Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘WRITINGS’ Category

eggs-friends

[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]

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

©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.

©Rajwat/Grand-ecart.com

 

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.

Read Full Post »

Munma & Trash Inc. Live at B018 (19/09/08)

 

Neither Jawad Nawfal (aka Munma) or Nabil Saliba (aka Trash Inc) are new to live venues or performing in front of a crowded audience. Jawad has taken his AEX and Munma formations to various venues in Lebanon (the Basement, Club Social, the Byblos Festival…), as well as abroad, while Nabil Saliba’s previous drumming duties with Franco-Lebanese rock band New Government also induced its fair share of live performing… but neither one of them was quite ready for this.

The atmosphere at B018 that night was quite different from anything the boys had witnessed before, or anything this famed dance venue had come to present its audience. As it slowly filled up, there was a general feeling of anticipation, of eager expectation, good humored and friendly, regarding this live electronic/dance concert, these two bands’ first in B018 . And those patient enough to wait for them to take the stage at 3am, were not disappointed.

Djette Caroline (Jawad’s wife) started warming the crowd at 2am, and had a hard time getting a grip on the venue’s rugged equipment, seeing that the available CD players had presumably been taken to hell and back by previous hard-hitting hordes of DJ’s, both local and foreign. She played a decent set, consisting mostly of breaks and electro-house, until Munma and Trash Inc. were urged to take the stage by an impatient crowd. From the beginning, they established the tone of the proceedings: an insistent, pumping electronic beat filtered through the speakers, giving them free rein to layer swathes of intricate loops and sounds. Nabil on synths and laptop-operated machinery, Jawad on yet another set up of computers and machines (I believe he brought out his new Pad for the occasion…) meshed and mingled a vast array of sounds, ranging from house-ish beats, minimal glitches and clicks, to synthesized, farting riffs straight out of 80’s and 90’s early dance productions. They even threw in some vocals in the mix, to the general delighted disbelief of their fans and friends, now filling B018 to the brim.

As their set proceeded, the boys scaled some unexpected heights, even for those of us who had become habituated to their oblique musical directions. They created a dense, compact core of beat-based reverberation, allowing them to geneerate a vast array of intricate sounds, which were then looped back and forth, then layered again to create a bright, shining sound-mass hovering between breaks, electro, and hard hitting tech-house.

Fine stuff, indeed.

You can now listen to a full section of the concert, by clicking on the following link:

munma-trash-inc-live-b018

 

Read Full Post »

To this day, I am not entirely sure what the initial spark was. I keep going through different scenarios and different events in my head, but I’m still unsure as to what started it all. It could have been Yasmine Hamdan’s tremulous voice, when the Soapkills took their first steps on a makeshift stage in a restaurant named Babylone, on the upper confines of Monot Street.  Or the vision of Jawad Nawfal and Victor Bresse laying complex rhythms on their electronic machines in Beirut’s Dome; or, closer still in time, the edgy voice of Charbel Haber as he professed eternal love and unavoidable damnation behind the wall of noise emitted by the Scrambled Eggs band…

Whichever the case, the actual beginnings of the Lebanese alternative musical scene escape me today. But this scene is so fertile, so diversified, so gloriously messy yet ultimately enchanting, that the details of its inception are irrelevant today. Much more important are its many actors, their numerous projects, and plans for a gloriously baffling future.

Yasmine Hamdan, the by-now legendary velvety voice of Soapkills, left Lebanon and her partner Zeid Hamdan’s barrage of rhythms, and exiled herself in France to work with famed electronic Mirwais (a mainstay of the French New Wave scene of the 80’s with his band Taxi Girl). The results of his collaboration with Yasmine Hamdan should be released imminently.

