BOOK Review: “Untitled Tracks: On Alternative Music in Beirut”.

This image is property of Tanya Traboulsi.

“Untitled Tracks: On Alternative Music in Beirut”.

Photographs by Tanya Traboulsi.

Edited by Ziad Nawfal and Ghalya Saadawi.

I don’t usually do book reviews, but I’ll give it a go.

 Maybe this is just because I have quite the loose grip on the French language, but English is THE language to know no matter what country you live in or how old you are. Whoever knows neither English nor French must at least know Arabic. So, publishing it in English and Arabic: Good move.

 The fact that this is a look at the alternative music scene in Beirut in a certain time-frame, focusing on certain acts, not meticulously attempting to catalogue or archive is among the issues cleared up in Ghalya Saadawi’s introductory text. It also brings up some interesting details such as certain musicians’ work with other artistic mediums (ie. visuals, film), and the factor a post-war environment plays.

 Ziad Nawfal’s contribution is a historical narrative from his personal viewpoint. Out of anyone’s viewpoint, his is one I could trust, for he was there, and was a prominent player who helped several acts get established. I understand the fact that this is the evolution of the scene through his eyes, according to his experiences, but this was a rare opportunity to speak directly to the oblivious public, and it would have been better to tell the full story. Enlighten them on some of the pre-SoapKills acts that may have not been what we today consider “alternative”, but took the first steps in that direction. Munir Khauli with his early Arabic rock experiments. Even the iconic (yet somehow completely forgotten) Bendaly Family who occasionally would tap into rock for their pop songs (I’m not deeply immersed in their whole body of work, but this, with its English lyrics being sung in a Middle-Eastern scale and the shift to 70s rock mid-song, you can’t say that wasn’t at least semi-alternative in its day).

 When you are given the opportunity to show people the history of something, you might as well tell its full story. People may assume there’s nothing more to the scene than what Nawfal happened to be present for. I’m certain he himself knows of all the obscurities I’m referencing and even more that I could never hope to be familiar with (because I was not even born yet…), and that just makes disregarding them the more wasteful. Similarly is the exclusion of some contemporary activities that were going on in parallel with the ones mentioned, such as the heavy metal boom of the 90s. Just saying “there were several metal bands operating in that period, but I was not really involved in that genre of music” would have been sufficient. I understand that personalizing it was a choice, not due to unawareness of certain genres and artists. Regardless of this factor, what was mentioned was pretty accurate, in a convenient chronological order, and several genres were covered. Anyone who’s never heard of these bands would greatly benefit from reading this one text.

 Following that was Walid Sadek’s text, actually, a prelude to the next text. Sadek introduces us to a fellow by the name of Nizar Mroueh. Apparently, Mroueh was a highly revered music critic and commentator in the 60s. See, this is what I was expecting from Nawfal’s text: a look back into obscurity; interesting people and concepts existing ahead of their times. I never knew about Mroueh before reading this text. This was highly intriguing. Sadek hypes the man by elaborating on a particular view he held, putting us in perspective to read:

 A text by Mroueh himself. I won’t go into too many details, but he elaborates on the definition of music and what separates it from noise. The man knows what he’s talking about too.

 Seth Ayyaz offers a look into the free-improvisation scene, giving a brief history and also linking a social element to it, concluding with an abstract pseudo-poem.

 Experimental musicians, their medium-hopping ways, and the trickiness of their music to comprehend are the subjects of Kaelen Wilson Goldie’s text. Honestly, most of the issues presented here had occurred in preceding texts in one way or another, however, the text elaborated on the works of Tarek Atoui, Mazen Kerbaj, and others.

 Rayya Badran speaks of SoapKills and delves into the causes of the duo’s popularity in that particular timeframe, as well as the concept of melancholic music in general. I for one appreciate the inclusion of this particular text, since Tanya Traboulsi had not yet begun her local photographic endeavors at the time SoapKills were dominating the scene. So to make up for visual absence, a written mention is more than enough.

 Finally, we come to Serge Abiaad who had a story to tell involving one of Traboulsi’s photos, and uses it to make a point on photographs, the messages they are capable of sending, and the different interpretations we may each have of a single visual representation.

 I have a problem with texts 3 to 6. “Between music and noise “,” Improvisation”, and “Experimentalism” all fall under the same category to me: “Unstructured music”. I would have preferred more diversity, instead of a particular theme dominating. Once again, I know this is a very personal project and doesn’t have to abide by any rules, but I felt a slight bias toward improvisation and experimentalism, and not enough coverage of more standard genres.

 As for the photos, they are incredible. I liked how both photos we had all become familiar with from Traboulsi’s website, as well as previously unpublished material were featured, all spanning several genres. Although I felt that certain left-out photos could have appeared if having multiple pictures of the same artist was cut to a minimum.

 Finally, we are left with some poetry by Charbel Haber, which you can download then listen to here, and two images of him and his setup of pedals.

 I consider this book a big landmark for the scene. To anyone willing to discover local alterative music, I would advise reading this book, then going online and doing a lot of Google searches…

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Show Review: “Untitled Tracks” Book Launch

FI-NAL-LY! I’m back in the saddle! What can I say? Things had slowed down for everyone at the beginning of this year. Sure there has been activity on and off, and of course the still-getting-warmed-up Greedy Ears Sessions, but I’ve been busy with my own affairs and whenever I’m not, it happens that the event is going down too late into the night, for my schedule at least. But as luck would have it, along comes this perfect package of an event! The launching of local photographer Tanya Traboulsi’s photo-book “Untitled Tracks” with live music by some of the artists featured in the book itself, who would be Fareeq el Atrash, Youmna Saba, Scrambled Eggs, The Incompetents and a warm-up DJ set by DJ Lethal Skillz. The book features Traboulsi’s own photos of local musicians, along with text by several contributors among which is Ziad Nawfal, so you know this’ll be worth it. Why was it so convenient though? You don’t really need to know this at all, but I do like to add an autobiographical touch to these posts, so sue me. The starting time was 7:00 PM (though the live music portion didn’t come in until later), and the conclusion was set for 10:00 PM. Just to put things into perspective, the performances at The Greedy Ears Sessions START at 10:30 PM… Also, it was a book release, not a party per-se (fi sa2afe’ bil ossa).

