Album Review: Fareeq el Atrash – “Fareeq el Atrash”

 

This is the first of the re-booted album reviews. All previous album reviews will be re-done. Just a heads up.

 In a world/country, where lyrics revolving around either politics, how crappy your life here in Lebanon has been, or just being gangsta (penned by disciples of Eminem and Lil’Wayne of course) are rapped to synth beats and the obligatory oriental-fusions (because everyone who samples oud in a beat is the first person to ever do it, for no one had yet dared pull such an earth-shattering move), a group stands out by being a band with two rappers as vocalists, or maybe two rappers who rely on a band to provide their beats. Either way, the concept is fresh.

 After much anticipation, they have released their self-titled debut album under the Forward Music label. Some of you may know that Fareeq el Atrash had already released a sort of album, which was a defunct pre-album that they decided to share instead of sweeping under the carpet.

 While the album is an adequate introduction to the style and subject matter of the group, it isn’t really that much of a delectable audio-treat. It’s healthy and wholesome, but doesn’t give much of a sugar rush. Let me eleaborate: It leaned more towards the funk aspect of the band than towards the hip hop aspect. So any hardcore funkaholic will eat this up first listen, but I for one had some trouble digesting it, and it’ll take a while for this to grow on me. 

 The fact that there are previously heard versions of some of the songs to compare these new ones to is a bit unfair, because these songs should be treated as separate works and judged by their own merits, without having something to live up to. But I must resort to comparison in some cases.

 The rappers, Edd and Chyno, are socio-political, but not whiny, optimistic, but not in a “life’s all about getting laid and rocking bling” way, and have a sense of wit and humor. That’s one of Fareeq’s appeals, their capability of breaking out of the norm and rapping about topics that are not a priority to most rappers. Throughout the course of this album you will hear songs about: the true meaning of rap (Su2alu Jimly), pure un-superficial love (Sunshine), and the importance of perseverance (Da3ess 3al Akheer).

 These verses are laid over a classic funk-rock style, crafted by John Imad Nasr on bass and Ghassan Khayyat on guitar. They never came off as cheesy and were genuinely soulful and funky, even displaying some reggae and jazz tendencies. Some additions were also made to pre-heard songs, like the distorted guitar and keyboard-organ in “Demoqrati, which were pretty cool. But the drums are another story.

 The drums in each track are very similar, with a few exceptions. When I say drums, I’m not referring to the beat, but to the particular bass, snare, and hi-hat sounds. You can notice slight alterations throughout the tracks, like in “Demoqrati”, where the snare drum sounds sharper. These adjustments were not that obvious, with the exception of such tracks as “Su2alu Jimly”. I repeat, leaning more towards funk and soul.

 Let’s take a look at the pre-album: In that version of “Demoqrati”, there was a drum-sampling-beatboxing mix going. Different samples used in each track, if not, then used extremely discretely and minimally; a hi-hat sound is re-used, maximum. “Terikhna Bi Libnen”, the drums consisted mostly of very rich almost pots-and-pans type percussion, and the actual drums came in the choruses and near the end, with tambourine even. “Biwa2ta” did not appear in the pre-album, but it was on the fourth 7keeleh compilation CD (7keeleh IV). I know SOMEONE out there must have heard the pre-album version from the 7keeleh CD. It featured some very nice clunky-sounding percussion for the drumbeat. It was more hip hop.

 What about the percussion now? It is used quite sparingly. FZ provides some beatboxed maraca-emulation in “Byen7aka”, there is some manner of jingling going on in the choruses of “La Wein”, and hand-claps substitute snare in “Sunshine”. This is all even weirder when you consider who produced the album: Ghazi Abdel Baki. The man is known for his diverse, layered, genre-fusing world music.