Zeid Hamdan, one of the most hyperactive musicians in Beirut’s alternative scene, has fronted a myriad bands in the last few years, excelling in various genres: punk/pop with the New Government (two releases on Lebanese independent label Incognito), Control/Shift Z (a dance project with Arab inflections), 3Arab (a fine blend of rock and dub), and countless others. Zeid is also hard at work scouting for new talent, and his efforts in that field have paved the way for the release of products from local Rap acts, including Katibe 5, Kita3youn, Kitaa Beirut, etc. Among these, the Katibe 5 crew stands ahead of the competition, and its debut album (also released by Incognito) is an infectious mixture of Arab rapping and hard-edged beats.

Jawad Nawfal and his Art.Core ensemble were among the first Lebanese artists to organize large-scale events gathering deejaying, live music, interactive video projections and photography. Some of these elements are still found in Jawad’s work today, as he fronts Electronica project Munma, a band that incorporates Middle and Far Eastern influences with its resolutely Westernized Electronic Ambient schemes. Munma’s first two EP’s were released on Incognito Records.  Jawad’s musical cohort of choice is ex-drummer Nabil Saliba, who performs on stage with Munma as synth-driven Trash Inc.

Electronic dance music’s Lebanese ambassadors of choice would be Lumi, a duo consisting of Marc Codsi (machines) and Mayaline Hage (vocals), whose jumpy electro-rock has earned them a successful commercial release with multinational label EMI records. 2008 saw them hard at work touring their debut album “Two Tears in Water”.

Whether bouncing on and off stage with local rock heroes Scrambled Eggs, improvising with experimental outfit XEFM, or interpreting his plaintive compositions alone on stage, Charbel Haber is an iconic figure in the contemporary Lebanese music scene, and feels perfectly at ease operating in this wide range of musical settings. Scrambled Eggs have released a handful of albums and EP’s, of consistently superior musical quality. 2008 also saw the release of a solo album by Haber, as well as collaborations with XEFM and U.S.-based bass player Miles Jay.

Among recent newcomers, let me point out The Incompetents, 4 young men hard at work creating an unreasonable mixture of Syd Barrett and Beach Boys influences, and more modern British pop trends. During their rare live appearances, they succeed in creating an extravagantly joyous shambles, while the release of their debut album will undoubtedly figure as a highlight of the year 2009.

Although less prominently ‘alternative’, the musical endeavors of singers such as Rima Khcheich and Tania Saleh hold a special place in the Lebanese contemporary panorama, as they mine a rich vein of Oriental Jazz and pop sensibilities.

The ongoing adventures of Beirut’s alternative music scene would not be possible without the staunch support of a stubborn group of individuals, active so-to-speak behind the scenes: promoters and festival organizers (Libanjazz’s Karim Ghattas, The Basement’s Jad Souaid, Byblos Festival’s Naji Baz…), producers (Incognito’s Tony Sfeir, Forward Productions’ Ghazi Abdelbaki), radio hosts (hailing mostly from the government-supported Radio Lebanon), whose efforts and relentless risk-taking surely play a vital part in ensuring the survival of this ebullient, diversified scene.

A full report on those bands that consistently set ablaze this writer’s enthusiasm would necessitate an obscenely large number of words and pages. At best, one can barely scratch the surface of this musical compendium, which regenerates itself constantly, and holds endless surprises for the patient and avid listener.

Ziad Nawfal,

‘A glance at Beirut’s contemporary alternative musical scene’ was written for the magazine ELLE ORIENT.

[Photo of Malek Rizkallah, drummer with Scrambled Eggs, by Ziad Nawfal]

Read Full Post »

This album marks the first foray into musical territory by talented Lebanese photographer Joanna Andraos. The young artist has spent several years studying classical piano, and has taken this knowledge to some strange, unexpected places on this sophomore album, released on Beirut’s Incognito Records. The record dexterously assembles classical strands and influences with modern, computer-generated sound constructions. The end result is reminiscent of Brian Eno’s Ambient Music series, tempered with a Middle Eastern edge and spiked with wandering electronics. The latter come courtesy of Jawad Nawfal aka Munma, who appears on several tracks, and whose unmistakable clicks and glitches make for some highly dramatic intrusions.