 -Before the Show: The location was Gruen Eatery in the Gefinor center. Initially, there was some confusion concerning the exact location, but eventually I managed to locate it.

 One of the other allures of this particular shindig was that it was a “family reunion” of sorts. I attribute this aspect to Tanya. If she were to only photograph rappers, you’d find the place packed with MCs and b-boys, but no, with her photos she slices off a thick chunky piece of this cake we call Beirut’s alternative music scene, including many of the different layers that constitute it, icing, sprinkles, chocolate syrup… yes, the scene is certainly quite delectable, and that night everyone, both seasoned undergrounders and curious newbies, was about to get a taste of it. In non-culinary terms, Tanya’s photography spans a wide area of the scene from rock to electronic and it’s rare for the players of each specific genre to come together like this, but then again, it’s not everyday that a book on the music scene is released, let alone a photo-book.

 I kicked off the night by greeting familiar faces here and there. Some of these people I hadn’t seen in months… I eventually made my way to the back of the room where the photographer herself was seated at a table busily signing copies of the book to eager purchasers. Ziad Nawfal, seated besides her, suggested I browse the book first before I buy, so I did and I was quite pleased with it for a first glance. I coughed up the price of $30, which was fair taking into account that it’s a photo-book, not an issue of Samandal… (which costs around 5,000 L.L).

 The mainstream media made its presence evident. Here and there cameramen were snapping away, shooting footage.

 The next hour or so was spent mingling, greeting, and mingling… I got to meet DJ Lethal Skillz for the first time. He’s the only locally operating turntablist I know of. There’s a difference between a DJ and a turntablist; A DJ plays music on the turntables. A turntablist makes music with the turntables. I’ll try elaborating on this obsession someday, but for now: it is, when a sound’s pitch is in rapid arbitrary fluctuation, being silenced at irregular intervals; it is, beauty.

 -The Show: Skillz packed up and Fareeq el Atrash were the ones who’d get the ball rolling. The performance area was almost perfect. Just an open space, no pillars or anything like the last show I had been to (Last Crate Session at Walimat Warde’) Fun fact: Fareeq el Atrash are the band I have seen live the most times up till this day, so I’ve come to get accustomed to their shows. As “Atrash Tradition” decrees, they must start off every gig with a bit I’ve dubbed “Introduction Song” (this one). It’s a nice little opener that features FZ doing his solo beatboxing and comical commentary skits that range from a soccer match to a formula 1 race, not to mention Edd explaining the circumstances under which they are here tonight (they change the location mentioned in the song and who invited them to play accordingly). The people were digging it. Following that was a song I believe I’ve heard before but am not exactly sure of its title. You see, l’Fareeq have yet to release any sort of track list, and the tracks on their pre-album (available for download right here) are rarely played, so we’re all really in the dark concerning their set lists at this point, but hopefully that will be cleared up when they release their album (for real) this summer. The crowd was into it and responded well to Edd and Chyno’s cues to repeat after him and clap to the tempo. The next song was one I actually did recognize and knew the name of. It was “L’Njoum 3am Te2rab” and it was played very well as usual. I’ve seen all of these played before, so there wasn’t much that was new to me to take notice of, however, they did extend the “Rapper’s Delight” part of that song and I had never heard that before (the song features a breakdown sampling the bassline from “Rapper’s Delight” by rap crew The Sugarhill Gang, a nod to the old-school hip hop that has a great influence in the band’s sound). Legend has it/ FZ told me, that they once extended that breakdown for about 15 minutes when they were playing at The Basement (either their own gig that went down last November or opening for Termanology), and at that show there was their trombonist and other musicians who joined in. For me, it was another great Fareeq el Atrash performance, for people who had never seen them before, it was hopefully their gateway into the funky world of l’Fareeq…

 Some music was put on while the next act got ready. I was getting thirsty. There was literally nothing but beer…

 Youmna Saba was getting started, playing acoustic guitar, accompanied by Fadi Tabbal on electric guitar. Unfortunately, I was at the far end of the room. As I made my way back to the performance area I managed to pick up on Youmna’s Arabic lyrics, layered over a moody blues tune. Then as soon as it began, it was over. Supposedly they were two pieces, but I only managed to catch three-fourths of a song… oh well.

 More transitional music followed… Still thirsty.

 Following Youmna were Scrambled Eggs. I was surprised by the lack of drum kit. That along with the setup that was slowly taking form before me led me to the conclusion that they will be playing some free improvised music, probably in order to get people psyched about the performance they will be giving as part of the “Prelude to Irtijal” this coming Tuesday at Masrah el Madina with fellow improv all-stars Mazen Kerbaj, Sharif Sehnaoui, and Raed Yassin. Malek Rizkakallah sat before a hi-hat with a snare drum on the floor. Tony Elieh laid his electric bass on a seat in front of him, its strings slackened, two metal plates/ bowls placed under them on different parts of the neck, a stick in each hand. Charbel Haber held his guitar in the traditional fashion, on a seat within reach he had a screwdriver, steel wool, and somekind of screwdriver-like tool with ridges along it, like a screw, and of course his plethora of pedals, blinking and flashing around his feet. Haber rapidly strummed his guitar, making one extended high pitched “birrrrr”. That was the first sound. I can’t recall the exact order of each bit played, but Haber went on to play his guitar with that screwdriver-like utensil mentioned earlier producing a spine scraping squealing sound reminiscent of some wounded animal. Elieh tapped the strings, then the plates, then alternating between the two creating a percussive rythm. I was very amazed by his ability to hold a tempo for that long, that gave the sound a mechanical feel. Later on he would pick up the bass, removing the bowls, and play it by swiftly slapping it. Rizkallah tapped on his hi-hat, he banged on his snare with big fuzzy drumsticks, and he slid the top half of his hi-hat up and down the steel rod between it to make a creaking scrapoing sound. And gradually it all came to a halt. It was the second time I ever saw improvised music live, and personally I prefer seeing it live over listening to it prerecorded. I’d like to further discuss this issue in the future.