 Now, in contrast to the underused, we come to the overused: horns. This isn’t really a universally-acknowledged pitfall of music, it’s more of a “me” thing. I would have thought it more appropriate to feature horns in only a handful of tracks, not almost all of them. The only reason I can give for this is that I think it diminishes the whole feeling of grandness that horns could give. Horns don’t have to be used in fast-paced hard-hitting compositions. They can be found in slow and dirty rhythms as well. But I prefer them being a treat that the listener is rewarded with in moments of musical intensity. There was no reward here, because they were just everywhere.

 What was the status on horns in the pre-album? “Demoqrati” featured saxophone in the end, “Khabriyten” had a trombone-like sound (actually an effected sample, but it still sounds like a single wind instrument to me anyway) as the provider of the main riff, “Shou Kamish” too featured clarinet that played a catchy riff. Not a huge horn section, but in some cases, the single wind instruments play an important role in the melody itself, and not just acting as filler.

 On a positive note, I liked how FZ was allowed to do his sound effects and beatboxing, even in the studio. They could have easily brought in DJ Lethal Skillz to lay down some cuts on “Njoom 3am Te2rab”, but they let FZ take the spotlight with an epic vocal scratch solo. They could have just recorded “Da3ess 3al Akheer” without the racetrack skit and sound effects, but they did, and I dare you not to crack a smile at least. This has proven that FZ is not just a replacement for a drummer or turntables in live shows, but a genuine component of the bands’ style.

 And this isn’t really relevant, but I was sad to see certain tracks cut and hope they make it onto future releases.

 Final Verdict: Too much funk, not enough hip hop. But despite my being a little at odds with some of the musical elements, since I was expecting hip hop with a funk flavor but instead received almost pure funk, the music and lyrics make this album a big leap for local hip hop, in new directions, or actually old ones. When we Lebanese began rapping in Arabic, we did it the way it was being done in the US andd Europe. So now, after years of moving parallel to western hip hop, Fareeq el Atrash triggers a movement of exploration of the roots of hip hop: funk, soul, and blues. This is indeed evidence that a little Arabic old-school-hip hop-revival scene is on the rise. Ladies and gentlemen, The Banana Cognacs

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Show Review: 24/7 Labor Day Event (May 1st, 2010)

 

 May 1st A.K.A: Labor Day. A campaign by the name of “24/7”, with the objective of granting migrant workers in Lebanon their rights, such as a day off, held a free concert in an effort to raise public awareness of the issue. Free concert in the afternoon on the Ein el Mreise’ sidewalk? Fuck yeah.

 Like every single thing to ever happen in this city ever, it started late. The fact that it was the afternoon made it forgivable though… Well not really, because the sun was really glaring that day. The crowd was “interesting”. You had some people genuinely interested in what was going on, and other who were either rude or confused by it all. I’m not snobby or elitist, but I’m very picky when it comes to the “vibe” and general atmosphere. It’s sort of part of the whole package of a show. But you see, there is actually a formula one could follow to concoct such a crowd.

 Attracting a Crappy Crowd in Two Simple Steps:

1-Setting: The more public, easily accessible, and standard the location, the better your chances. As for time, mid-day is when everyone is out and about, including children and tweens.

2-Occasion: Provided the setting has been selected with regards to the previous step, having this performance for a specific purpose other than entertainment would help. This could be tough, as it could still be important to some attendants, and you suffer the possibility of someone giving a fuck, but something like “In Memoriam of the Death of Nikola Tesla” will do the trick. Generally, anything that attempts to raise awareness or inform: Political cause (which ISN’T biased towards a specific party), social issue (something-sex related preferably), promoting a product or artistic project (CD, movie, book, provided that it revolves around something not many would care for). The opposite of this is, just playing so people can party…

 Bonus Points: Being extremely experimental and different helps. This includes your genre, and language in which you perform it. English would do, but is relatively acceptable. Arabic is more acceptable than English, but it comes down to the subject-matter then, so you have a window there. French will work 100% of the time… Well no, but it beats English and Arabic.

