Archive for the ‘WRITINGS’ Category

eggs-friendsSCRAMBLED EGGS:

Dedicated To Foes Celebrating Friends (Incognito, 2009)

Hot on the heels of the haunted soundtrack they’ve created for the Joreige/Hadjithomas film ‘Je Veux Voir’, Lebanese punk icons Scrambled Eggs end their busy year with this “modest” 2-song release, which does however hold a host of surprises.

The year 2008 saw the Eggs part ways with their guitarist, Marc Codsi, an active contributor to the band’s sound since 2001. Codsi’s tumultuous departure, in addition to the wealth of experience gathered from working with various musicians throughout the year, infiltrate the tracks featured here, and lend them a primal, DIY quality. The sophistication of the ‘Je Veux Voir’ soundtrack is eschewed in favor of a raw, abrasive sound, harking back to the punk aesthetic of the ‘Happy Together Filthy Forever’ EP, released in 2006.

The single was recorded with little budget, in lo-fi conditions that seep through the music and lyrics. The band, reduced to the core trio of Haber on guitar and vocals, Elieh on bass, and Rizkallah on drums, displays a frantic desire to land back on its feet after a period of artistic self-doubt, and succeeds in doing so admirably. Of the six or seven songs that the Eggs wrote and tested on the road in September 2008, 2 were selected for this single release, and a third, a furious cover of Abba’s ‘Lay All Your Love On Me’, is hidden at the far end of the CD. Also hidden away at the far reaches of this release are a selection of musical snippets and oddities, selected by band-leader Charbel Haber with able help from Tunefork Studio’s maestro Fadi Tabbal.

This basic, back-to-the-roots package is a masterful way to end a difficult year, and an able return to form from one of the most revered band on Beirut’s alternative music scene.

Ziad Nawfal.


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MUNMA: UNHOLY REPUBLIC (Incognito, 2009)

The third official release by Lebanese electronic artist Jawad Nawfal sees him revisiting familiar themes and musical landscapes, while displaying the possibility for some radical departures in the near future. ‘Unholy Republic’ is the third installment of what is commonly referred to as the “Fate trilogy”, one that saw the day in the aftermath of the war waged by Israel on Lebanon in summer 2006. The first two releases, ‘34 Days’ and ‘Black Tuesday’, were marked by ominous moods and atmospheres, sets of menacing clicks and glitches, and a random selection of radio samples and speeches that conveyed brilliantly the mind-set and feelings of the artist, regarding the crisis at hand.

‘Unholy Republic’ picks up where ‘Black Tuesday’ left, with a rambling, brooding track haunted by static, radio noise, and some politician’s vehement preaching. This is followed by two tracks of subdued electronica, reminiscent of Munma’s previous releases. ‘Engram’, in particular, nods prominently towards South American musician Murcof’s output for the Leaf label. The rest of the album is more surprising, as Munma’s recent partner-in-crime, Nabil Saliba aka Trash Inc, enters the fray, and contributes his supple synth-enhanced melodies to ‘Broken Chime’ and ‘Deep Down Inside’. These show a different facet of Munma’s talent, and serve as a timely reminder that Jawad Nawfal is equally at ease devising ambient landscapes and dancefloor “stompers”. ‘Unholy Republic’ concludes on a short, ambient postcard entitled ‘Exodus’, signalling in the process the end of the “Fate trilogy”, and prefiguring realms of possibilities for Munma’s subsequent works.



Audio 1: Engram

Audio 2: Deep Down


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[From left to right, clockwise: Haber, Elieh, Rizkallah; Tabbal; Sehnaoui; Ko; Kerbaj; Haber; Elieh; Rizkallah]

Charbel Haber, singer, guitarist and composer with Lebanese rock band Scrambled Eggs, told me a few days ago that he had been planning for these sessions for three years, and the end result was ‘a dream come true’, for him. I find absolutely no reason to disagree with the latter statement. I was indeed privy to some highly intense and magical musical, during these sessions.
The actors and circumstances: on November 8, the three remaining Scrambled Eggs (second guitarist Marc Codsi left the band after the summer of 2008, in order to concentrate on his dancefloor project Lumi) enter Tunefork Recording Studio with the firm intent of recording several hours’ worth of new music, accompanied by a host of likely-minded musical cohorts, under the cool guidance of sound engineer Fadi Tabbal. With barely any time devoted to rehearsing, and a focus on loose improvisation instead, the sessions are scheduled for four consecutive days, and intended for release early in 2009.

The first of the sessions integrated the found sounds and electronics of Lebanese-born, French-based musician Joseph Ghosn, who doubles as the reviews editor for French musical magazine Les Inrockuptibles. Joining him and the Scrambled Eggs in the studio that day was Abdallah Ko (who plays guitar and laptop with the XEFM collective). Unfortunately, being tied down by previous engagements, I could not make it to this first session, which apparently yielded some impressive results, especially from the rhythm section of Tony Elieh and Malek Rizkallah.

