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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Album Review: Mashrou3 Leila – “Mashrou3 Leila”

WARNING: What you are about to read is THE longest most physically strenuous review of anything I have ever written in my entire life. Hope you enjoy reading it (over a three-day period) as much as I enjo-UNGH! enj-GAHH! ENJOYED WRITING IT! *passes out for days on end*

 

Well, this much anticipated album has finally been released and people have been waiting for quite a long time to see whether or not Mashrou3 Leila would cut the mustard or fall short of expectations.

 The album was produced by “b-root Productions”. I’ve never heard of them before, so this is their first ever release I assume.

 -The Look:

The look of this record took me by surprise at first, as I was expecting something more colorful, similar to their old logo and visuals, instead, the exact opposite; grayscale. A white background with some halftoney (dotty) image in grey, on top of which in black is a sort of system of axes with coordinates plotted on it. In the middle-right, the new band logo, which is very nice and geometric (I like that in Arabic typography).  In the upper-left corner, a 16-arrow compass that indicates points to the west and calls it “Sharqiyye”, the east and calls it “Gharbiyye”, the north and calls it “General Morale”, and the south and calls it “General Religion”. All of this is surrounded by a thick black border. It’s a far cry from this: http://c3.ac-images.myspacecdn.com/images02/19/l_c3e4bddb80eb4829af73cf66d70e645a.jpg. Does the gritty artwork match the music?

 This CD opens “Arabic-style”(to the right) by the way… interesting.

 Inside, there is a very artistic thank you sleeve, featuring a white background with overlaid black grid and the letters “C” and “D” at the bottom. They thank many people by writing their names by hand, some in English, some in Arabic, some have little drawings too. Among those names are “Yelostudio”, who helped in making the soon-to-be-premiered “Raksit Leila” video, “Eka3”, who asked them to participate in their “Leka@Eka3” concert series, and “Beirut”, of course.

 Inside this sleeve is the CD itself which has a very “pop-art”ish and “collagey” design printed on it. It features an assortment of brightly colored visuals and meanings that I will get to in a while…

 In the next sleeve, a continuation of the previous one, with the white background and the grid going on, with the letter “A” and “B” on the horizontal axis, and the number 1 on the vertical, there are credits listing the band members, where what instruments were recorded, and who mastered the album (Oscar Zambrano). Also, some more general “thank you”s…

 Inside this sleeve is a booklet that is opened up to reveal two things:

On one side, within a black border, a grey background with the faint silhouette of a city of some kind (Beirut actually), with a halftone effect applied, along with that recurring system of axes in black forming 48 little squares, inside every four of those are handwritten song lyrics (Sinno’s writing no doubt. I recognize that “ya2” with vertical dots, don’t ask why). I can understand them not rewriting the chorus every time it is repeated, but there are seriously some major gaps in the lyrics. Like in the “3al 7ajiz” lyrics, the chorus is not printed, and I can’t pick up on some of the words (waynak rayi7 ya ghandour?) Would have liked them to have been more precise…

 On the other side is the image on the CD in its full form (told ya I’d get to it). After all the suspense, here the mystery of the axes is revealed. They are of an architectural/ geographical nature, laid on top of a map of Beirut, but this map is riddled with images and messages here and there, with the halftone effect applied of course. It becomes clear here that the image on the front cover is an edited image of a drawing of a non-gender-specific person (has short hair, moustache, has a flower around head, wears a bow tie, wears a dress, and has a pen-uh, nose…). This is a powerful statement on gender and the LGBT community in Beirut, and a very shrewdly delivered one in fact. Also visible are the trademark owl that has appeared on the album release poster (and on your hands if you attended the concert) above an appropriate “boom” (in Arabic), a dark green silhouette of a soldier, a mosque’s dome, a clenched fist, a blue hand with an eye in the palm (the evil eye), a bomb with the Star of David on it, and other thought provoking aesthetic treats… oh, and eggplants. Lots of eggplants… At the very top, a title reads “PLAN de BEYROUTH” with the word “BEYROUTH” crossed out in red and replaced with the Arabic word for Beirut. The original unedited map is a map of “Beyrouth”, but this new vibrant pastiche of sex, alcohol, religion, terrorism, and eggplants is what we have crafted for ourselves and called “بيروت”. In the bottom left corner is the compass that appears on the front cover. I’d hang this on my wall as a poster, but then I wouldn’t be able to check the lyrics… All of this is encompassed by a thick black border.

