The Hamra Streets Festival- Maraya 2010 was an eagerly anticipated three day event, especially the last two days, which featured a series of musical performances going on simultaneously on three different stages. So there were lots of choices and a lot of planning in advance; sort of like Fete de la Musique, except with fewer stages and all on one street. The lineup was not as you would expect however. The usual suspects (The Incompetents, Zeid and The Wings, Fareeq el Atrash, etc…) were included, but also some lesser known names, and some rarities which I liked to catch a glimpse of, regardless of how known they were. Let’s see what went down!
~The First Day~
Zeid and The Wings were up first, scheduled to commence at 4:00. The concert began three hours later than scheduled. I would say this was probably due to the fact that setting up the stages took longer than expected (since the streets were completely empty for the parade that took place the day prior). This was at the Starbucks stage.
Meanwhile, at the Fransabank stage! *Batman swirl transition*: Ram6 was starting just on time. This was honestly the best I have seen him to date (note: I have only seen him perform a handful of times). He had two other rappers supporting him, which spiced things up a bit since he had someone to interact with onstage and stuff. The beats were nice and funky (produces them himself by the way), there was a healthy amount of crowd interaction throughout, and the people were into him too; well done sir!
Back at the Starbucks stage! : It was 7:00, and Zeid and The Wings had just started playing their set (after sound checking on the spot). Honestly, they’ve given better shows; maybe because those were for better audiences. Zeid and The Wings were booked at 4:00, as “the starters”; the warm-up. Not too fierce and engaging, just light and danceable reggae-pop-rock. Their set is… set! No matter when or where it is played, it can’t be pumped up (though it could be softened, but the situation didn’t call for that). The music is not too flexible (since you can’t exactly alter a pre-recorded track right then and there to suit the atmosphere). That night, it was played for a restless crowd who had been waiting three hours for something, anything (people were watching the sound check… taking videos of it… the sound check). It wasn’t their fault that people didn’t get chills when “Sah el Nom” was played. That’s just the style, the non-negotiable style! Unfortunately, the circumstances under which it was presented were not as originally intended, thus diminishing its effect.
Over at the Fransabank and Jack & Jones stages, things were presumably going according to schedule. Not that I was there; I was patiently waiting for The Incompetents to go on.
And at the Starbucks stage: The Incompetents were sound checking, before playing their set. This was one of their best shows yet. There were new arrangements (every single song from their sole debut album was re-invented), a couple of new songs (or new covers, I dunno), and a lot of energy (energy and toys, don’t forget the toys). It’s funny to think how people who saw them for the first time that night left with the impression that “Bullets Gently Flying Over My Head” has always been an upbeat disco-y song.
Following them, “JLP” broke musical barriers and put their careers on the line when they played acoustic covers of popular chart hits. Thus, I decided to just beat it beat it, just beat it beat it….
I briefly returned to this very stage later on to see Smooth Acoustics, a band described as playing “acoustic covers of hip hop songs”, about to do an acoustic cover of Lady Gaga’s “Pokerface” *commits harakiri*. (Ok, maybe they played actual hip hop after I left, so I won’t judge… much).
As previously mentioned, the schedule at the Starbuck stage was shifted three hours ahead. According to reliable sources (A.K.A people who were there), the artists had to shorten their sets in order to be able to squeeze everything in before 12:00, when it was agreed upon that the festivities would cease for the evening. That’s what happened on the ill-fated Starbucks stage at least. The Fransabank stage was ahead of schedule even, and I guess the Jack & Jones stage was fine as well. And thus I missed out on some acts I had been eager to see…
~The Next Day~
I had higher hopes for Sunday since the stages are all set-up from the day before, so all that had to be done was do sound checks in the morning and that’s it!
First up on the Fransabank stage were Vahan and The Revolution of Ants. I think this should update you on previous issues I’ve had with them. One of the features of this group is the constantly shifting lineup. Today, they consisted of two percussionists, a vocalist, and Vahan Papazian himself on sitar, and later on, Armenian tar, electric guitar, and manning the synths. What I noticed here was that though they were still a loose flowing jam ensemble, they are gradually adopting slightly more structure, organization, and stability. For example, some of their pieces now have titles and even lyrics. They’re not exactly songs with verses and choruses, but lyrics are lyrics. An aspect that needs to be worked on is having better interaction between the live instrumentation and the playback. As is, the play button is hit, and the drums, bass, and extra effects start looping, everything else joins in, then at the end, everything stops and the play button is hit once again, ending the song. The loop doesn’t have to be a loop even; the drums and other elements could be gradually built up, silenced at points, just… produced! This could bring two advantages: The first, having a less monotonous sound, and the second: having a fixed length for each song, which is an inevitable fate. Even classical Indian ragas have fixed lengths! One of the songs called “You Turn Me Blue” was reminiscent of trip-hop a la SoapKills. In one song they were joined by Peter Jam on acoustic guitar, who sang with the group a song about peace and love. I liked the fact that the sitar wasn’t just swirling all over the place, but playing the melody along with the guitar. See, what did I tell you? Structure and stability! Finally, they were joined by Mohamad Hodeib of the band Wled el Balad. Papazian played a distorted metal riff on his electric guitar, while Hodeib sing-rapped his Arabic lyrics about aliens invading Beirut, backed by percussions and occasionally repeating onomatopoeic chants from the vocalist. The revolution is far from complete, but it’s making progress.
