“7keeleh” is a series of performance nights hosted by Fareeq el Atrash. The first one was around late 2009, and was held in the Amadeus Pub of the Mozart Hotel in Hamra. I only briefly passed by for the first one, but I can accurately tell you from the second one, that it was characterized by an open-mic-style setup, people putting their names on a list ahead of time, you know. But after those two, it was moved to EM Chill (formerly Electro Mecanique) in Ashrafieh due to the better conditions and performance area.
Start was delayed one hour due to sound-check. I don’t honestly know, but I like to pretend someone said “Hey, let’s be safe and do the sound-check at 6:00 PM, just in case it takes like three hours, who knows, right?”, and then someone else replies “Fuck you”.
So it started an hour later than advertised, which isn’t that bad if you keep in mind that the reason for the delay was to ensure a decent sound, you know, the result of most sound-checks.
So let’s say it started 10:15-ish. I think the time has come to explain this time-obsession of mine. I think most of you have always been like “Fuck you dude, the night is young, party on!” Well, some have the circumstances that fit that attitude, but some of us who have to attend university the next day, go to our jobs, or just abide by a curfew, find comfort and security in a pre-determined schedule. That’s why tardiness is such a big deal. One finds the pre-determined plan of seeing a certain percentage of a performance unrealizable, so stays for half of it, for example. It’s worse if you were charged for it too. Being late in general is basically an insult to someone’s trust, as in, I trusted you to do this action at that time, but then you did not, thus betraying my trust in you. Though in some cases, there really are legitimate reasons for being late, and I know this. Sorry for the ethics lesson, but what’s another lesson if no one learns?
First difference from the old “7keeleh”s of Amadeus was the space. In Amadeus, small area, people standing, some sat on chairs, some on the floor, not an elevated stage. EM Chill, big basement-like room, limited seating, but open spaces, encouraging “improvised seating”, elevated stage. But those damn spiral stairs. I mean, when did it seem like a good idea to have a bunch of tipsy people resort to an already tricky when sober method of getting from one floor to another? Thank God only one chick slipped on them. I bet it happens at least once every night…
Second is pretty much the whole concept. It used to be an open-mic, but now it’s just a concert basically… 7keeleh is no longer “an open mic session at its best for hip hop, poetry, spoken word and music”. Nobody randomly asked to perform. It was all pre-planned, with a specific line-up and all. I’m not complaining, in fact I like it when I go and know who’s playing, but someone should change their blurb I guess.
So first up were Ashraf Chouli on oud, Tarek Bashasha on clarinet, and a third percussionist whom I forgot his name. They were to play an intro piece, and I’m pretty sure it was an on-the-spot jam. They didn’t start immediately though, because they were… sound-checking? What the fuck? I thought there already was a sound-check, one that delayed the whole thing an hour? Well eventually, they had a nice oriental-jazz thing going, sort of Ziad Rahbani-esque, and it even got a bit experimental near the end. But, it was unnecessarily long. We would have still gotten the point even if it weren’t extended as it was.
Next were Vahan and The Revolution of the Ants, our friendly local Indo-fusion ensemble. They consisted of Vahan Papazian, on electric-sitar, Aram Papazian (no relation to Vahan) and a second percussionist I was not familiar with on Indian percussions, the percussionist from the previous act on oriental percussion, and a female vocalist whose identity I am not certain of. Again, there was a mini-sound check. I can see a paradox coming up… So they played a lengthy jam, to a familiar sitar-melody from when I had seen them at Walimat Warde’ long ago. Is it really a jam if there’s a pre-determined riff played every single time? The percussion wasn’t the same though, and there were even percussion solos. A second piece featured the vocalist. Again, I’ve heard this before, but I guess I’ve figured out what the band is about: each “jam” is a pre-determined sitar riff upon which all other elements are improvised along with. So “jam #1” is the song with “that sitar melody”, but never “those percussions”. It’s an interesting concept I must say. Anyway, as the sitar tune played, the vocalist would recite phrases in Arabic, so everything went tarab-y for a while, then the music caught up with her when the percussions went all doumdoum-chika-doumdoum-chika-doum-chika and the sitar followed that. Then like a car chase through genres, she began harmonizing in distinctly un-tarab-like fashion, sort of Indo-African. It was neat, but also unnecessarily long. I know it’s a jam, and the music has a life of its own and everything, but things can only engage you for so-long.