———————————————

LISTEN

Audio 1: Chorouq

Audio 2: Abyss (Aequo Remix)

———————————————-

Read Full Post »

Following an intense year performing live in Lebanon and abroad, Munma return to the studio in 2007 to deliver the 2nd volume of what is rumored to be a trilogy, hovering around the Lebanese-Israeli war of July 2006. The band’s familiar layers of synthesized sounds are augmented with a formidable array of processed bleeps and glitches, excerpts from radio speeches and political discourses, as well as expertly diverted samples of traditional Arabic instruments. The only live electronics band of its kind in Lebanon has managed to deliver yet another haunting masterpiece, a record that seems to defy any possible categorization and labeling, posed somewhere between ambient soundscapes, moody electronica, and weary world music.

—————————————————-

LISTEN

Audio 1: Pluie D’ete

Audio 2: IRM

—————————————————–


Read Full Post »

[Article written for PRIME JORDAN MAGAZINE]

Despite the traces and scars of numerous battles and confrontations, the city of Beirut manages to this day, as the song goes, to “shake itself up, dust itself off, and start all over again”… This constant state of rejuvenation is found in various walks of Lebanese life, but more so in the fields of art, and especially that of music.

The city of Beirut and its neighborhoods are alive with the sounds, sonorities and tunes of hundreds of musicians, moving at ease between different styles and categories, from traditional workouts to oriental jazz, from rap to punk, and from dance-floor electro to more nuanced strands of electronica…

In a city famous from its happy blending of cultures and influences, Lebanese bands also operate a mixture of genres: Soapkills’ explosive cocktail of traditional Arabic music and electro has made them the best-known duo of the Middle Eastern Underground, and one of its finest exports. Their first album, Bater, features outstanding contributions from local jazz musicians Rabih Mroué (flute) and Walid Sadek (trumpet).

The Soapkills’ main man, Zeid Hamdan, is also a towering presence on the rock scene, as guitar player with the New Government. The latter are the true dandies of the Lebanese rock scene. Coming from different musical backgrounds, the perfect synergy these five musicians create has already resulted in the New Government Strikes album, which combines great melodies and subtlety with punk energy and style. Flashes of British ‘60s psychedelia (Kinks, Small Faces) abound, interspersed with modern flourishes.

In another corner of the rock ‘front’, stand the Scrambled Eggs. By far one of the most interesting alternative rock bands operating in Beirut today, the Scrambled Eggs’ music is dark, strange and fascinating, and provides the perfect soundtrack to post-war Beirut.
Over the course of 3 albums, and then some, the band has managed to create its own distinctive sound, a fine mesh of guitars and noises, pushing to the extreme the search for harmony in chaos.

Jawad Nawfal knows a great deal about the fine line(s) between harmony and chaos. Not content with his status as Beirut’s first and foremost Drum&Bass/HardTech DJ, he has created an alter-ego for his more ‘restrained’ musical ventures, under the moniker Munma. The band’s first release, 34 Days, is a set of 6 electro-ambient tracks, featuring minimal beats, ominous vocal samples, and a rich tapestry of interlocking, layered sounds. 34 Days recalls the ethereal, hushed moods of Warp label artists such as Boards of Canada and Aphex Twin at their ambient best; with an oriental twist, added for good measure.

Last but not least, Beirut’s rap scene is filled with various luminaries: Ashekman, RGB, Kitayoun, Katibe Khamse, and of course Rayess Bek… Wael Kodeih (aka Rayess Bek) single-handedly created the Lebanese rap scene in the ‘90s with his band Aks’ser. They’ve been growing ever since, and released their first full-fledged album on major label EMI in 2006. Wael’s solo project Rayess Bek has allowed him to deal with more serious issues; he raps about social, economical and political problems: the corrupt government of his country, a society on the brink of collapse, and disoriented youth.

Ziad Nawfal

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »