-Name: Wael Kodeih (Rayess Bek)
-Genre: Arabic Hip Hop
-Years Active: 1997-Present
-History: Wael first started out as one half of one of the first, if not the first ever Lebanese Arabic hip hop group, Aks’Ser, which means “against the current/flow”, adopting his current stage name, Rayess Bek. His partner in Aks’Ser was his friend Houssam Fathallah A.K.A Eben Foulen. Aks’Ser made their public debut at the 1997 Fete de la Musique annual music festival. They had made a name for themselves with that show. However, some people respected their brand of Arabic hip hop, the likes of which had not been heard before in Lebanon, while others were not so open-minded, believing that rapping in Arabic would be tainting the language with American culture. Aks’Ser released their debut album “Ahla Bi Chabeb” in 2000 (it was on this album when Rayess Bek first collaborated with the Lebanese DJ, producer, and turntablist, DJ Lethal Skillz on the song “Saffeit Bi Aks’Ser”. He would go on to appear on Lethal Skillz’s own album “New World Disorder” on the track “Bi Fanneh Horr” with RGB many years later) and another album by the name of “Khartouch” followed it in 2002, both released under the independent label ChichProd.
In 2003, Rayess Bek took a break from Aks’Ser to release his very own solo album titled “3am Behkeh Bil Sokout” through Incognito, touring in the Middle-East and Europe in support of his solo endeavor.
In 2004, Aks’Ser were signed to EMI, and would later release their third self-titled album “Aks’ser” the next year (this album would be the debut of the Lebanese Arabic rap duo, Ashekman, and the first collaboration between them and Rayess Bek, being featured in the Aks’Ser song “Ele Min”. Rayess Bek would go on to be featured in a track on Ashekman’s debut album “Nasher Ghassil”). That same year, Rayess Bek would release his second piece of solo work, an EP of three tracks called “Nuit Gravement à la Santé” (Hazardous to Your Health) through Incognito. This release saw him working with a oud player. This element would later reappear in his sound in the future. Also that year, he would appear on Ghazi Abdel Baki’s debut album “Communique#1” on the track “What For” (To listen to a sample, go here, and click on the song title in the tracklist).
In 2006, Rayess Bek was commissioned by the UN to make them a song for their campaign on disability in the Middle-East. The result was a song called “Ekhtilef Tabi3eh” (Difference is Normal). This was the first ever media campaign for the promotion of acceptance of the handicapped in the Middle-East and the song has been broadcast in over 20 countries in the Middle-East and Africa.
In 2006, he was featured in a PBS documentary by the name of “Dissonance and Harmony” produced by Miles Copeland for the series “America at a Crossroads”. For this documentary, Rayess Bek collaborated with Nile Rogers, the producer, songwriter, and guitarist, RZA of the American hip hop group Wu-Tang Clan, Shavo Odadjian of the American metal band System of a Down, who was playing sitar for the song, the Mexican rapper Malverde, and the Lebanese DJ Ceasar K. The product of this collaboration was presented in a show at the Roxy, but was never released due to legal/financial issues with RZA’s producer. Here is a clip from the series (featured in this video: RZA, Shavo Odadjian, Niles Rogers, and Tania Saleh): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5APioj1oueY
In June 2007, Rayess Bek began work on another campaign for the United Nations; an anti-war campaign with American co-writer and producer Frank Fitzpatrick. The song and video is titled “Just Like You” and debuted throughout the Middle East and North of Africa in 2008.
These days, Rayess Bek plays live with his new group the Rayess Bek Orchestra which consists of himself, a oud player, a nay player, a bassist, and a groovebox delivering the drums and some effects. An album with this line-up will be released some day.
