I gotta hand it to Mashrou3 Leila. If I were probably the biggest band in Lebanon, I too would not hand myself out like Halloween candy, but instead, make the public crave me. The last live appearance they made (in Lebanon, as a full band) was last July’s unforgettable Byblos performance. So they recently made a comeback to raise money for AIDS. But they weren’t just playing as the Mashrou3 Leila we’ve been seeing for the past few years. They assembled a string septet of violins and cellos. Yes, they pulled a Metallica, a Portishead, a Cut Chemist if you will (ok, so Cut Chemist isn’t infamous for doing this, but I thought I’d make you a recommendation…). Except with a seven-piece string ensemble not a whole orchestra.
People sat down in the pews of AUB’s assembly hall (which is sort of like a church). The band came out, followed by the string septet that was the twist of the night. They were all quite young, but I’m sure they wouldn’t get rookies for this kind of thing. Taking the place of Ibrahim Badr was Miles Jay on upright bass. Omaya Malaeb was on a grand piano, instead of her usual red keyboard synthesizer. As the first song was played, you could also tell that Carl Gerges was holding back with his drumming, going for more classical percussion (I think he had a timpani down there, or just a huge tom). Andre Chedid and Firas Abou Fakher were playing acoustic and electric guitars respectively, Haig Papazian on violin, and Hamed Sinno lending his voice as usual.
A negative consequence of the aforementioned church-like venue was that the music sounded fine while the vocals were slightly indiscernable due to the heavy reverb due to the acoustics of the structure. I was glad to hear some of the more (as of yet) elusive songs, such as “Abtak Safra”, and… the other ones whose titles I don’t know. I eagerly await recordings. I think this is the first time I hear the original (demo) version of “Shim el Yasmine”, not the album version. Even the crowd got to participate when unknown to Papazian, Sinno would request the crowd sing him “Happy Birthday”™. Though the songs were performed flawlessly, I would like to elaborate on something I was unsatisfied with:
They could have done more with the string septet. There is a difference between expansion and multiplication. I noticed that the septet was (not at all times, but mainly) playing the melodies that Papazian would usually play solo on violin along with him. This amplified the tunes and added depth to them, but was not really that drastic an addition to the whole song. I am not claiming this did not come out sounding pleasant or that it ruined the songs, but they were given this resource, this opportunity, and they could have gotten more out of it.
This was a chance to redefine the songs and give them new character (people could have started differentiating between “Raksit Leila” and “Raksit Leila (Orchestral Version)”). That was kinda one of the reasons I was eager to witness the performance in the first place: “I will not be hearing “El 7all Romansy” tonight… I will be hearing “El 7all Romansy (ORCHESTRAL VERSION)! Only on this once-in-a-lifetime occassion will this version be played!” But it ended up being “El 7all Romasy (Violin parts sounding deeper and more layered Version). In some songs however, they did indeed play parts that were not in the original songs, like in “3al 7ajez”, or even play along with instruments other than violin, like in “Min el 6abour” where they played the bassline. I think for the most part, the cellos and violins were pretty much playing the same parts in unison; multiplying the tune by seven!
I do realize that this could be because they simply didn’t have enough time to compose new parts for the string section to play, that’s perfectly understandable…but they didn’t really have to be elaborate or anything! I wouldn’t have scoffed at basic tunes and repetitive riffs, since I’m no classical music aficionado. I don’t care! Just keep it interesting! Alas, a missed opportunity… but it was still cool though.
Though unsettlingly too short (and encore-less), it was pretty special and I think it WAS something different, but the string septet which had been assembled just for this occasion was not exploited to its full potential.
Whether I liked it or not, those 25,000 L.L went towards a good cause!