 Music was played while the final act set up… Should I stop nagging about the thirst and how secluded the location was from any supermarket, mini-market, or dekkaneh? I met Mazen Kerbaj for the first time during this break. He means a lot to me both musically and visually.

 Wrapping up the night were The Incompetents! Some people had seen enough and left with their books (including the camera crews), so the place became less dense. They were with their current “full” lineup, which now consists of Serge Yared, Fadi Tabbal, and Abed Kobeissy. To start off the set they played “Bullets Gently Flying Over My Head” with Abed Kobeissy on melodica, Fadi Tabbal on acoustic guitar and harmonica, and Serge Yared on vocals. Following that was “Disposable Valentine”, infamously quite on the album, but energetic in live performances. Yared was on cowbell and vocals, Tabbal still on acoustic guitar and harmonica, and Kobeissy on electric guitar (slide guitar even!) After that came one of their more recent songs, a song which I refer to as “Footnotes”. Kobeissy borrowed Fareeq el Atrash bassist John Imad Nasr’s headstock-less bass guitar and set it to an effect making it sound like more of a retro synth, very quirky. Concluding the set was a cover of Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side” with Kobeissy now playing buzuk. Fun fact: The first time I heard this song was on the way to the venue in the cab that night. I kid you not. Overall, every single song I’d heard prior had something new added to it, which was good of course.

 -After the Show: The book had been more than a year in the making and it couldn’t have been released a moment too soon and under such convenient circumstances too. Also noteworthy is how it was one of the few events I have been to that actually ended on the agreed-upon time. I’ll be posting some brief thoughts on the book soon.

-Photos:

*Personal: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=402002&id=842365214&saved

 

Check out Tanya’s work here: http://www.tanyatraboulsi.com/

See Scrambled Eggs make this kind of noise again (with some extra friends too) here: http://www.facebook.com/home.php?ref=home#!/event.php?eid=332661693033&ref=ts

Show Review: The Last Crate Session @ Walimat Wardeh (December 29, 2009)

Visual by Youmna Saba

It all started on August the 25th with Zeid Hamdan, bringing with him his latest collaborative partner, vocalist Hiba el Mansouri, and Arabic rapper RGB. It was the first concept of its kind in Beirut. It went on for about 4 months. It had a variety of artists spanning numerous genres from rock to classical to hip hop to free-improvisation. It had one single 12 watt amplifier that everyone, no exceptions, used for their performance, no matter what instrument, from guitar to laptop to microphone capturing the sound of a trumpet being blown into with a hookah hose, no matter what genre. Yes, it must be: The Crate Sessions.

 The Crate Sessions is the brainchild of Serge Yared, Incompetents frontman and DJ at the restaurant Walimat Wardeh. It is basically a more productive (not to mention culturally enriching and entertaining) way of passing the time until the restaurant is scheduled to be demolished and move to a new location. Quite simply, there is this amp, the Crate, a CA15. It has certain specifications (12 watts power, 2 inputs, etc…). So the catch is: Each week, a local artist will be invited to play a set, but he/she can only use the amp at hand, which as you may have deduced has its limitations (two inputs allow for a limited number of individuals for example). They can bring their own instruments though. I attended the first three, then came a long absence due to school (some I was really tearing myself up to see mind you), but I managed to make a comeback for the second-to-last one and of course, this one, the very last one.

 They had really gone all-out for this one. First of all, the lineup looked very promising. They had familiar faces making comebacks (Zeid Hamdan, Youmna Saba, The Incompetents, etc…), as well as newcomers to the Crate Sessions (Abdallah el Mashnouk & Rayya Badran, Fareeq el Atrash, White Trees, etc…). But wait, there’s a catch tonight too. No, they weren’t forced to abide by the usual rules of the Crate. It would be electric, though acoustic was still an option. The catch is: they have to play covers. Fadi Tabbal had brought instruments from his studio, Tunefork, and set up the sound system and everything. In conclusion, it would be a three to four hour non-stop ear-orgy… Well actually, there’s supposed to be a break, so it’s not exactly non-stop… wait no, there would be DJ’ing by The Playmobiles (Basile Ghosn and Margot Hivernel). Shit, guess it was non-stop then… Oh and, all proceeds would go to “Oumnia”, an association that aims to provide children suffering from serious illnesses with psychological and medical care.

 -Before the Show: They said they would start at 7:30 sharp; They SO did not start 7:30 sharp. I paid the ticket price of 20,000 L.L which was quite reasonable, since you’d get to see more than 10 artists perform in one night, plus it’s for charity.

 Most of the artists from the first half were there already. I was glad to find Zeid Hamdan there, who had been abroad in Europe for a long time now, as well as the Fareeq el Atrash crew (sans FZ) who were one of the acts I was really looking forward to seeing, and of course Serge Yared, the man behind it all.