 On the back, yet again a white background with black grid on top. There is the track list, with the tracks names written in Arabic on the left and in English on the right. It consists of “Fasateen”, “3ubwa”, “Min Al 6aboor”, “3al 7ajiz”, “Shim El Yasmine”, “Im Bimbillila7”, “Latlit”, “Khaleeha Zikra”, and “Raksit Leila”. Much to my dismay is the absence of “Zotrine” and “Arous”… In the bottom left, the b-root productions logo and a barcode, and in the bottom right, a copyright warning, most probably in response to SOMEONE smugly declaring that he/she will put up the album for download when it comes out…

 -The Sound:

Here we saw them take a more “ominous” direction. From their live performances, myspace tracks, and colorful visuals, we got the idea that they were a lighthearted fun-loving bunch of young people. When they criticized an ugly aspect of life, they did it with some optimism. But here they are trying to establish a new image which aims to accentuate on the negatives and really drive that feeling home through noises and vocal effects. I personally think it works in some places, adds a certain rawness, but in others not so much.

 Same case as Fareeq el Atrash and their pre-album: We all knew them musically as a groovy rock-funk outfit, but on the pre-album we say a more dissonant, more ambient side to them. It was awesome by the way.

 One significant factor is that we have something to compare the new sound to as opposed to being exposed to it for the very first time. As in: You might not like the new direction because you’ve gotten used to the old Leila. But if you didn’t have any prior exposure to the band, you’d be free to like or dislike this rawer sound having nothing else to compare it to and assuming that they’ve sounded this way since the beginning. It’s all up to you and your taste in the end. But actually, as for the myspace tracks, the only two of those that made it were “Shim El Yasmine” and “Raksit Leila” (the two with the most plays… hmmm), so you won’t find yourself at a loss between which rendition of “Arous” you prefer.   

 1-“Fasateen”: This upbeat little number kicks off the album. I was expecting “Zotrine”, but it’s not even on here (no, I will never let it go!) Hamed asks a girl if she remembers how she said she’d marry him despite his poverty (without money or a house), how she used to love him even though he belonged to a different religion than hers, and if she remembers how her mother saw him sleeping in her bed and told himb he was through with her (to forget about her), all of this set to an acoustic guitar tune. The violin joins in as Hamed reminds her of how they had agreed to stay that way (happy together just the way they are, despite financial issues, religious differences, and her family’s disapproval of him), paying no mind to class or what society thinks of them. Carl joins in on drums now, there’s some nice stick action I’m hearing, and so does Ibrahim’s bass which is emulating the sound of a tuba; innovative. Hamed belts out the chorus “without millions, without dresses”. Dresses symbolize material wealth, but since a dress is a piece of clothing intended for females, it is material wealth intended for her own personal gain, benefitting her. Haig’s violin plays a lovely tune with the drums getting more prominent but still quite laid back. There’s some shaker in there as well, joined by handclaps, and Omaya’s piano. Just then, it all goes jazzy; the guitar, the bass, the piano, the violin, the cymbal dominated drumbeat (well actually, it’s nothing but cymbals), and of course, the finger snaps. Hamed reminds this girl of how she promised him they would defy the norms together (she took his hand and promised a revolution); but she’s forgotten about that. He reminds her of how she changed him to match herself (she combed his hair like hers and put him on a schedule). The chorus is repeated, this time with some cheery background chants, and Hamed sings the chorus once again, reminding the girl of those once sacred conditions of their love (without millions, without dresses). It concludes exactly the way it starts off, taking the girl back to the very first question she was asked, and at this point, they both know the answer, but repeating the question serves as the final blow…