 Also, free entrance, because noone wants to pay to heckle.

 Note: All and/or any results are not guaranteed.

 HOWEVER, it is crucial to realize that this is the kind of crowd one must strive to attract, for it is the ideal crowd. Attracting this kind of crowd means you’ve made it. Because this sort of crowd is “the public”, raw and unfiltered, it’s not an elite section of society that you have a good chance of winning over. See, if the bandrocks, they will have introduced some very unlikely people to something very nice. If not, they’ll let you know… bastards.

 But that’s not the point really. So someone briefly talked about the issue for which we were all gathered here, the rights of migrant workers. In fact, there was a march of solidarity that started at the Qarantina Bridge and lead here. Some actual migrant workers also briefly spoke.

 First up was Zeid & The Wings. Today, they were an eight piece band, since when I first saw them in Zico House, they lacked a bassist and drummer. It’s basically Zeid’s solo stuff, but more layered and intricate. See in the old days, he used to play some of these very songs acoustic, or electric with minimal elements. So now you’ve got it all electric, all live. Some of it leans more towards reggae and dub, some towards standard rock. Some in English, some in Arabic. There aren’t many bands here with backup singers just for that purpose (usually a musician will do backing vocals as well), so that’s cool.  The nay is a nice touch also. At one point, RGB, who was roller-skating that day, joined Zeid onstage (on skates) and performed one of their reggae-rock-rap songs, “Awwast l’Sherif”. Aren’t those ever going to be recorded? Wasn’t there an album in the works? “Blacklisted”? No?

 The crowd was crappy for the most part, well not THAT much, but they would have bugged you, to say the least. Although they sorta changed their tune when RGB came on, you know, rapping in Arabic and all.

 Next up were Lazzy Lung (pronounced “lazy”, not like “jazzy”, as I had presumed), whom I had never heard prior. All I knew was that they were a four-piece rock outfit. Sorry to say, I knew none of the songs or their titles, but they played about four or five songs. They were something new. As many local bands do, they play very western-influenced material, but they presented by far the most accurate version of that sound, and that sound could be called alternative-indie-pop-rock. In a way, easily marketable stuff, which I could totally play a Tony Hawk game to. But why? What separated them from Scrambled Eggs, for example? I thought it could be because of frontman Allan Chaaraoui, the main songwriter and composer, who also happens to be half Canadian. But this notion was eventually thrown out the window, due to the universal nature of music (each culture’s folk music is still somewhat exclusive to its respective region, but most modern genres have become fairly cosmopolitan due to globalization and the cyber-revolution). But really, dwelling on this little detail is insignificant. I guess it’s one of life’s beautiful enigmas… Thank you Lazzy Lung, for successfully pulling this style off right here, much plane ticket cash has been saved! Huzzah!

 The crowd however, was oblivious to this. Love those wisecracks…

Moving on, an improptu set by two members of the group Walad, Mohammad Hodeib and Aram Papazian. Hodeib on acoustic guitar and Papazian on percussion, they played about three or four songs which were reminiscent of Munir Khauli’s music, but more modern, for their style was what you would call folk-rock, but the lyrics were sometimes delivered in a sort of rap, and what I mean by that is, instead of being sung melodically, they’re just spoken, sort of like what Munir Khauli used to do, except he was less rappy. Another similarity was subject matter. Hodeib spoke of social issues such as poverty and legalizing marijuana. Khauli too spoke of similar topics, maybe more lightheartedly. Walad themselves are a group worth checking out, so please do.

Hot on their heels was Fareeq el Atrash… Well, there were delays between each act, so… yeah. Now, I’ve said a lot about Fareeq el Atrash in the past, so from now on, I will not cover their performances unless something notable goes down. Luckily, something notable did go down that day! Various things, which had nothing to do with the music itself.