 I noticed something I wasn’t happy with. On Halloween, the restaurant played host to a big costume party, and one of the things that I didn’t like was the “performance-area”. It was this room where tables and chairs would usually be found, but those were cleared out and replaced with a drum set, amplifiers, and other musical equipment. But the thing is, the room is open and everything, but only through a door and a huge gaping window thing. This: http://photos-h.ak.fbcdn.net/hphotos-ak-snc3/hs197.snc3/20435_371095310004_614085004_10181244_2442568_n.jpg. The point is, as I’ve personally experienced it on October 31st, you can either see what’s going on from the doorway, or the big opening. The pillar in the middle obstructs the perfect viewpoint, the literal middle, where you could switch from left to right by rotating your head. But I see they had nothing else they could do, since it’s the only sectioned off room in the place. If they did it where the previous performances took place, you’d have the crowd blocking entry to diners to that particular room that they used. But you have to keep in mind that the place wasn’t built with live music in mind, however, the new location will be. I came up with a practical solution later on, but it depended on that beam not serving any particular purpose apart from an aesthetic one. Since the place is going to be torn down in a couple of days, why not just start early… with that pillar as the first casualty. But if it wasn’t just a decorative pillar, let’s just say there would have been more than one casualty…

 There was a fairly large crowd. Not THAT large, but it was good nonetheless. Ziad Nawfal would be the announcer for this night. He introduced the head of Oumnia who gave a speech before the performances began. She basically talked about the organization and its goals. She finished off by thanking Walimat Wardeh, Ziad Nawfal, Serge Yared, and all the musicians involved.

 Now onwards to the performances…

 -The Show: Sima Itayim was to start. She had been featured before as part of the Crate Sessions and is now making her comeback. She covered “Everybody Wants to Be a Cat” from the Disney movie “The Aristocats” as covered by the band Psapp (This would be the first appearance of a song from a Disney movie). Good that it wasn’t just the same old songs we’re used to hear covered. It was just her on acoustic guitar. The piece was quite jazzy and she performed it quite well though if I remember right it was here where the cracks in the sound setup began to appear. The noisy diners and crowd members didn’t help either. I was briefly one of them… (My apologies, Mr. Nawfal).

 Between each act, a couple of minutes of DJing while the artists got ready.

 Following her was Elyas, who first made his debut on the 96.2 FM “Modern Music Contest” CD and appeared as part of the Crate Sessions as well. He sings in French, and I’m not biased against the French language or anything, but it rarely does it for me. He was on acoustic guitar and was joined by Phillipe (I think) from Intensive Care on keyboard. They covered a French song (which didn’t surprise me) and there were some technical difficulties that didn’t help it appeal to me. Then he covered another French song on his own. I don’t know how much I have to keep saying that I’m not prejudiced against French, but I really don’t find pleasure in listening to it, because I have a mediocre grasp on it, yes, I openly admit it; Sue me, but do it in English please. In some cases, no matter what language the song is in, the music would make up for the unfamiliarity of the tongue. For example, I can’t tolerate Rayess Bek for a while when he raps in French. Now back to Elyas, his style isn’t really my cup of tea. It’s too… soft? I dunno.

 After that was a new act, the duo of Eva Madsen, which consisted of Basile Ghosn and Tad Catranis, joined by Vladimir Kurumilian and Serge Yared. Eva Madsen covered a song by the Violent Femmes. Basile was on vocals and Tad on acoustic guitar and backing vocals. They were quite confident, and though Basile didn’t have that spectacular a voice, it was good enough. Afterwards, they were joined by Vladimir and Serge, with Vladimir on keyboard and Serge providing vocals. I don’t know what they covered honestly, but I was glad to hear Serge take the mic for a while. He has the voice for it.

 Ramzi Hibri cancelled…

 I had heard cristobal’s music before and met him many times but never actually saw the man perform. Now I would get my chance. The people had gotten quite noisy again. Chyno of Fareeq el Atrash did his part by unleashing some epic “shush”s on the crowd, leading a “shush” revolution that was to an extent quite effective. Cristobal, not one to ignore such favors, showed his gratitude with a “shhhhukran”. He had some special guests too. He was on acoustic guitar and vocals, Sima made a comeback on backing vocals, Fareeq’s own Goo and Edd, Goo on guitar, and Edd making his musical debut playing keyboard (“playin’ da keys!”  *grins*).  John Imad Nasr joined in too on bass for this one if I remember right. They performed a cover I am not familiar with. The more obscure the better I say. Following that was another cover, this one without Sima. It was a slower more soulful acoustic rendition of Fareeq el Atrash’s “Shou Kamish?. Is it still a cover if the original artist partakes in it? Eh who cares, this is one fine collaboration right here, cheating or not.

 Following that, the new-to-me (and to others as well I believe), Abdallah el Machnouk and Rayya Badran. I had no prior expectations and was surprised with Abdallah’s instrument of choice: The underrated, underestimated, undersized… ukulele! They covered a song, with Abdallah on ukulele as previously mentioned, and Rayya providing vocals. She was quite good. I didn’t mention this for the previous artists, but it still applies to them: I’m not a big fan of covers, because I see no original input in them. However, when you cover something with an instrument that it was not originally meant for, or with any kind of twist or alteration, that is where the creativity is showcased. There were definitely some twists present in what had been presented. For their second cover, they covered The Incompetents’ own “Bullets Gently Flying Over My Head”. Yared was quite pleased. They did pull it off very well. Bravo on your peculiar instrumentation, vocal delivery, and song choice you two.

 The space-visibility problem was still a factor by the way, and the sound wasn’t holding up too well.