 2-“3ubwa”: You wouldn’t have realized that “ominous” thing I was talking about earlier if you just listened to this track and stopped. This is where it first appears. Honestly, I think it works well here, even though I would have liked it as a satirical- hippie-protest-style song as well, but both work. It starts out with some faint humming static. That is until the violin enters along with some thundering synth, joined by what is either some muted rapid high pitched violin playing or some synth as well, and an intermittent “ticking”, in reality high pitched plucks of the guitar. As the guitar riff plays, an ambulance is heard in the background. They’ve built up the tension quite well with the noise and the sound effects. Some hits of a cymbal and the rhythm gets going. I like the bass here very much and the drums are in equilibrium. They’re rocky, but not too much; once again, the sticks are nice touches. Bravo Carl. You can still hear the ambulance siren fading out… Hamed sings a line that I was impressed by way before the album: “Tic tic tic y’am Sleiman, tic tic tic tic boom”. Let me pause here for a moment. I don’t know how familiar people in other Arab countries are with our children’s songs, but this lyric is one of those that you just can’t be Lebanese and not get. Not because it’s a popular song, but because it is a popular children’s song, and that means that it has been fed to us since our earliest days. It is everything but unfamiliar. So now what have they done to it? They’ve turned it into a play on words (or onomatopoeia actually) concerning a titular bomb (charge/ “3ubwa”). Hearing the line, from the first “tic” till “Y’am Sleiman”, you unconsciously drift off into the song, but your childhood reminiscing is interrupted by an unfamiliar line, “tic tic tic boom”. “Boom? What’s a boom doing in a children’s song?” It brings to mind twisted imagery of things dear to our hearts being desecrated, dreams being injected with bitter reality… like what was just done to this beloved staple of Lebanese culture… or perhaps even how our dream-Lebanon has been tainted by the reality that is terror and war? Good stuff Mr. Sinno. He continues by singing of how the field that Im’Sleiman’s husband is usually supposed to be picking plums and pomegranates from exploded… the warping continues. By the way, in the booklet, the word “shaklo” ((شكلو is written as “saklo” (سكاو). Hey, I’m no better myself… Anywhwo. Guitar comes in briefly accompanied by some eerie keyboard. Hamed sings of a key in the car, and stuffing a corpse in the trunk; crime and illegal activity are thriving. He then sings of a martyr, behind a curtain, who wants to dominate the economy; conspiracy theory of some sort? What are clear are the themes of crime, death, and power struggles. The violin gets all “m2attash”, cutting in and out of the sound. Hamed continues, singing of how the sound of the adhan (the Islamic call to prayer that is read at the mosque) covered up the sound of the “boom”, and how he appears on TV (not “tilfizyon”, “tilfiyen”!) looking like an owl (the plural of “owl” (bouma or boume’) in Arabic is literally “boom”). I’m not too sure about this part here, but I know that there’s religion (fanaticism?) and media (sensationalism?) involved. He asks how he’s supposed to get into politics when everyone’s lazy and unmotivated (“mwakhkham”; this word was a BITCH to figure out, but I learned something new. Educational too!), as in, not willing to show interest in fighting corruption, and convinced that “their religion is the best color” (each sect has its own political party, and each political party has its own color attributed to it, thus: each sect has its own color). Violin plays a tune and the guitar occasionally makes and appearance. Hamed struts his vocal stuff, unleashing some powerful cries. Piano gets a little solo. The “adhan” till the “color of religion” section is repeated. Guitar has a nice little part. It all concludes with ticking leading up to several booms, followed by a single final one. Amazing lyrics, music fits them very well, overall mood is spot on.

 3-“Min Al 6aboor”: Opens with some screechy noise which is actually some speech being sped up with a tape recorder (though I think they did it several times and then pasted them together, since when the screeching is done it’s a whole different speech). A drumbeat starts playing with the screeching now coming on and off in time with it. Bass joins in, but I think it’s synthesized, no? The piano adds notes from time to time here and there as Hamed sings of how we’ve been fighting the same war for 50 years and we just can’t seem to forget, can’t seem to stop holding a grudge, and how “the country is a waiting room with a line that leads to the airport”, as in, everybody wants to get the hell out of here. Verse is repeated. If you listen carefully, you can hear some synth noise in the background. Guitar comes in, playing quite the “metal”-ish riff. Carl plays hi-hat on the drums, but that bass pounding here is actually synth. Hamed sings of how we’re sick of religion, tired of humiliation, and we miss being… hungry. Why you ask? Because we’ve been eating shit for so long, that’s why. Love that wit…  Not written in the lyrics sheet is the line at the end of the chorus “w’lsenna nbara” which literally means “our tongue’s been sharpened”, but it is actually a saying for when one keeps saying something over and over again, often ignored. Omaya adds some eerie bell sounds on keyboard. Violin joins in, Hamed’s distorted screams echo in the background, fading out along with everything else, leaving the various noises (synth, muffled speech) playing on. A slow guitar tune starts playing with the eerie keyboard in the background. Hamed sings of how he knows the place but might be mistaken about the time. The place is here, but everyone has forgotten the time, which is today. The Lebanese people, they just refuse to move on. Haig accompanies on violin as the verse is repeated, and the muffled tape recorder screeches can be heard echoing in the background as well, until all fades out.