For the second of these sessions, free improvisers Mazen Kerbaj and Sharif Sehnaoui (on prepared trumpet and acoustic guitar, respectively) were invited to join Haber & co. Kerbaj and Sehnaoui are the founding members of Irtijal, a surprising, Lebanese-based Festival of free improvised music which takes place in Beirut every year, and invites both local and foreign musicians to showcase their skills over several days and venues. Unfettered by the change of scenery and musical idiom that these Scrambled sessions represented, Sehnaoui and Kerbaj espoused their friends’ ‘rock’ ideals quite easily. The result was a furious maelstrom of sound, as the Eggs built an impressive, distortion-heavy wall of sound against the repeated, concentrated strumming of Sehnaoui, and the free-form eruptions of Kerbaj. In addition to his effects-laden trumpet, the latter also relied on a miked balloon to fence the repeated attacks of Haber’s pedal-relayed guitar, Elieh’s effects-laced bass, and Rizkallah’s discreet drumming. I gazed and listened in amazement as the music built and rose towards ever more violent crescendos, displaying little tolerance for compromise or reflection. These were 5 musicians at their very best, opposing and finding common ground for distant musical equations.

The November 9 session added French saxophone player Stéphane Rives to the above. Rives hails from the same improv background as Kerbaj and Sehnaoui, who found in the process an impromptu ally. The balance tilted in their favor this time, as the slow, meandering tracks tended towards reflective and calmer passages. Rives also displayed a somewhat different sensibility from that of his Lebanese fellows, edging the musical proceedings in favor of melody-oriented streams of sound, at least in the initial half. The final gasps of this session saw the musicians revert to more disrupted and disjointed playing, with a final, maddening rush of freeform blowing, stroking and banging. Little wonder that the studio’s recording computer eventually succumbed and went into crash mode!…

For the final installment of the sessions, the musicians invited by Scrambled Eggs were Fadi Tabbal on guitar (the owner and chief engineer of Tunefork Studios, and founder of psych-rock group The Incompetents) and Abdallah Ko. I found this session quite stimulating, especially due to the contribution of these two musicians. Sitting on opposite sides of the room, Tabbal on a tiny, constricting chair and Ko on the rug-covered floor, they provided some fine guitar lines and treatments to the ever-escalating wall of sound induced by Haber, Elieh and co. The ubiquitous Sehnaoui blended wonderfully amidst this compact, densely generated upsurge.

The material recorded during these sessions exceeds by far the length of an ‘official’ release, of course. The most appealing and accessible moments will be selected in order to constitute the CD release; and as such, I felt supremely fortunate and privileged to be a witness to these fine moments of improvisation.

[Photos by Ziad Nawfal]

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©Ghadi Smat/Grand-ecart.com

©Ghadi Smat/Grand-ecart.com

I have mixed feelings about this night. First of all, there is the slightly egocentric issue of having to mix the entire first part of the evening hidden behind a large, white drape, situated behind the band. While it made sense for Jose to play in front of a drape, it made much less sense for me to be covered by such a sundry item BEFORE the concert. Most of my friends who were there went, hey, was that you playing that night? We did not see you. Indeed.

But then, these (feelings of visual bereavement) went away when Jose Gonzalez and his two-piece band took the stage. Or rather, when he did, as he played solo at first. He strolled down shyly from the infamous VIP area at the Basement, sat on one of the three wooden chairs disposed for him, and played a couple of songs, accompanied by guitar and occasional guitar-tapping percussion. His voice was, is, well, sublime. Yes, just like the records. After a couple of songs taken from the ‘In our nature’ and ‘Veneer’ albums, he was joined onstage by a Viking-looking percussionist, and another female musician, who played a variety of miniature instruments. And alternately, hand-clapped.



Their two voices (his and hers) soared in unison (yes, it was that good) as they ripped through most of the songs on the two albums. The most notable feature of Jose’s set was his intense charisma, his way of delivering his songs as if he was playing them for the first time, right there and then, as well as his emotional guitar-playing and mastery of his instrument. Here were moments of acoustic loveliness, easily carried by the man’s incandescent voice.

I have rarely experienced such joy in an acoustic concert, such gentle beauty. Memories of Beth Gibbons playing with Rustin Man in Paris, of Martin Stephenson and Jim White alone on stage in London, sprang to mind. The crowd was subdued, which is something of an anomaly in the Basement, and allowed itself to be carried by the enchantment of Gonzalez’s small and charming ditties.

A shame, then, that the concert was so short. 40, maybe 50 minutes at most? A real shame. The beauty of the musicianship on display, not to mention the slightly high price of admission, kind of left me yearning for more. The concert ended with a beautiful re-interpretation of the Bronski Beat classic-of-sorts, “Smalltown boy”. Pretty, emotional stuff.

