The Crate Sessions: Sharif Sehnaoui – Live @ Walimat Wardeh (September 8, 2009)

At first I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to make this one since school was just around the corner, but I was lucky that I did. I had never seen or even heard much improvised music, as it was something still foreign to my virgin ears, and the prospect of this performance being unlike any he had given before, or will ever give after (since this was literally improvisation and thus of course there cannot be two identical performances, which is actually a very alluring and beautiful thing) captured my attention. Sharif Sehnaoui is no ordinary improviser after all. He is one of the founders of the steadily developing Lebanese improvisation scene. One thing that struck me as peculiar was that Serge (Yared) said that Sharif had requested maximum silence.

 -Before the Show: Entered Walimat. Charbel Haber of Scrambled Eggs was there and I had never got the chance to meet him before. Greeted him, and asked about “Scrambled Eggs and Friends” and about the contest they were due to participate in at the time, “Free the Noise”. He jokingly said “we still need to get the Visas for now”. Ironically, it’s the Visas that would get them. They would not be able to attend due to Visa complications. I also met Sharif for the first time. We spoke briefly, but it is the conversation after his performance that I remember most. I wanted to film the performance, because of that “each one is unique” aspect I mentioned earlier. However, the lights were dim, so I was unable to do so.

 Laterish, it was time for Sharif to go on. Keep in mind, this was my first ever free improvisation show. As he and Fadi Tabbal were making last minute checks, I wanted to film the performance with my crappy digital camera, but alas, it was too dark. Did Sharif request that as well? I dunno, but in the end it was for the best I think, since the camera would have probably beeped after there was no more memory left from filming a 10 minute plus performance, disrupting Sharif’s concentration, and we wouldn’t want that.

Basically, what I saw before me was: Sharif, with an acoustic guitar across his lap, metal rods strategically wedged in between strings here and there, a piece of metal placed somewhere on the neck, going under the strings, and in Sharif’s hands, two brushes I think held backwards so that the wooden end is facing us.

– The Show: Then it began. For a long period of time that I cannot quite calculate exactly, maybe 15 minutes, more or less, Sharif would use only those sticks to hit, tap, and rub the strings in different locations, the rods, you name it. So much was done with this relatively simple setup and the sounds that he produced were even greater still! I heard a music box, I heard a Russian balalaika, I heard thrashing snare drums, I even heard my school’s bell. He played slow, he played fast. At times he would pause and I thought his performance would have come to an end, but no, deep inside he was still in his improvisational trance. There were times where he fumbled, dropping one of the sticks, at times the whole metal rod would fall out of position. He himself said afterwards that he would have liked the setup to have been a bit more stable, but this was improvisation after all, and since nothing is prewritten, there is no correct or incorrect way of performing. He could have knocked over a glass bottle and had it shatter and it would still have been perfectly acceptable in the improvisation domain. That’s another thing I like about improvisation, there is nothing that you can judge the improvisers by, saying “oh no, he played this part wrong, I can play it better”. In improvisation, there are no rules. Only when Sharif put down the sticks, folded his arms, and drew his legs together did all present burst into tumultuous applause, the most thunderous I had ever heard given at one of these sessions.

 -After the Show: After he was done, I approached him and congradulated him on a brilliant performance, but pointed out that I kept getting a drumbeat in my head. Thern I had one of the greatest conversations in my life. Sharif told me about how we are all raised with music that has a certain drumbeat, a certain melody, rhythm, certain customs, rules, and limitations, but the goal of free improvisation is to break those rules and see what is on the other side of the fence. What kinds of things can one do when he throws these standard musical elements out the window? I reflected upon these words afterwards and I must admit that after that I have added a little improvisational touch to my music, you know, just playing with no regard for the rules of music (I play synth by the way).

 As always, departure was imminent. This night though was of greater significance than others because I was introduced to a whole new genre of music both by actually listening to it and having a performer of said genre explain it and it is extremely thought provoking, so much, that this later inspired me to write an article on Lebanese free improvisation and the genre itself in general for my school gazette. Hopefully you should expect to see it on here late-December (23-ish).

 By the way, this was the last Crate Session I attended, as school started two days later, but I’m hoping to attend one more, late-December.


By Tanya Traboulsi:

-For more on The Crate Sessions, go here:


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