4-“3al 7ajiz”: I saw something special in this track ever since I first heard a snippet of it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NpoUSd8s8a0&feature=related. Military-marching style drums usher the track in. I think I hear actual marching too. Bass joins in, and I quite like it. Hamed takes the character of a soldier at a checkpoint (as the song is called “at the checkpoint”) and calls out to some innocent civilian in that jagal tone “pst pst pst, ya 7elow” and tells him to open up his bag, park on the right, and to show him his papers (he saws please though), and a piano note is struck. He asks where he’s come from and where he’s headed off to, asks for some ID (to2borne’), and gives some valuable hair critique (2ah yo2bosh), all the while a very catchy riff is played by electric guitar, followed by another single piano note (every word uttered till now is not in the lyrics sheet). The guitar retires, letting the violin take over and play the riff. Now Hamed takes the voice of this poor guy having to endure this ordeal (or simply himself), accompanied by some violin, it all gets mellower here. He tells of how the soldier is just sitting there for all this time, holding his gun. By the way, the gun line can be heard in the song, but the lyrics sheet has a different line in its place which says “nashshaf dammo” (his blood’s dried). This line does in fact appear in the song, but not until later. He continues, mentioning how styling his hair is his priority (the soldier that is), and how he came at him with his chest out (again, the soldier). Now for the famous chorus: It’s the voice of the soldier again who asks: “3akrout, ya sharmout, waynak rayi7 ya ghandour/ zentoot(???)” (the chorus is nowhere to be found in the lyrics sheet), in other words, he badmouths him (and what badmouthing it is) patronizing him, and asking where he’s off to, treating him like he’s some kind of child or something. I believe it’s the man who says here “3ammo”, foreshadowing a future lyric. Guitar plays an ominous melody and the soldier speaks once again, ordering the guy (ya 7elowah) to park on the right and open his bag and his trunk, and show him his papers, this time adding “w’2eh, shou ra2yak?” (if I heard right (curse this lyrical obscurity!)), in other words: “yeah, what do you think of that?”, rubbing his authority in the poor guy’s face. Everything goes mellow again. The guy says to himself that his house is here, he’s not going there to blow it up, and how the soldier dropped everything else and homed in on him to pick on him, and that he’s keeping his mouth shut because “his mother tear is worth more than him” (note: there is no occurrence of the word “7aram”, as the lyrics sheet says, or perhaps this one phrase is to take the place of all the swear words) as in, he’d rather avoid trouble rather than have his mother cry over his predicament and cause her pain and disappointment in her upbringing of him; his mother’s happiness and pride in him, and her faith in his self-control and manners, are more important to him than seeking vengeance. In fact, it’s way more valuable than just that soldier. It’s more valuable than him, his sister, his grandmother, his brother, his grandfather, his father, his uncle (from his mother’s side, “khalo”), and his uncle (from his father’s side, “3ammo”… it’s an Arabic thing, deal with it). Music gets all creepy again. A final bass note halts the music, and Hamed sings “batwannis beek, w’inta ma3aya”. This is sampled from an Arabic song entitled “Batwannis Beek” by Warda El Jaza2iriyya (thanks to mom for the info). The lyrics of that song are sung to a traditional middle-eastern rhythm, but you may notice it sounds a bit off, a bit muffled. Welly well well, what’s being done here is truly innovative and deserves much applause. The “tiki-tak-tiki-tak” is muted electric guitar with a drumstick adding a “tok”, and the “dum, dum dum, dum dum dum dum” is bass guitar and bass drum. I’ll be damned if that’s not exactly what that is right there. Either way, very impressive I must hand it to them. The music picks up now with violin and proper drums. That riff that first appeared in the beginning makes a comeback. The guy tells of how the soldier is still seated in his place and is very pissed off and once again badmouths and patronizes him. The song is wrapped up with guitar, bass, and drums playing off, with piano adding a final note. The way it ended leaves me with a feeling of unfulfillment, like the guy eventually drove away this time, but the conflict is far from resolved, as it is not just between him and this one soldier, but between us all and the government officials who abuse their authority. However, I do feel fulfilled with the musical and lyrical directions, but once again unfulfilled, with the missing lyrics and stuff on the lyrics sheet.