On the Jack & Jones stage were Shake Well Before Use, a band who cover punk rock songs, with a couple of originals. Though they are a cover band, I was impressed with particular things about them. They played pure punk instead of the moregenerally acceptable pop-punk (Blink 182, The Offspring (although I love The Offspring, but they’ve been crappy these last couple of years), etc…); they did not compromise the genre and its spirit in order to appeal to the mainstream audience. Then there are some peculiarities such as their young ages, the vocalist being female, but not merely some girl plucked from the conservatoire solely for her voice, instead, a person who shares the overall attitude with the rest of the musicians and has the requirements of a punk vocalist (which aren’t too extravagant mind you), and the drummer does backing vocals too, which is also a rarity. If they ever reach a point where their set is 100% original, they could be the successors to the dead/dying genre that is Lebanese punk. Will Scrambled Eggs ever play “songs” again? Is Lazzy Lung’s pop-punk all we have left? Has any of you ever heard of Detox? (They’re terrible).
7:00 PM, Starbucks stage: The band Wled el Balad was to play. I had only seen the aforementioned Hodeib perform an acoustic set with a percussionist before, but never the full band. At first, the crowd (95% of which really should have stayed home today and yesterday) were dubious of this odd dude with the dreadlocks and what he had to tell them, but as the band played their first couple Arabic rock (blues/ jazz/ reggae) songs, they warmed up to them. Walad are sort of like a simplified Mashrou3 Leila. The Arabic lyrics are witty and tackle unconventional topics, such as love, drugs, and other social issues young people would care to hear about, except the music is a bit less intricate and easier to digest; a fusion of genres not too drastic, which would be rock, blues, and a bit of jazz and reggae. I’m not implying that Walad’s style aims to satisfy less-demanding listeners with low musical expectations, but merely that it is not of the same degree of alternativeness as other acts categorized as “alternative”. By the end of the performance, the people craved more (oh NOW you want more… 45 minutes means 45 minutes, bitches) Though this was my first time seeing Walad, I’m sure this was a landmark performance that earned them that all essential public credibility.
There was nothing worth seeing for about three hours… well Banana Cognacs were playing at the Starbucks stage at 11:00, but I had to head to the Jack and Jones stage to see:
Munir Khauli, the man who gave birth to Arabic rock back in the mid-80s, A.K.A the man who’s style is probably engraved into your subconscious through the local media, since he’s responsible for several original TV show openings (for instance the first two “La Youmal” themes (before the current copyright infringing Akon rip-off) and product jingles (such as the X-Tra juice one). Anyway, he played his set of old school Lebanese comedy rock. Subject matter ranged from such pressing issues as commenting on the state of television these days to more whimsical ones such as the impact that his child’s name could have on his (if he names his child Tique, he shall have to live with being Bou Tique, etc…) (that was more of a comedy skit than a song though). I’ve only seen him once before, and I must admit that the previous time was more enjoyable. Munir did do much more narration and storytelling between songs than necessary, which majorly affected the length of the set (in musical content I mean).
So that was it.
One last point: The schedule was amorphous and ambiguous. No brochures were printed (if they were, I guess there were only 50 copies or something) and also, the organizers were trying to fit in as much acts as they could, adding new acts each day and shuffling slots. The schedule would be modified on a daily basis! Typically, there should be a point where they say “Ok, we have until this time to book artists, after that the schedule is not subject to alterations! Capiche?” But no. I should have mentioned this before, but Khauli was scheduled to be on the Fransabank stage, and all of a sudden he was playing on the stage at the exact opposite end of the street. This wasn’t all bad though. Walad were one of the late additions and people loved them; squeezing them in paid off. But for the future, I offer the same advice I did earlier to Vahan and The Revolution of Ants: structure, organization, stability!
That’s it for the music, but overall it was a good project and I hope it becomes an annual tradition, though I personally find it essential to point out that Hamra is a pretty neat place with or without a 3 day festival in its honor. Going to school in the area, I literally grew up with it. I’ve seen graffiti sprayed onto empty walls and walls going blank once again. I’ve seen the metal barriers surrounding a construction site weekly layered with posters and leaflets for whatever someone felt the need to inform passersby of (concert, book release, private tutoring). I’ve seen the lifespan of a branch of La CD-Theque, from opening, to moving, and eventually closing. To experience Hamra is not to live in it, but merely to live with it and treat it not as a destination for shopping and eating, but as a place to learn (not necessarily in a school or university), make friends (not necessarily with people your own age), and draw inspiration (not necessarily from the same things that inspire everyone else). This festival was surly entertaining, but no amount of stands, concerts, jugglers, Capoeira dancers, or whatever could bring one close to truly grasping the essence of this dear street.