharjah’s 10th Biennial, saw them collaborating for the first time. Prior to this evening’s performance, the two musicians had spent several weeks in Sharjah in order to record ambient soundscapes and impregnate themselves with the mood of the city. The resulting performance integrated pre-recorded sound fragments, live playing (Shalabi on electric guitar and oud, Bishop on amplified acoustic guitar), and Bishop’s inevitable and riotous ranting and raving.
Bishop spent the first few minutes of the set walking among the seated audience, hiding his face behind a scarf and sporting a colorful umbrella, while Shalabi triggered the electronic soundscapes and improvised on guitar. Bishop eventually climbed on stage, at which point proceedings took on a more dramatic turn — in the Shakespearean sense of the word. Standing behind a cluttered table, he relied on various objects (a torchlight, a portable radio, menus for local restaurants, artist catalogues, to name but these) to deliver a captivating spoken-word “routine”, adeptly mixing deadpan humor, vaudeville, and hilarious assessments of the Sharjah milieu. T-shirts decorated with the sentence “E = Tahrir Square” were blasted towards the audience; dog yelps and various animal sounds were emitted; and Stevie Wonder, playing on the same night in neighboring Abu Dhabi, was saluted sarcastically. The two men ended their hour-long performance with a magnificent improvised duet of oud and acoustic guitar.
[Photos by Ziad Nawfal]