 5- “Shim El Yasmine”: This one’s a bit controversial with me. It was probably their second most popular song following “Raksit Leila”. I’m going to ignore the previous version for now and take it in as if this was the first time I heard it, with no prior knowledge of any other versions of it. It’s very slow and mellow by the way. It starts out with some electric guitar harmonic thingies, which are then joined by bass. Hamed asks someone to smell the jasmines and taste the… um…”kharroub-tree-branch-extract”, aw fuck it, “dibs bi t7eeni”. Perhaps these particular sensory stimulating items are symbolic to him and someone else, and will remind that someone of him. He asks the person to remember to mention him, and begs him not to forget him. No explanations needed here, right? He’s addressing a male here. This is noteworthy. Either he is speaking through the voice of a female, or this is a reference to homosexuality, which they have made quite the comment on in their album artwork. Either way, it shows how the band’s all open-minded and stuff, so bravo. He continues by expressing his (or “his in the voice of a she”) love to this person. Now comes the part people recognized most in the old version:  the whistle tune. Hamed (could be anyone actually) whistles the tune accompanied by some gentle acoustic guitar in the background, then continues addressing this person telling him of how he had liked to keep him close, introduce him to his parents, have him “crown his heart” (a “be the apple of my eye” sort of expression). He continues, saying of how he would have liked to cook his food, clean his house, care for his kids, be his housewife. All of these actions symbolize non-gender-specific loyal servitude. A feminist would claim that here there is a degradation of women, “as if that is what a woman looks for when falling in love, someone to make her his bitch” they might proclaim. But actually, here, this subservient role is not forced on the speaker (Hamed), but he himself has chosen it, chosen to degrade himself, out of adoration for this person. Touching *sheds single tear*. But this is all stuff he would have liked to do; past-tense. Now back to reality, this person is in his house, and Hamed is in another. They used to be together in the same “house”, but now they live apart, either literally, emotionally, or socially (class, religion, etc…), and he wishes this person hadn’t left. Piano plays the whistle tune heard earlier and some cymbal hits can be heard building up. After the guitar plays a little solo, it lifts the entire song up with repetitive plucking and Hamed sings of how the jasmine will forget him, as in, when the person does what the speaker requested in the beginning, to smell the jasmine, it’s like he told the jasmine to remind the person of him whenever he smells it; relaying the memory across unspeakably long geographical and chronological distances. But now, the jasmine itself has forgotten about the speaker, forgotten to remind the person of him, in other words, the person forgot about the speaker (as plants lack speech…). By now, bass and snare have married with the cymbals to form: le drumbeat. Piano plays that whistle tune once again. Hamed finally asks of the person to smell the jasmine, but this time he is required to remember to forget about him. Like someone sarcastically saying “yes yes, you forget about me now, that’s right. Me who? Who am I anyway? I dunno, and you obviously don’t remember”. It ends with final notes from the piano and a fading out of the guitar. It’s a pretty nice track on its own, and very soulful too, but as mentioned before, I have something to compare it to; The old version or “myspace version”. It too was mellow, and started out with the whistle tune and made it the driving factor of the track, while here it was just an “extra thing”. It had constant ska-reggae-like guitar strumming, whereas this one took more of an “ambient” direction. It featured violin, whereas this one had zero violin in it. The piano is still fairly the same except for a few rearrangements here and there. Same goes for guitar and bass. This one’s more “natural” I suppose. Both talk about the same love story, but one sounds pure while the other sounds a bit more artificial. Now there’s nothing wrong at all with mixing it up a bit, and the end result is listenable, but in this case I vote for simplicity.