 Next up were one of the acts I was particularly looking forward to seeing, Fareeq el Atrash. They have not appeared before for a Crate Session, so this was their Walimat debut. The lineup this night consisted of Edd and Chyno MC’ing, John Imad Nasr on bass and Goo on guitar. Their beatboxer, FZ, was abroad, so they recruited a drummer, right there on the spot. It just happened that Nadim M of Intensive Care was there for them to lay down some beats on the drums. I’ve learned this long ago, but it was demonstrated once again this night. Rappers are demanding. They thrive off crowd interaction. You don’t a rapper rapping at a café, you see a jazz band or something, because jazz you can just get lost in, but rap is different, rap requires intellectual commitment, an open mind, concentration, attention, etc… So Edd had to get the crowd fired up. He wanted them to cheer. Some cheered. He wanted them to cheer again. Some more cheered, the rest were chatting, eating, or doing nothing at all. Yalla, good enough. They started with “Beat It” I think (the first Micheal Jackson tribute of the night), but it was that song musically, but lyrically, Chyno took it in a completely different direction, substituting his own English raps in the place of the original lyrics. The bass riff was the same, and the impromptu drumming was effective. Following that was a more obscure reworked classic: “Brothers on the Slide” by Cymande. The bass riff was the same also kept intact and the drums were improvised, while the lyrics were altered, but I was familiar with them still. Before they started, Edd asked the crowd to shout “Walimat!” when he asks “Wen ittijehak?” (Where you going?). The lyrics in question were the lyrics of Fareeq’s own song “Lawen”. How do you cover in hip hop? You sample! They sampled… live. They’re as clever as their lyrics… There was an on/off response to that “Wen ittijehak?” thing. Sometimes people went along with it, other times, nada, zip, zilch. They concluded with their song “Bti2wa Ma3 L’Zikra”, which already samples Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight”. Technical difficulties did not hesitate to announce their presence. Edd and Chyno had to swap mics every now and then.

 After them was Zeid Hamdan, who was joined by RGB, but not Hiba (who just got a big record deal from MTV (the local channel, not “Music Television”. If you’re gonna rip off another TV channel, at least steal the name of a less recognizable one…) He had a drum machine with him, and he programmed a drumbeat on-the-spot, grabbed the bass, and proceeded to cover a song by Portishead. I would like to announce that after that night, I became a big fan of Portishead, mostly because I love trip hop, and I hadn’t heard any in a while, so they kind of rekindled that flame, so yeah. The mic was capturing the sound all distorted which was kind of cool actually. Following that, Zeid altered the drumbeat on the drum machine and performed the second Micheal Jackson cover of the night: Billy Jean. Not a big MJ fan myself, but I was happy to see people still paying tribute to him, despite being dead for quite a long time now, his impact can still be felt. Same goes for the other artists, who I assume cover songs by artists that mean a lot to them or have greatly influenced them as musicians. Then, rapper RGB joined him. They performed RGB’s song “Awwast L’Sherif”. Well… it’s not exactly a cover, as Zeid always plays it with RGB, and I don’t think RGB performs it without Zeid, but it does reference Bob Marley’s “I Shot the Sheriff”, and translates it to Arabic. Does that count? Either way, nobody really cared whether or not they would be hearing covers that night or original music. Then another song with RGB: “Ma3na L’Rap”. You know, these are the only two songs they do together, and as I mentioned earlier, Zeid was abroad, so you can’t really expect something different on such short notice. The crowd was very dense now…

 A 20 minute break followed. I stayed a while then stepped out for 5 minutes.

 I came back, and succeeded in losing my spot. I was pretty tired too.

 Part 2 of the night started, with me occupying a slightly worse spot. But is there really a perfect spot? Not with this set-up.

 Youmna Saba covered two Arabic songs. Covering is nothing new to her, as she covered a Sabah song in her own Crate Session. She played acoustic guitar and derbakkeh and was joined by violinist Layale Chaker, who has appeared during a past Crate Session, and her frequent collaborator Fadi Tabbal. The variety in instruments was nice.

 Following her, Mazen and Maher Mardini, formerly of the band Roswell I believe. They covered a song by Porcupine Tree, Archive, and David Gilmour. I believe one was on acoustic guitar and the other on keyboard.

 Afterwards came Nadim M and Phillipe M from the band Intensive Care who operate in Canada. Phillipe was on keyboard, and Nadim, who played drums for Fareeq el Utrush earlier, was on electric guitar. They first covered a song I was not familiar with, but after that, another Disney movie song. That song was “Under The Sea” from “The Little Mermaid”. The people ate it up, and they were very energetic, Nadim was at least, as I couldn’t quite see Phillipe that well, you know, the whole location issue mentioned in the beginning.

 Now it was The Incompetents’ turn. Tonight they consisted of the main duo, Serge Yared and Fadi Tabbal. Serge was handling the vocals and Fadi was playing acoustic guitar and harmonica at one point. They covered a song by the name of “After Hours”, but I am not familiar with its original performer. Following that, their recorded covers, Daniel Johnston’s “Bloody Rainbow” and Tom Waits’ “God’s Away On Business”. Both were presented very well, but I must address this now: Tom Waits’ original version sucks. The rescued that song, trust me on this one. As usual, very energetic. Though they only presented one completely original cover, out of the blue that is, I had never heard them play “Bloody Rainbow” live, and it was acoustic too, and though I had heard them play “God’s Away On Business” live prior to that, this time it was acoustic, so I guess it wasn’t all the same.

 They had performed earlier that Sunday at The Basement accompanying Scrambled Eggs and Canadian producer and musician Radwan Moumneh’s band, Jerusalem In My Heart. Radwan was there.