 Those rowdy teens, or “ze3ran l’corniche”, changed their tune, hearing the upbeat Arabic rap of Edd and Chyno backed by the funk-rock beats of John Imad Nasr, Ghassan Khayyat, and FZ, and started popping and locking in a clearing in front of the stage. Meanwhile, the band inducted a new rhythm guitarist into the band on the spot; some kid with a toy guitar. Clearly, this is the payoff of winning over the classic “crappy crowd”. That is until… An elderly gentleman asked the boys to stop, due to the adhan (the call to prayer) being broadcast from the nearby mosque. Ladies and gentleman, THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING ON TIME! Thank you.

 But luckily, after a brief pause, they resumed/ concluded their set. Following them was some foreign group from somewhere in Africa, which consisted of a vocalist, keyboardist, and violinist. I wasn’t really that into it, and that was the end of it all anyway…

-PHOTOGRAPHS

Go for Gaza. Stay for the Music!

Hello. It would be very cool and very charitable if you went to this thingy here.

BUT WHY SHOULD I INVEST TWENTY OF MY HARD-EARNED DOLLARS ON SOME CONCERT?

Well, as you might know, Israel has been picking on us all, and being douchebags in general, for quite some time now.  One of their latest delightful atrocities was attacking a harmless flotilla that belonged to the Free Gaza Movement, carrying aid supplies to Gaza… in international waters. The world was outraged, well a big majority of the world at least. So we Lebanese being the benevolent people we are decided to support Gaza. And support we shall, because all proceeds will go to the Free Gaza Movement.

I TOO WOULD LIKE TO SUPPORT GAZA, BUT WHAT’S IN IT FOR ME?

Well…

-Fareeq el Atrash: The best funk-rock-rap band in Beirut, who have literally never sucked… I swear.

Lazzy Lung: In a sea of bands trying to emulate that “Western” sound, they are by far the best darn ones yet. Catchy as hell too.

-Pop Will Save Us: Frankly, I have nothing to say to convince you why you should see PWSU, because I have neither seen them live myself nor purchased (or downloaded) their album. What’s certain is, they play poppy-dance-type stuff, and they come with the whole  package, so I guess it wouldn’t kill you to check them out, or just get a drink or something, I dunno…

-La Gale:  Swiss-Lebanese  female rapper who raps in French, thus, I cannot understand much of what she says, so you’re on your own for this one.

-Lumi: Turns out they’re alive. Well they’re notorious for their scarce live-appearances, but that shouldn’t be your motivation to see them. Blending rock with electronica isn’t that big an innovation these days, but luckily, they did it right. It’s not trip-hoppy like SoapKills though, it leans more towards, well, “synth-rock”.

Zeid & The Wings: One of the bigger groups around, Zeid Hamdan’s latest project features the traditional staples of rock music, as well as some things you might have not seen before, like some nay, and the occasional Arabic lyrics. It’s not really like The New Government, or SoapKills, it’s just its own thing, that’s all that can be said really.

-Rayess Bek: I think his band are still in town after performing on the 6th of June. So for those who missed them, now is your chance, they’re not here everyday. In fact, the 6th was their first time-ever here in Lebanon. Even Rayess Bek himself without the band was a rarity, until he came back in April and did some shows, so you’re in luck that you get to see his socio-political Franco-Arabic rhyming commentaries laid against live electro-acoustic-oriental-jazz beats, as opposed to pre-recorded ones. In case they’re not here though, you really shouldn’t complain either.

-Hiba el Mansouri: Well basically, SoapKills 2.0, which is awesome, and so is Hiba.

-The Incompetents: Recently, The Incompetents bridged the gap in their lineup, recruiting Marc Codsi as their drummer. Full-lineup or not, The Incompetents are a bit sparse with their performances, so seeing them is worth your while, for I have forever admired their goofy awesomeness…  

-RGB: He’s a decent rapper by himself, but you better hope he and Zeid perform their ska-rock-rap material. Where else can you hear a  psuedo-homage to Bob Marley through Arabic rap?