 6- “Im Bimbillila7”: I feel pretty neutral about this one. It’s not terrible, but at the same time not “OMG orgasmic!” Hamed sings “Im bimbilli la7 im billila7, 3ala im bmbillila7 im billila7, 3ala im bimbillila7 im billila7, 7alabou”. Ummm… ok? He repeats it a second time and you can hear some noise building up in the background. The piano comes in with “wooooosh”, you can hear the bass drum thumping, and the line is repeated once again. A drumbeat starts playing, but it sounds “exotic”, can’t put my finger on it (bass-snarebass-snare, with constant crash cymbal hits), as does the bass, and the line is yet again repeated. The drumbeat is toned down (with the replacement of crash with closed hi-hat). There is some more twisting of children’s songs as we heard in “3ubwa”. This time it’s “3ammi Bou Mas3oud”. As with “Tik Tik Tik Y’am Sleiman” in “3ubwa”, the song starts off normally: “3ammi bou Mas3oud, 3youno kbar w soud”, this Bou Mas3oud fellow has big black eyes. Are they… puppy-dog eyes? Why would he have that look on his face? Traditionally, the eye comment is tossed aside with the next line, which moves on to his eating habits (“byakol, ma byishba3, 3ammi Bou Mas3oud”. He eats but never feels full, my uncle Bou Mas3oud.) Now for the twisting: “la byakol la byishrab, 3ammi Bou Mas3oud.” He doesn’t eat, he doesn’t drink, my uncle Bou Mas3oud. Aha! So that’s why his eyes are all big and black-like; poverty! We learn more about him still. He endures harassment for his money, which he doesn’t have enough of to buy gas, and he beats his wife to feel like he has at least SOME power somewhere in his life. Violin enters, playing a tune, while Hamed demonstrates his vocal abilities with “yeaaaaahhhhhahhhhh” cries. The guitar plays a little bridge. Hi-hat’s open now by the way. Back to Bou Mas3oud: How is he supposed to live this way? He’d be better off moving to the UAE, but there’s no alcohol there (the use of the phrase “ma feesh”. Groundbreaking stuff.) So what did he do?: He bought a bus (he lied and exploited his faith to acquire it too), and the radio’s fucked up (all it gets is static). Piano joins in for a while, and there’s some tambourine action, though you can’t quite hear it. Following that, more of Hamed “yeaaahhhahhh”s and some final “Im bimbilli la7 im billila7, 3ala im bmbillila7 im billila7, 3ala im bimbillila7 im billila7, 7alabou”s, and some final violin scratches.

 7- “Latlit”: This is a good one. You can hear some kind of percussion going on. I recognize the drumstick sound, but I honestly have no idea what the rest is. It’s joined by the violin, bass (which could be synthesized here as well), and handclaps too. You can hear people muttering things in the background; gossiping (“latlit” means to throw words about people and things here and there). Hmed takes the voice of a gossiper who declares that if you’re walking down the corniche (the stretch of street overlooking the sea), he’s gonna gossip. If you (a lady) walk around in a short dress, he’s gonna gossip. If you’re a couple together (oh dear lord, have some restraint you two!), he’s gonna gossip. No matter what it is, if there’s potential to cause offense, he’s gonna gossip. Some cymbal hits are added to the symphony and the gossiper proclaims: “wlek ouf, bidde’ latlit!” (Dammit, I’m gonna gossip!). Everything goes silent, except for a droning noise, and some temporary chatter (the one heard since the beginning). The gossiper declares that if he’s standing on the street corner with the intent to harass passersby, there’ll be gossip (he’ll be doing it). If you’ve been deafened, and just can’t stand a fraction of a second more, he will persist, he’s still gonna gossip. A drumbeat starts building up until some effected-guitar sound plays alone. I love this next part.  It’s followed by the violin and bass’s return and some very excellent drumming (kudos Carl). There’s some tambourine in there too. The gossiper makes sure that everyone knows that he’s “gonna gossip gossip gossip gossip…” The song ends with that guitar noise playing again.

 8- “Khaleeha Zikra”: At first I wasn’ to keen on this one, but it has been growing on me lately. This would be one of the moodier tracks on this record. It opens with guitar harmonic-noise, which is then joined by some cymbal taps, and bass. There is another guitar strumming periodically on top of the harmonic noise. Hamed’s voice is treated with reverb here. A steady drumbeat starts playing. Hamed says he hears an echo coming from far away. He adds that after he left, he didn’t care anymore. He sings “khaleeha zikra”, keep it a memory. Violin joins in. The atmosphere is just haunting here. Lyrically, I believe the speaker has moved out of his homeland, Lebanon in this, after which he stopped caring for it and its goings on, yet he still hears about it, but only vaguely, through the foreign news for example. He feels like immigrating, alone. He’ll change his hair color, put on makeup, and hide his passport. He’s trying to ditch his identity. In the lyrics sheet, the “change my hair color” line is there, but after it comes the “hide my passport” line, and after that a line that does not occur in the song, which is “i7ro2 sherwali”, “burn my sherwal”. The sherwal is a traditional garment closely associated with Lebanese heritage, and him burning his sherwal is like the most direct way of saying “I don’t want to be Lebanese anymore”. Once again he repeats, “keep it a memory”, as in, keep his past homeland days, in the past… A very nice keyboard riff is played here; it’s the best bit in the entire song. He tries drinking coffee in order to “wake up”. He wishes to forget about all this nonsense of the motherland. He’ll learn Chinese, he’ll learn Argentinean, he’ll do whatever it takes to get away and experience something else, even if just for a mere second. (Fun fact #1: There is no such thing as Argentinean. The official language is Spanish) (Fun fact #2: In the lyrics sheet, it says “ar7onteeni” (نيرحنتيا) instead of “arjonteeni” (ارجنتيني)). I believe that either friends and relatives back home, or his home country itself speaks now, and it says: “Why bother listening to me? Why bother talking to me? When I’m calling you back, when you hear me suffering…” He ends with the line “khaleeha zikra”, and the violin plays on to the sound of cymbal taps and undistinguishable piano.