 Now this was the show-stealer. I know White Trees as the duo of PT and Carl Gerges, who play mellow acoustic melodies that comprise of acoustic guitar and minimalistic drums. They were supposed to play at the second-to-last Crate Session, but were not able to for one reason or another. Their soundcheck would obliterate almost all notions I had of them. Carl Gerges was drumming pretty energetically… P T was testing out his… trumpet… Ibrahim Badr was playing bass… They announced that they would be covering a Radiohead song. Carl drummed energetically indeed, PT played trumpet and delivered the lyrics, while Ibrahim added the bass. Magically, the sound was crystal clear. I don’t know where the song ended exactly, but at one point Ibrahim and Carl were left playing on their own while PT enthusiastically grabbed some drumsticks and lent Carl a helping hand by tapping along to the beat on a cymbal. He grabbed an electric guitar later on and played some very blues-rock-ish tunes. Ibrahim began fiddling with a touchpad-device (not a Mini KP) where he would scratch a vocal sample. They played that cover, but 3/4of what I just described was them randomly jamming. I COULD be all snarky now… but what the hell, it was utterly brilliant! After wrapping up, they distributed one of the two CDs they’ve released (you can find them at La CD-Theque). Unfortunately, they don’t know whether or not to record this sound of theirs. Guys, if you’re reading: DO. IT.

 Finally, concluding the evening, Scrambled Eggs. They played their Abba cover, “Lay All Your Love” from their CD “Dedicated to Foes Celebrating Friends”. Not really new… Then they admitted that they don’t know that many covers, so they just played “Russian Roulette” and had it segue into another song of theirs. They were good, but nothing was different from the last time I saw them. I mean, all the artists that I’ve seen at least once before had something fresh about their performances tonight. Could have been different guys…

 -After the Show: It was very late into the night, something I was not at all happy about. The lack of a solid schedule pisses me off, not just here, everywhere, every single time.

  It was indeed a crate, errr, great farewell to this beloved weekly tradition. They definitely delivered the quantity, and the quality was ok. Not spectacular, as some were just ok, others were great, and a few were awesome. My top three would be: 1- White Trees, 2- Fareeq el Atrash, and 3- I have no number three…

 Hopefully Walimat Wardeh’s new incarnation will play host to future live musical concepts and will be built with musical performances in mind.

 

For more information on the Crate Sessions: http://www.facebook.com/home.php?ref=home#/group.php?gid=118734329783&ref=ts

Read Jackson Allers’ article on the Crate Sessions (featuring an interview with Yared): http://jacksonallers.wordpress.com/2010/01/02/bye-bye-crate-sessions-a-talk-with-serge-yared/

 

-Photos:

*Personal: http://www.facebook.com/home.php?ref=home#/album.php?aid=368356&id=842365214

 *by Tanya Traboulsi:

http://photos-d.ak.fbcdn.net/hphotos-ak-snc3/hs141.snc3/16835_389045595004_614085004_10359277_3688297_n.jpg

http://photos-e.ak.fbcdn.net/hphotos-ak-snc3/hs121.snc3/16835_389045535004_614085004_10359272_1031439_n.jpg

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Show Review: Halloween Horror Disco Extravaganza @ Walimat Wardeh

I know I know, I’m breaking the chronological order, but this show is still fresh and sizzling!

 This was a Halloween party where there would be DJing by DJ Basile and DJ Margot and live music by The Incompetents and Scrambled Eggs. There would also be some VJ’ing done during the musical performances by Rachel Tabet and Ramzi Hibri.

 -Before the Show: At first I took the event’s proclamation of “DISGUISE IS A MUST” lightheartedly, but I later discovered that indeed it is quite mandatory. So the Wednesday of that week I got to work on my costume. Since I knew the type of crowd that was supposed to be at this thing, I chose something a bit topical and witty. I would go as the cover of “More Songs from the Victorious City” by The Incompetents. Black cardboard and chalk were all I needed, then with some cutting and scotch taping, there you had it, a costume based on the piece Alfred Tarazi made for the cover and the concept that the band had created where you get to choose between 8 variable covers.

 A friend wanted to come, but she was tired. Early on, there was not that many people there. Sound-check was being conducted by The Incompetents. The costume got their approval. I greeted some people, one of whom was Abdallah Ko, the main character of the collaborative story “Beirut Police”, leader of a double life as a prophet, and member of the improvisational-noise group XEFM. The prophet, whose face was scratched and scarred, predicted that I should do a photo series with the costume. Read on and see if the prophecy was to be fulfilled… Serge Yared and Fadi Tabbal of The Incompetents had gotten into costume by that point. Serge was an 80’s hair metal rockstar, and Fadi was something in that same domain.

 The place had started to fill up, though it was still spacious. I was greeted by a gypsy, a detective, and girl from the future; a friend of a friend, and her friends. Some time passed, and indeed, the prophet’s prediction came true, a skeleton lady wanted to have her picture taken in the costume. She would be the first of many who would do such a thing, including Alfrec Tarazi himself, designer of the original piece, who was dressed as a mish mash of oddities (stripey stockings, tissue paper strips, white face-paint…), or as he said, he was simply dressed as “someone who doesn’t know what he’s dressed as”.

 Haig Papazian, violinist of Mashrou3 Leila, was present. I asked about how recording for their album is going, and he said that it’s almost done, so you should all expect something to be finished for sure by December. I also discovered that those videos/ short movies you see on Youtube that use their song “Raksit Leila” use it without consulting the band. I always had this notion that the band is approached with a request to use any of their songs and they force the film makers to use “Raksit Leila” to endorse it. But that turned out to be incorrect. “Raksit Leila” is the only song available for purchase in stores, so that explains why nobody uses “Zotrine” for example, unless they get it from the band themselves. He too liked the costume. I was glad to see Sharif Sehnaoui was there as well.

