Artist Analysis: Munir Khauli

This isn’t really an analysis, but I’m writing it like one, so yeah it’s kind of an artist analysis.

 A lot of people are under the impression that pre-90s, there was no underground activity whatsoever, and that it all started with the groups that emerged in the late 90s and early 2000s.

 Well, I recently managed to get my hands on a compilation album that’s been out there since 2006, and that album would be “Banadoura” (to be reviewed in the future), a recollection of Lebanese underground music from the past 20 years (or it was, three years ago when it was released), but it leans more towards the humorous and absurd, so you shouldn’t expect SoapKills in there.

 But one artist you can expect in there caught my eye because he was given quite the impressive title; the godfather of the Lebanese alternative music scene. He’s comically dubbed himself “Tanin el Tarab”.  I’m talking about Mr. Munir Khauli.

-Name: Munir Khauli 

-Members: Variable, but Walid Itayim can almost always be found supporting him on guitar.

-Years Active: 1986-Present

-Genre:  Rock, Blues, Jazz, Latin, Folk, Traditional Middle Eastern

-History: This is my blurry rendition of his life so far. Munir Khauli was born in 1959 (and is still kicking today). He started playing guitar at a young age and was influenced by the greats of rock music (Pink Floyd, Led Zepplin, Deep Purple, etc…) as well as jazz, blues, and traditional Lebanese music. He got a degree in English literature from the AUB.  He moved to Berkley, California in 1982 as the Lebanese civil war was raging on.

 At some point here he reverted from writing songs in English to writing them in Arabic.

 His first album “Heik Ha Nishtghil?” was released (on cassette) in 1986. It was confined to his immediate US environment until later being released in Lebanon one year later.

 Returning to Beirut, with the aid of fellow veteran underground musician, Walid Itayim, he performed at Irwin Hall, BUC (LAU to us now). In the summer of 88, he performed at AUB’s West Hall. That same year he released his second cassette “Khatimet Heik Ha Nishtighil?” In the summer of 1991, he performed in Gulbenkian theatre, BUC (LAU) and released his third cassette “Bil 3arabil Mshabrah”. In 1994 he was one of the most well known local alternative musicians.  That same year, he joined Ziad Rahbani’s backup band, appearing on his albums during that era, as well as Fairuz’s (Ziad’s mother). Other notable performances include the Hamra Festival in June 1996, B018 (yes, he’s played there) the same year, as part of the “Fete de la Musique” music festival, and many others…

 In 2003, he released his fourth album “Tanin el Tarab”, his first in CD format. That same year he performed in a music festival by the name of “Ya Salam” which took place in Unesco Palace and saw him performing on the same night with some big underground names such as SoapKills and Aks’ser.

 In 2006, three of his songs were featured in the aforementioned compilation album “Bandaoura”, and he performed live at Virgin Megastores for the release event.

 He supposedly started work on another album in 2007.

 In 2008, he played Bob Shankleesh, the frontman of a fictional band by the name of Bob Shankleesh and the Orientalz, in the movie “Une Chanson Dans La Tête”. He also appears on the original soundtrack.

Between all of this he has composed and performed jingles and theme music for several TV shows and radio stations (including the “La Youmal” theme, which I had a thing for when I was younger. Remember when that show was kinda funny? Sigh…) 

-Sound: It’s said that he was the first Lebanese musician to sing Arabic lyrics to rock music. The FIRST they say! I can’t find anything that disproves that. He might as well be.

 What kind of Arabic lyrics you ask? Lyrics centered on anything from the civil war, to television, to the state of music these days in Lebanon, to cooking, to his bird Nasrudin. Nothing and noone is safe from his criticism, not even himself. He delivers these lyrics with a certain attitude and uses the right tones of voice in the right places. His songs just have this delightful absurdity about them that you can’t help but love.

 But these lyrics aren’t sung to just plain rock music. Munir fuses rock with jazz, blues, Latin, traditional Lebanese music, and others… Make the lyrics more abstract and throw in a violinist and you have yourself a psuedo-Mashrou3 Leila sound, a sound that someone first started playing in the 80s that only today people are praising, and not for HIS variety of it! I don’t know when Ghassan Rahbani started singing in Arabic, but even when he did, he has nothing on Khauli.

On album, he includes sound effects that kinda help you visualize what he’s singing about while the sound is playing, but mostly for humor. Also, brief vocal skits that accompany the sound effects. It’s like you have snippets of a comedy record or play in every song.

 In conclusion, Munir “Tanin el Tarab” Khauli is THE unsung hero of the Lebanese alternative music scene. He paved the way for a lot of today’s artists, even if none of us realize it, he started it all. Thank God that at 50 years old he’s still active-ish, and I hope I get to see him live some day.

 Godspeed ya Tanin el Tarab!


Official Website (a very good read with lots of media, even some free downloads):


Munir’s Youtube Channel:

“Television” Live:

“FM” and “Ma Kbeer 2illal Jamal” Live:

“Na3am” Live (on TV):

Munir as Bob Shankleesh in “Une Chanson Dans La Tête”:


6 thoughts on “Artist Analysis: Munir Khauli

  1. Hi Omar, I must congratulate you on this excellent article on Munir.
    Very well written and highly informative. Your knowledge of Munir and his career is very impressive and complete. I was pleasantly surprised to read my name several times! 🙂 I must tell Munir about it so he can write you a “thank you” comment. I released my own CD “Where I Wanna Be” earlier this year and Munir’s help in the making of the album was invaluable: he played and arranged some of the parts and was the sound engineer. Visit my myspace page to listen to some songs and in case you would like to write a review of my CD I will happily give you a complementary copy. You can call me at 03-917324 so I can pass it on to you. I also want to say that your site is really cool and contains a lot of interesting stuff. Take care, Walid

  2. I too must congratulate you on tthis excellent article on me. It is not everyday that my music finds its way to a new living room or i-pod.
    I do spend an inordinate amout of time honing the lyrics to a song before pronouncing it ready for recording; same with the musical arrangement. So I’m thrilled that you should hear these nuances that have eaten up much of my time and energy.
    Glad also that you made use of our website – rarely visited, as we don’t advertise. Just yesterday finished refurbishing the site, giving it a new look, in case you visit again.
    Thanks again, and see you around.

  3. I too must congratulate you on this excellent article of me.
    It is not everyday that my music finds its way into a new living room or i-pod.
    I do spend an inordinate amount of time honing the lyrics to a song before I pronounce it ready to record; same with the musical arrangement. So I’m thrilled that you should notice these nuances that have eaten much of my time and effore over the years.
    Thanks also for visiting the website – few people do, as we don’t advertise. But I just finished refurbishing the site, giving it a new look for 2010.
    See you around.

  4. Whoah… this blog has now fulfilled its purpose. Pack it up boys…

    Thank you for stopping by Munir. All I really want to see updated on the site now is the “Upcoming Events” page. 😉
    And thank you too Walid.

  5. You’e too kind, Omar. Your analysis stands as the best report on my somewhat clandestine activities ever written.
    Hard as I work on my songs, and little attention as they may receive, I am happy they appeal to someone with as fine an ear as yours.
    Thanks again.

  6. Pingback: We Are Our Language: The Arabic Language Festival « Feel Notes

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