 9-“Raksit Leila”: Ah, the closing track, and ironically, the song that ends it all is the one that started it all for them way back when they were competing in the 96.2 FM Modern Music Contest (and won it). Yes, it’s “Raksit Leila”. I personally like how they left it till the end, as it shows that they’re not milking its popularity among fans by putting it right at the beginning or middle even. This is the second track that I have something to compare to, so I’ll be doing that later on. It opens with some lunch chatter, which is soon drowned out by that (in)famous acoustic guitar riff coupled with cymbal hits. Bass gets the song going and piano adds periodic notes in a ska-reggae manner. Violin enters, and it and the guitar join in playing the same riff, which is quite upbeat and Gypsy-ish. Hamed sings of how he feels he’s not focused on useful matters, instead distracted by petty things (if I understood right), and how he owes someone, or someone else owes him, two million dollars. See, right after he brought up the topic of distractions, he suddenly remembers that someone owes him some cash. He continues, asking for someone to sing to him about eggplants, or do anything but complain to him about how tired he is with the state of the country The violin plays the same part it did earlier. The verse is repeated. All fades aout and we’re back at the lunch table. Piano is heard and so are some percussion instruments. Hamed sings “7obbak zalam” (for some reason) and someone let’s out an “ay ay ay ay, rrrrrrrrrr” as the music is now in full Latin mode, with percussion by Khaled Yassine, and Hamed cries out with a “yeahhhhhhh”, though his voice sounds like some effect is applied to it. Violin joins and Hamed unleashes masterful “ya leil”s and “ya 3ein”s. Then comes a whistle solo, followed by the return of the violin. It ends with Hamed repeating the phrase “mish nef3a dekhil il madraben”. I seriously have no idea what the message trying to be conveyed in the lyrics from “il wade3” up till “madraben” is…. So yeah that’s the song. Compared to the old one? This one started off with whole lunch chatter thing, and though it’s not that big a factor in the beginning, it does reappear in the middle, whereas in the old one there was a part where the music would stop and piano would build up back into it. After the acoustic guitar and cymbal intro, it was the bass that heralded in the whole thing, while in the old version it was the more prominent guitar. When the violin is first heard, it is playing its part with the guitar playing the same riff, while in the old version, it is playing it solo, and frankly I prefer it solo. There are Latin percussion instruments utilized here and an “ay ay ay ay, arrrrrrr” to match it, while in the old version there was a zalghouta and only minor percussion. I like the new percussion, but the zalghouta, it’s not the first thing that comes to mind, and I like to think that they just spontaneously came up with it and decided to go with it, just having fun . The juxtaposition of that with everything else is wonderful. That is all… This version is good and all, but it comes a little short here and there, but overall it has the same spirit, so yeah, approved.

 -Bonus Track: Following “Raksit Leila” (in the same track I mean), Hamed says “Shou? Leh?”. Wait a while… Then it starts. It is a classical version of “Raksit Leila. There’s synth strings, bass, and it is mainly piano driven, with music-box sounds too. Keep listening after it’s done… There is another classical music piece, with synth strings, keyboard, and synth timpani. I think Carl is responsible for this. It first appeared here: http://mashrou3leila.blogspot.com/2009/09/souk-el-ahad.html

 Well, this was it. They delivered, they surprised (in both good and bad ways), and the end-result did not disappoint. The production and studio-work is very satisfactory and the diversity of instruments and styles is evident. The artwork is very good, but the lyrics sheet is riddled with inaccuracies and misspellings.

Hopefully, this has gotten us familiar with their studio sound and we won’t find ourselves taken off guard by new concepts we were not used to associating with them when the next album comes around.

Oh and one last thing: I do very much hope the old myspace tracks aren’t just left there to taunt us and are someday made available (Bonus disc given away at shows? Put up for download?)