 -The Show: After a while, The Incompetents came on, and they were Serge and Fadi accompanied by the pianist Vladimir Kurumilian. They started off with a new song that I like very much. It is a very interesting song, bitter in a way yet cheerful in another. Then some more songs which included “Bullets Gently Flying Over My Head” and “Monster Song”. Serge sang all of the songs, Fadi played guitar, and for some songs, such as “Monster Song”, Vlagimir would join in on keyboard. For some songs, Serge would at points play the guitar while singing, while Fadi would be playing the drums, and sometimes Serge would play the drums while singing. Each also utilized some pretty neat instruments like Serge playing kazoo and somekind of percussion instrument which consisted of a stick with bells on it, and Fadi playing a mini-xylophone. They were briefly joined by Youmna Saba on drums for the last two songs I think. The last was “Urinal Blues (Part 2)”. I liked this performance, because this time they had some more variety in their instruments than the first time I had seen them. For some reason, I did not notice the VJ’ing that much.

 Scrambled Eggs hadn’t shown up yet, but did eventually. At this point there was less room than before. Tony Elieh was a pirate. Malek Rizkallah was a rabbi. Charbel Haber was Charbel Haber. They got the ball rolling with “X to Be”, then “Building A Nest” I think, which I have only heard performed acoustic by Charbel on Ziad Nawfal’s “Ruptured Sessions” CD, so that was nice, hearing it with drums and bass, all electrified like that. Then they played “Russian Roulette”, a crowd favorite and one of their most well-known. A song whose name I am not really familiar with followed, and the performance was wrapped up with “Girls On Fire”, as requested by a girl in the crowd. They were very good and very energetic, but too loud. It was the first time I saw them so I didn’t really know what to expect, how to prepare myself, but it did start getting painful at a certain point, physically painful. It was quite a contrast to The Incompetents’ mellow acoustic guitar-driven sound, but in the end, very raw and gritty. The VJ’ing this time was more noticeable to me. It included such visuals as women doing aerobics and scenes from horror movies, suiting the Halloween occasion.

 -After the Show: The performances did not disappoint, although they were conducted in this room that was cleared of the tables and chairs that would usually be there for the performance that was not fully open, but had a doorway, and a big opening in the wall, kinda like a huge window without glass. Thing is, for The Incompetents, Serge would sing in the doorway, and Fadi would stand behind him, somewhere in the rest of the room, with the drumset being in the back, and the keyboard in a corner, both easily visible from the big opening. This made keeping your focus on all musicians, or perhaps photographing them all in one shot, as it applied in my case, a bit difficult difficult. Same goes for Scrambled Eggs, except it was Tony who was out of view. But still, you have to take into consideration that Walimat Wardeh is more of a restaurant in the end than a place for musical performances and you can’t expect it to be perfectly suited for them, though don’t ask me under what conditions Ziad Sahhab and his band Shehdine Ya Baladna perform there every Thursday.

 By the end of the Scrambled Eggs performance, there was barely enough room left to move. The place was literally packed. I managed to squeeze out of there, bid farewell to whomever I could find in that sea of disguises, and be on my way…

-Photos:

*Personal:

http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=340688&id=842365214&saved

-Videos:

*Personal:

I have a video of The Incompetents playing “Bullets Gently Flying Over My Head” which I will edit it whenever I can upload it.

Album Review (+ DOWNLOAD): Scrambled Eggs – “Jackpot Blues”

DOWNLOAD: Download “Jackpot Blues” here for free (Scrambled Eggs approved): http://www.4shared.com/file/141944083/ed9e0af0/Scrambled_Eggs_Jackpot_Blues_4-25_2009.html

Some may be asking themselves: “Jackpot what?”. Allow me to clarify:

 You may or may not know that Incompetents frontman, Serge Yared, DJs at the restaurant and pub, Walimat Wardeh every Saturday. From time to time, he brings in guest DJs, often related to the alternative music scene, to spice things up. On the 17th of October, Charbel Haber and Tony Elieh of Scrambled Eggs were selected to give a DJ set. That morning they, along with Malek Rizkallah, went into Tunefork Studios (the studio established and operated by Fadi Tabbal of The Incompetents). The last thing Serge did before heading off to the venue was announce via Facebook that there would be 21 copies of Scrambled Eggs’ new EP, “Jackpot Blues”, available for purchase. Later that night, after a day’s worth of hard work, there they were, 25 CDs, only 21 available for purchase, the others reserved for friends I guess. I got the 17th, to match my age.

 The significance of this CD is that it’s been a long time since Marc Codsi left, making them a trio, and “Dedicated to Foes Celebrating Friends” was them, still reeling from his departure. Now, this is supposed to be the result of months of deep thought and hard work concerning the development of their “post-Codsi” sound and identity, the ones fans should expect from their future, full-length, albums.

What else could I do? There's no cover!

What else could I do? There's no cover!

 -The Look: This was an unconventional release that did not come in the usual package. The only visual is a sticker on the CD itself. The image is of a guitar pedal I believe, roughly drawn, a bit smudged. It’s simple, but in a raw, DIY kind of way that I personally think fits the sound, but we’ll get to that part later. There is no credit to whoever made it, but I’m taking a wild guess and saying Charbel. The text is handwritten by Charbel, just title and credits: “Music by Scrambled Eggs, Text by Charbel Haber, Recorded and mixed by Fadi Tabbal at Tunefork Studios, Beirut, on October 17, 2009”. “Scrambled Eggs, Jackpot Blues”. There is no tracklist.

 -The Sound: Since I have found that there is not really that drastic variety between each track, I will not go into details on every single track, but instead I will just describe the overall atmosphere and my comments on it, overall.

