Show Review: 7keeleh Vol.6 @ EM Chill (June 25th, 2010)

Designed by Karma Hmady

“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*.



Show Review: 7keeleh Vol II – (November 20, 2009)

7keeleh is an open-mic session organized by Taste Culture and hosted by Fareeq el Atrash, where anyone is welcome to present rap, poetry, or anything else, and some pretty big names also present their work (Fareeq el Atrash, Cristobal, RGB, etc…). It is held in the Amadeus pub of the Hotel Mozart in Hamra.

 This was the second edition of these sessions. I did attend the first, but did not see any of the performances since I had to leave early. Luckily, this time around, I was able to stay for the whole thing.

 -Before the Show: I was feeling a little sick, but decided I felt well enough to go out. I was bringing along three guests (two friends and one of their cousins) who wanted to meet graffiti artist Fish, of the Lebanese graffiti crew, REK Crew. He was asked to tag the word “7keeleh” on a canvas outside. The three of them have tagged some graffiti themselves, and I’m thinking about trying it myself, will get back to you on that… The first time me and my two friends met Fish was at our school, where for some mysterious yet awesome reason, the school got him and a couple other members of the crew to come over and show us how to tag, not on walls, but on canvases, nonetheless still pretty neat. And my friend’s cousin would be Gup. If the name sounds familiar, then you’ve probably seen the walls in Hamra lately.

 Went inside, greeted all the good folks there. The first time I came, they were giving out this free CD that contained music by local acts. I liked that CD a lot, one of the reasons is for which is because it introduced me to Toffar. This time, there was no compilation CD, but instead there was Fareeq el Atrash’s pre-album (which they also had for sale at their Basement gig), as in, the pre-Chyno versions of the tracks that will appear on the upcoming album, as in, the tracks on their myspace plus never before heard tracks. All of this for the price of: as much as you feel like. I had to take a cab home, so I felt like 1,000 L.L.

 So we decide to go talk to Fish. We step outside where there is a canvas hung up and spray cans and stuff and we say hi and that we met at our school and he recognizes us, and Gup from some other place.

 After some graffiti-chat, he began with the tag, first spraying on the overlapping outlines of the letters. This helps one choose what letters to put behind what letters and what letters to put on top of what letters. He then started coloring in some green sections at the bottom of each letter, and yellow in the rest.

 Meanwhile, inside, they were about to get the ball rolling, so I went back inside and let my friends watch Fish spray. I would go on to see them intermittently for a while then not at all.

 -The Show: I will try my best to recall the correct order and not to forget about anybody.

 Edd and Goo kicked it off with Edd rapping and Goo playing electric guitar.

 This was followed by a musician named Ashraf. Armed with his trusty oud, he played it and sang some traditional Arabic songs. I’m not a huge fan of this stuff, but I gave it a chance, because seeing Rabea Beirut was the first step of a journey. The destination would be making up for my lack of Arabization. It’s a long story, but in brief: When I hear something that is a blend of several genres, I have to have an idea of each genre on its own to see how faithful it is to both genres separately, in their pure forms. One of the more popular strategies being adopted here is mixing a modern genre (hip hop, rock, electronica, etc…) with traditional Arabic music. So, I know enough about most of the modern genres, but ironically, I am slightly alienated from traditional Arabic music. Thus, it is my duty to expand what little I currently know of the music of our forefathers, just so I don’t get to the point where I find myself groping in the dark. So you remember that thing I mentioned in the Rabea Beirut review about mentally improving music that I don’t find 100% satisfactory? Well this time, FZ saved me the trouble and did it for me. He started adding vocal percussion. He wasn’t holding a mic, just standing with the crowd watching, and everyone could hear his contribution. That man can do some loud clicks dude.  

A lady read a poem after that I believe. It was a tribute to a friend, and was quite beautiful.

 Following that was a rapper by the name of Fahrass. He said that he’d do this more “storyteller” style than “rapper” style, so he took out a cell phone and read his verses revolving around two girls that each faced certain hardships as children and met one another in the present, while FZ provided some of his mouth-sculpted sound replications. Concerning the cell phone factor, I would have done the same thing myself. Actually I might have messed up a little while reading, so yeah, it’s all cool.