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Scrambled Eggs: Je Veux Voir OST (Incognito, 2008)

The Scrambled Eggs are no strangers to movie atmospheres. They contributed several outstanding tracks to filmmakers Joreige and Hadjithomas’ previous outing, ‘A Perfect Day’, and the soundtrack went on to win a prestigious European award. ‘Je Veux Voir’ (Joreige and Hadjithomas’ latest ) is however an altogether different experience, as it sees the Lebanese rock band tackle the movie’s atmosphere on their own, delivering in the process 17 tracks of unbridled  intensity and startling restraint.

Tracks 1 to 14 (which are mysteriously untitled) were recorded after watching excerpts from the as-yet-unreleased movie; the band gathered in Beirut’s Tunefork studios, and improvised directly onto tape melodic passages combining ambient soundscapes, ‘guitarified’ meanderings and moody rock drones. These were filtered through 16 ambient microphone inputs disposed haphazardly in the room, not necessarily directed at any particular instrument, and recorded by prolific sound engineer Fadi ‘Fe’ Tabbal. Additional arrangements and mixing were performed at a later stage by ‘Fe’ and Scrambled head-honcho Charbel Haber.

Tracks 15 and 16 feature French/Lebanese experimental musician Joe Ghosn, surrounded by a cast of like-minded friends, operating under the guise of Discipline and the Mainstream Ensemble. Tracks 17 to 19 are further additions by the Scrambled Eggs, consisting of demo tracks remixed by band members Charbel Haber and Marc Codsi, as well as one stellar, unreleased recording, ‘Let it Go’.

The album was released through Incognito Records on Sunday, October 26, to coincide with the avant-premiere of the film in Beirut.



Audio 1: Scrambled Eggs: Improvisation #6

Audio 2: Discipline: Drone 1


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The Incompetents: More Songs From The Victorious City (Tunefork, 2008)

THE INCOMPETENTS is the result of the unusual collaboration between songwriter Serge Yared and producer/multi instrumentalist/arranger/sound engineer Fadi “Fe” Tabbal.

Living and working in Beirut, those two music enthusiasts, who are constantly touring the world in search of new musical adventures, finally decided to team up and join forces on a set of songs. They were naturally joined by a myriad of professional, less professional, and even involuntary musicians, using any instrument (musical or not) available at hand.
When performing on stage, the ranks of the Incompetents are augmented by talented multi-instrumentalist Abed Kobeissy and drummer/percussionist Amine Daher, for a happily disjointed live extravaganza, a raucous celebration of British 60’s psychedelia and vaudevillesque sing-along tunes.


[Photo by Tony Elieh]

‘More Songs from the Victorious City’

After many desperate hours spent listening religiously to the Beach Boys, Moondog, Stephen Jones and Tom Waits, and after touring the world chasing the Sparks, Serge Yared came to Fadi “Fe” Tabbal one day with a bunch of broken lyrics and out-of-tune melodies. Fe decided that the two of them were to perform the songs on their own, no matter what.
Recorded in between riots, fratricide wars and assassinations, the project soon developed to involve a community of more than 25 “incompetents”, including anyone who came by the studio while they were recording, as well as “graphic designer” friends who were asked to illustrate one of the album’s 8 tracks, creating different interchangeable covers…
A true community work, and an outrageously spontaneous and liberating experience!


The CD was released on the night of Saturday, October 11, to coincide with the delirious concert the band gave at the Quadrangle Pub in Hazmieh, Beirut.

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Wire, Live in Paris (La Maroquinerie, 27/09/08)

This proved to be a historic week, on my own, personal, musical level. I had been a fan of British proto-punk Wire since acquiring a Best of their early years, ‘On Returning’, somewhere in the early 90’s, from the dusty shelves of the first music store where I worked, Caramel Market.

Wire have reformed 4 years ago, and I’ve been trying to watch them ever since. They played on September 27, 2008, in a tiny French club called La Maroquinerie, and the gig lived up to my expectations, and more. I had already seen qui te a few wonderful shows at La Maroquinerie, including American Music Club, The Beta Band, and !!! (a fabulous, unfettered celebration, that one…), but none of these really matched the intensity of Wire that night.

They were in high form, playing their new and older songs at an alarming, nervous pace, with barely any interruption from one track to the other. Energetic stop-start drumming, angular, spiky guitar lines, and roaring bass playing… The three men and accompanying lady on stage pulled all the stops, and brilliantly, too…

The years seem to have weighed very little on Colin Newman & co, seeing that the concert lasted quite a while… Highlights were evidently tracks from their early, late 70’s albums, the famous trilogy of ‘Chairs Missing’, ‘Pink Flag’, and ‘154’, but excerpts from the band’s recent outing, “Object 47′, fared quite well too. Raucous stuff, indeed!

[Photo by Ziad Nawfal]

Wire, 27/09/08

Wire, 27/09/08

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