 This is not an album you play during a party. If I were asked to specify a genre for this, of course I wouldn’t be able to define it with just one word, but the words “experimental” and “improvisational” would come to mind. I feel that what this is is “improvised rock” or “free-rock” (like free-jazz but with rock tendencies). Both elements are there. On one hand, this is the kind of stuff I’d expect to hear at “Irtijal”, and most of the tracks are longer than 10 minutes, a tell-tale sign of free, unscripted, improvisation. On the other hand, there are lyrics (well, spoken words at least, since they aren’t sung in the traditional manner), there are rock sounding drumbeats that are fairly constant which is not common in the improvisational genre, and there is also quite rhythmic and repetitive synthesizer pieces. So it is neither purely improvisational, nor entirely punk rock. It is a very carefully crafted blend of both which avoids clashing the two genres, i.e. you’d be hearing trippy noises in one track then rocking out to the next, no, they make them fit into one another seamlessly.

 These are four tracks of eerie spatial reverberations, abrupt synthesizer interruptions, and drumbeats that at times seem to guide the listener towards a certain tempo and other times add to the capricious nature of this sound, two of these tracks with surreal, abstract, and stream-of-consciousness style poetry read to it. Both the poetry tracks reference the titular phrase, “jackpot blues”. The music in each track is similar to the rest in a way, but not at all repetitive. Each has at least one unique element present that the rest of the tracks lack. At times, reverb is added to the spoken word, creating an ominous effect.

 This “improvised music that isn’t quite improvised music” has gotten me excited about their upcoming collaboration with Mazen Kerbaj, Sharif Sehnaoui, and Raed Yassine (and others), “Scrambled Eggs and Friends”, due for release sometime soon. If one of the objectives of this release is to get fans hyped about “Scrambled Eggs and Friends”, then I must say: Mission Accomplished.

 My own Scrambled Eggs analysis:  https://feelnotes.wordpress.com/2009/10/18/artist-analysis-scrambled-eggs/

 Photos of the session by Tanya Traboulsi: http://www.facebook.com/home.php#/album.php?aid=159562&id=9642394745

Artist Analysis: Scrambled Eggs

Photo by: Tanya Traboulsi. Logo by: Either Lana Daher or Alfred Tarazi.

Photo by: Tanya Traboulsi. Logo by: Either Lana Daher or Alfred Tarazi.

-Name: Scrambled Eggs

-Members: Charbel Haber, Tony Elieh, Malek Rizkallah

-Former Members: Marc Codsi, Said Elieh

-Years Active: 2000 or 2001-Present

-Genre: Post-Punk, Experimental, Noise, Improvisation

 -History: I really don’t know the intricate details, but here’s all I can come up with:

 In 2000 or 2001, Charbel Haber, Tony Elieh, Marc Codsi , and Said Elieh formed a group and named themselves Scrambled Eggs .

 They released their first album, “Human Friendly Noises”, in 2002. It had a wide influence on the scene and was well received. In 2004, they released their second effort “No Special Date Nor a Deity to Venerate”, which was also highly praised. Near the end of that same year, they started their own record label, “Those Kids Must Choke” and released a third album, “Nevermind Where, Just Drive”, which was described as being highly experimental and unconventional.

 In 2004 (I think), Scrambled Eggs worked on the soundtrack of the film “A Perfect Day” by Lebanese filmmakers Joanna Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige, later receiving the Best Soundtrack Award at the Festival des Trois Continents in Nantes, France for it.

It was around this time when Said left in order to live abroad in the US. He would later be replaced by their current drummer, Malek Rizkallah.

 One year later, the Lebanese-Israeli conflict took place and so they released their fourth album “Happy Together, Filthy Forever” as a reaction to it.

 In 2008, they would once again provide their services for a soundtrack to another movie by the two Lebanese directors Joanna Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige, this time  the film “Je Veux Voir”. Later that year, Marc would part ways with the band, pursuing his own project, Lumi, with vocalist Mayaline Hage. Scrambled Eggs would go on to record and release an EP (or single) of two tracks called “Dedicated to Foes Celebrating Friends”.

 Throughout these years, they have played in several locations in Lebanon and even outside of Lebanon, playing in France, USA, UK, and Germany, among many others.

 Recently, they were selected as one of three finalists in John Varvatos’ music contest, “Free the Noise”. Winners of the contest would get a big record deal and be featured in John Varvatos’ international ad campaigns. They were scheduled to go to New York and participate in the finals, but unfortunately couldn’t make it due to Visa problems.

Last year, they collaborated with improvisers, Mazen Kerbaj, Sharif Sehnaoui, Raed Yassin, and others on a record of experimental, improvised music. The project will be called “Scrambled Eggs and Friends” and will be released sometime in the future under a new label called “Johhny Kafta’s Kids Menu”.

 -Sound: I have not heard Scrambled Eggs’ full discography, but I have concluded that they are truly “post-punk” in every sense. They wear a double-faced mask. Look at them from one side and you will see punk, look at them from the other, and you will see experimentation, improvisation, and noise. Look them straight, directly from the front, and you will simply see post-punk, a coalescence of both elements. 

They are no strangers to improvisation in particular, as they have participated in Lebanon’s annual improvisational music festival, “Irtijal”,  in several combinations such as XEFM (Charbel Haber, Tony Elieh, Fadi Tabbal (The Incompetents), and Abdallah Ko), BAO (Charbel Haber, Mazen Kerbaj, Jad Balaben), and others.

 Charbel’s voice fits the genre he sings to. He utilizes it to aptly set the mood of the song, which could be energetic and “dancey”, or moody and “tired”.

 -Links:

Myspace:  http://www.myspace.com/scrambledeggslebanon

Facebook Page: http://www.facebook.com/home.php#/pages/SCRAMBLED-EGGS/9642394745?ref=nf

Facebook Group: http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=2479495469&ref=search&sid=842365214.1435867700..1

Incognito: http://www.incognito.com.lb/store/node/213