Rayess Bek has been involved in a live project called Mix Up Beyrouth, which consists of French musicians Rudolphe Burger (vocals, guitar), Julien Perraudeau (bass), and Frederic Nevchehirlian (vocals, guitar) teaming up with some of the Lebanese alternative scene’s best: Fadi Tabbal (The Incompetents), Youmna Saba, Abed Kobeissy (The Incompetents), Ziad Saad (Pop Will Save Us), and Rayess Bek himself. In this project, Rayess Bek raps and operates electronics.
Currently, he is getting ready to release his first album with his group the Rayess Bek Orchestra. He has unveiled a short sample of a song called “La Min?” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Adp4SSXbM5U) and another for one called “L’Homme de Gauche” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jOp0Xi8ZwKI).
-Sound: Rayess Bek is more of a rapper than a musician, although he does play music. He raps both in Arabic and French. His lyrics are clever, edgy, and straight to the point. He is not one to sugarcoat delicate issues. All of this, he delivers in a powerful assertive manner, taking the listener to that bleak reality that he raps about. He sometimes swears, but in the song “Wara Dahreh” for example, he ingeniously censors himself by adding strategic beeps in time to the music on top of the few curses he resorts to.
Though sometimes, his songs are not about the hardships of Lebanese life, but take on a lighter tone, being content with merely ridiculing certain social phenomena that he sees wrong in. In these songs, his demeanor changes from that of a stern teacher trying to deliver the message to his listeners into that of a comedian doing whatever it takes to make the listener literally laugh at how ridiculous the subject he wants to criticize really is. When I say “whatever it takes”, this includes speaking in a patronizing tone of voice, or in an exaggerated one, for example in “Amercaineh”, he criticizes Lebanese rappers that are trying too hard to imitate American rappers by saying “Hey yo yo pour tous mes freres et mes seurs, I’m fron New York! I’m from L.A!” in the typical “Lebanese trying to pull-off an American accent” manner. Also for example, in the song “Choufo 7alone”, he is not satisfied with just saying “btoftas min ri7t l’mazout” and shutting up to let the breakdown in the music play. He seizes the opportunity to spice it up a bit and adds a clip of himself coughing. These “comedy-tactics” are some of the ways he delivers his messages, doing it not only indirectly, but at the same time entertainingly. It’s not the kind of comedy that is equal to sampling fart noises for example. It’s witty and makes the listener contemplate it and it contributes to his song’s overall message. But don’t get confused here. Rayess Bek is not at all a novelty act, nor is he a constantly-depressed pessimist. He switches from one personality to the other whenever the topic he is tackling calls for it, but keep in mind that he is perfectly capable of both attacking down to earth social injustices as well as criticizing day-to-day pet peeves, and he does both quite efficiently.
He is not at all times the one who creates the music he raps to, but it ranges from electronic (“Amercaineh”) to hip hop fused with Middle-Eastern music (recent work with the Rayess Bek Orchestra). In fact, one who listens to the Arabic-Electronic group SoapKills may have picked up that their instrumental song “Dub4Me”, which can be found on their album “Cheftak” is the music that Rayess Bek is rapping to in his song “Choufo 7alone”. Zeid Hamdan has said that Rayess Bek asked if he could use it and that he agreed.
One of the most appealing aspects of Rayess Bek and the Rayess Bek Orchestra is that they play their instruments live. I have great admiration for hip hop that is sung to live music as opposed to pre-recorded beats being played from a laptop. The drums are synthesized though, but it does give the music an electronic element.
-Rayess Bek Website: http://www.rayessbek.com/
-Rayess Bek Myspace: http://www.myspace.com/rayessbek
-Rayess Bek Facebook Page: http://www.facebook.com/home.php#/pages/Rayess-Bek/30891699047?ref=ts
-Rayess Bek Blog: http://http://rayessbekblog.blogspot.com/
-Rayess Bek Youtube Channel: http://www.youtube.com/user/kodwael
-Aks’Ser Myspace: http://www.myspace.com/aksserofficial
-Aks’Ser Facebook Group: http://www.facebook.com/home.php#/group.php?gid=2370275853&ref=ts