Next were the newcomers, Shaba; Shaden Fakih on vocals, Bane Fakih on acoustic guitar, Rola Najjar on electric-guitar, Aya Attar on keyboard, and Chloe’ Asmar on violin. Also, a mini-sound-check. I.. I don’t even know anymore… what the fuck was going on in the one hour delay? Shouldn’t this stuff already have been determined earlier? And if it wasn’t, then what was the point of the delay? Life’s mysteries… So now, the first band with actual structured pre-composed songs, as opposed to jams, began their performance. Four songs total were played, nice little acoustic-classical-folk-rock pieces. The electric guitar, which was to provide rhythm and emulate bass, was inaudible, as well as the violin, which was later fixed however. But as long as you could hear the acoustic guitar, that was fine, because honestly, it is the backbone of every single song, with the other instruments being filler. I mean, why doesn’t the keyboard play the main riff? Or the violin? Or the electric guitar? I’m not suggesting excluding the acoustic guitar entirely, but it’s just that every other instrument is being belittled and made a bit redundant.
The DJing in between acts wasn’t really doing its job either. Nobody cared, but “Sawton La Youqhar” by I-Voice was played like… 3 times; Just sayin’…
Following them were The Incompetents, with an obligatory mini-sound-check. That night they consisted of Serge Yared, Fadi Tabbal, and Abed Kobeissy. One of the beautiful things about The Incompetents is that you don’t need to/can’t assign each member a role. They are just musicians, and if it has notes, they’ll play it on anything. Both Tabbal and Kobeissy are multi-instrumentalists, and Yared will use any knick-knack he can procure from a dollar store. Tabbal stuck mainly to electric guitar for all the songs, Kobeissy provided bass via a keyboard synthesizer, which was pretty neat because it had all kinds of tricks like pitch-shifting, later played buzuk, though fairly inaudible, and what appeared to be a mini-flute, also hard to make out, and some drums (as in, snare and crash cymbals), and Yared did vocals, some drums (snare and floor-tom), as well as the infamous kazoo and jingle-bells, kazoo struggling to drown out the noise though. The other beautiful thing about The Incompetents is their constant redefinition of their set-list through rearrangement. Rearrangement isn’t that drastic a process. It’s just mixing and matching elements, shuffling sounds. But a simple translation of a tune from one instrument to another can give the song a whole new life. Tom Waits’ “God’s Away On Business” has never been the same again since they covered it. And there was even some audience participation, when Yared challenged an innocent concertgoer to a duel, a duel made in hell; kazoo vs mini-vuvuzela (not the giant one, so as to be on a level-playing field). That’s why they were the best of the night.
By then it was already 12:00AM, and I had only planned to stay for so-long. So I vamoosed… To put things into perspective, these were just the first four acts, and there were more than five left to go. I’m sure everyone who stayed had a blast though… Technically I’m not, but I like to think they did, because they’re not as picky as I.
Let me tell you what went wrong exactly. Aside from the initial sound-check delay, the event page predicted that between each act, there would be 15 minutes of space. Now I’m not saying that schedules are accurate all the time, but here, an end-time was predicted, without taking into account the time that each act would take to set-up their instruments, or the unprecedented mini-sound-checks, or even that an act might just play for more than 15 minutes, particularly the free-flowing jam acts, like Vahan’s group. Also, the sound-check delay proved useless, as the sound wasn’t perfect and instruments apparently still had to be mixed properly. Miscalculated schedule + unfavorable odds = I’m not staying here till 4:00 AM… *staggers up spiral staircase*.