 I believe after him followed a poet by the name of Tina Fish. She recited two poems. One was about these “jagals”, the stereotypical Lebanese males. I share her loathing for that particular social group, so I could relate. Her style was more spoken word than poetry, releasing a sentence one time, a single word the other. She mainly spoke in English but sprinkled some Arabic here and there. The second was a response to a photography contest called “Lakom Hamrakom Wa Li Hamra2i” where photographers are encouraged to take photos of what makes Hamra special to them. She wrote a poem. It covered almost all the ingredients that blend and clash to form Hamra, which I consider my spiritual home. No seriously, this lady is something else… major kudos!

 Following her were 3/5 of Fareeq el Atrash. Edd, Chyno, and FZ. They started off with their introduction routine where FZ beatboxes then starts announcing a soccer game that the band are playing in. It was actually longer than usual this time. This routine comes with rapping by Edd and Chyno of course. After that, he treated us to another one of his Fareeq el Utrush routines, this one I had only heard once and was eager to hear once again, it was the movie trailer one! He did the whole deep voice announcer bit (fun fact: that guy’s name is Don LaFontaine. Unfortunately, he passed away last year, sigh…), where he declared “in a world, where the music industry is dominated by artists like Haifa-“Wawa!”- One band, Fareeq el Utrush, here to save the day (eh, I still haven’t memorized it). Usually this would have been it, but this time it was a revised version, which included some movie trailer-musts such as, cast list and excerpts from the actual (well, hypothetical) movie!: “Starring Edouard Abbas as, Edd”, then Edd said something, a line of his from the “movie”. “Nasser Al Shorbaji as, Chyno”, he said something that sounded like he was warning people not to mess with him. “John Imad Nasr, who isn’t here right now…”.”And Fayez Zouheiry as *vocal scratch vocal scratch* FZ!”. I don’t know how it ended, but I loved this version. Chances are the guys will read this, so I’d like to take a few moments to say: RECORD. IT. Including actual sound effects. Ooh ooh! Album intro! Album intro! ALBUM. INTRO.

 They performed some songs sans bass which included “Ana 7abib Balade'” and “Bteghlawa Ma3 L’Zikra”, as well as some other stuff. Some of the songs mentioned were performed later on, but I’m just putting it out there…

 After that, if I remember correctly, FZ beatboxed with Karim Mallak, another beatboxer, whose name I forget, but they were good together. They did a medley of songs similar to the beatbox routine that you’ve probably seen already on the web by that French-Japanese fellow on the French version of “American Idol”, as in “Beat it”, “Yeah”, etc…

 L’Fareeq went back on and performed one of the aforementioned songs.

 After them, Chyno performed some acapella rap in English.

 Following that was some more spoken word, this time by Becky Katz. She read two poems. The first was called “The Binary Serpent”. In it, she talked about a certain incident where she fell victim to social prejudice and gave us some philosophical insights, well Tina Fish did too, but Becky’s were more textbooky. She was briefly heckled by someone asking her to “read faster” whom she replied to with “leave faster”, and that was met with applause… oh those precious “bakh3a” moments…  She then read an untitled poem, a love poem dedicated to her boyfriend.

 This was followed by some Arabic rap by rapper Ramcess, which was pretty tight actually.

 Then Yassine from I-Voice also delivered some Arapic rap with FZ beatboxing and acapella too.

 I think there were a couple more rappers after that…

 That’s when it happened. FZ went on a killing spree. He did a nice kung fu movie style skit, then some more beatboxing with the beatboxer he performed with earlier that night, but then he shocked everyone by: beatboxing, and speaking, at the same time… At first they were skeptical, but he did it again slower, singing that line “if your mother ooonly knewww”. Mind boggling. As if he didn’t his beatbox prowess wasn’t established by then, he topped it all off by beatboxing and playing a pipa at the same time. The pipa in question is a little wind instrument that Edd brought FZ back all the way from Thailand. I’ve seen a guy play flute while beatboxing on the web, so seeing something similar live was nice.

 Two poets finished the night off…

 -After the Show: That was a pretty good batch of talent I’d say. Oh and by the way, this spans for like… 2 hours. While there, if not for the occasional smoking induced coughs (too much smoking going on), I had no idea I was even sick. It’s the healing power of music… It was inspiring too, seeing average people present their work, which turns out to be awesome. I might even present something myself if I have time to work on it and practice… But overall, this is a good concept and I hope it keeps going strong and people keep showing up and sharing their talents.




*Personal: I have a video of FZ rocking that pipa. To be posted as soon as I can upload it.


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