– Tania Saleh: Acoustic-folk-rock Arabic songs from one of the local veterans!

Miah: I swear I have no idea, but I’m guessing French folk-pop or something… I dunno, surprise yourselves!

In conclusion: Go.

Thank you very much.

Lebanese Hip Hop Heroes Unite!

If you like Lebanese hip hop even just a teensy bit, be sure to come down to Zico House on the 17th of April. As the event page reads:

“as some of you might already know YASEEN (from the Palestinian hip hop act: I-Voice) has been accepted at the London University in Ontario (Canada) to do his graduate studies in sound engineering and managed to obtain his visa. Only funds for a start-up are lacking!

Knowing Yaseen and how hardworking he is, we — as an improvised collective of friends and fellow artists — decided to make a concert to collect the missing funds.

Our declared objective is to raise 7,000$. We hope this event and the one that will follow in the first week of May will allow us to reach this figure.”

A worthy cause no? So who’s playing then?:

Fareeq el Atrash (Arabic hip-hop-funk-rock band), I-Voice (Palestinian-Lebanese Arabic rap), Malikah (FEMALE Arabic rap), OkyDoky (Electronic music), Double A the Preacherman (English rap), Ram6 (Arabic rap), Rayess Bek (GODFATHER OF Arabic rap),  and Zeid Hamdan & RGB (Trip-hop-electronic-reaggae/dub & Arabic rap)!

But if you don’t want to support local music, I suppose I understand… *guilt guilt guilt >:(*

Come! Pay! Come (alternate meaning)!

Event page: http://www.facebook.com/omaralfil?v=feed&story_fbid=10150168688360215#!/event.php?eid=102662206442747&ref=ts

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

Fareeq el Atrash: Representin’!

Fareeq el Atrash are representing us, as in the Lebanese people, in the international music contest Fair Play – Anti-Corruption Youth Voices, which is organized in partnership between Jeunesses Musicales International and the World Bank Institute.

Now, without further ado, Fareeq el Atrash’s entry, “Corruption”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4B2x6D2hvm4

This was recorded in late December 2009 at the Forward Music studio, who l’Fareeq were signed to a while back (Forward music is a Lebanese label that mostly specializes in world music). Through the miracle of deductive reasoning one can arrive to the conclusion that this isn’t 100% live. Some parts were overdubbed, the parts you can’t see being performed in the video, like FZ’s beatboxing (which was recorded after he came back from abroad) and Goo’s guitar playing (because, he takes over the keyboard here). The drummer is Fouad Afra, who also plays in Ghazi Abdel Baki’s band. The whole track is very dope. The actual drumming is a nice change from their usual programmed/ beatboxed drums. The keyboard is also a fresh change. You know, I’ve come to see that I can’t keep saying “The Lebanese Arabic rap crew Fareeq el Atrash” because they are in fact bilingual, not just in a couple of songs, but in the majority of them, Edd covers the Arabic, Chyno the English. It’s a treat for those who understand both, and it makes them appeal to non-Arabic speakers as well, who are the ones they’re trying to win over with this thing here, ilakh ilakh, you have no excuse whatsoever for hating them…

The competition opens February 1st, and the more views their video has, the greater their chances of winning are, so if you watched it once, do a good deed today, watch it a second time, then a third, then a fourth, then a fifth, then a sixth… It deserves that many views by its own merit.

Here is the official Jeunesses Musicales International website: http://www.jmi.net/index.php?ID=0

And while I’m on the subject of this band, be sure to catch them this Tuesday at the inauguration of the the Greedy Ears Sessions, Serge Yared’s latest live-music endeavor after the success of his legendary Crate Sessions of 2009, at Walimat Warde’s brand new location (the corner of the street it used to be on).

Link to the event: http://www.facebook.com/inbox/?ref=mb#/event.php?eid=280985937233&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:

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