Mashrou3 Leila Artist Analysis: https://feelnotes.wordpress.com/2009/09/29/artist-analysis-mashrou3-leila/

Show Review: Mashrou3 Leila – Album Release Concert @ Demco Steel (December 19, 2009)

Mashrou3 Leila have been working on their album for a long time now, but after many hours of labor, they were ready to release their debut album on the long awaited date of December the 19th.

 The venue was an odd one; typical Leila. Naturally, they were expecting quite the turnout, as it has been steadily rising from one show to another. So where is an insanely popular Arabic-pop-rock band supposed to fit 1000+ fans; Demco Steel, an industrial warehouse in the nether-regions of the city of course!

 The event was being sponsored by several companies such as 961 Beer and DHL among others, and Ziad Nawfal was to DJ before and after the concert.

 I was accompanied by a friend, whom I owe the entire night to, for if it wasn’t for her, we wouldn’t have found the elusive location and gotten there and back. So thank you for the swell time, Sisi.

 This is my first time ever seeing them live.

 -Before the Show: As previously mentioned, the show was being held at the Demco Steel warehouse located in Bourj Hammoud. Upon arrival (8:45-ish), we were met with a fairly long line. At that moment I knew that this was a big deal. After paying the very reasonable entrance fee of 20,000 L.L, which includes a CD, I was stamped with a lovely owl design and headed straight ahead.

 The warehouse was not as I expected it to be. I was expecting a tin can, while in reality it was quite the spacious setting. Noteworthy is how it wasn’t decorated and propped up (except for some colored lights), but left as is, delivering a raw sense of grittiness and… “undergroundiness”. Early arrivals were scattered here and there, chatting, mingling, and drinking. Ziad had started DJing a couple of minutes prior. 9:00 PM, the DJ set was expected to last about an hour, so we had time to kill.

 Familiar faces were present, some I hadn’t seen in months, such as Joumana Medlej, creator (writer-artist) of “Malaak”, a local graphic novel/ comic book that I highly recommend, Nando Borges, photographer and main character of the internet-video series “Flying Kebab”, which features Mashrou3 Leila in several episodes, and Bane Fakih, one half of the still-in-progress Arabic-pop-rock group, ShaBa, and ardent Leila-devotee. Not to mention Hamed Sinno and Haig Papazian themselves, both of whom were sporting some very fancy traditional attire.

 It must have been about an hour, and still no Leila. Ziad was playing some pretty good tunes, but it was stuff I wasn’t THAT into. I did particularly feel overjoyed when he played “What’s the Altitude” by Cut Chemist and “Sure Shot” by Beastie Boys, but what the entire crowd really wanted was the band to go on.

 10:15 PM, after anxiety had reached critical mass, my lower back had atrophied into a fine dust, and my friend lost the feeling in her feet, the band went on!

-The Show: So this is it, my first time seeing this band that has more buzz around it than a beehive. The crowd had really gotten big. They opened with a piece I was familiar with that features a tape recorder playing some speech which is sped up by Hamed into the microphone. Turns out it’s called “Min Al 6aboor”, but it might have been a different version than the one on the CD, because I recall some parts in my head that I can’t find in the album track (I know I didn’t imagine that jazzy-rockabilly climax). Each member was very good at whatever he/she was doing, no fumbles I could pick up on.

 After that I believe they played “3al 7jiz”, one of the songs that I was very looking forward to hearing in full as I was only partially familiar with it from snippets of online video. It was different than I imagined it in my head, but still rocked! Firas, being a percussionist as well, played a large drum for a while in the song.

 Now, I don’t really remember the correct order, but here are the events that followed: They played “Fasateen” and Haig dedicated it to someone who knows who she is… They played “Im Billila7” with a homosexual fellow by the name of Alex bellydancing to the music. I certainly wasn’t expecting that. Carl performed some electronic music, on what exactly? I couldn’t really see. Synthesizer or a sampler perhaps? They played “Arous” and “Zotrine”, which featured Hamed singing through a megaphone and playing little… uh… finger-cymbals? Both of these songs were not featured on the album, so I’m glad I heard them live at least. They played “Shim El Yasmine”, a new version actually. It’s more ambient and moody and has Firas playing acoustic guitar. They played something here I can’t quite recall, then after it came “3ubwa”.

 Unfortunately, due to certain circumstances (having to be out of there by a certain agreed-upon time, and my respect for that decision), me and my friend had to leave just as “3ubwa” was playing. I reckoned they would have been done after just two or three more songs, including the crowd-pleasing “Raksit Leila”, so I found satisfaction in being there for the majority of the songs. So for the first time in the history of this blog, there will be no “After the Show” segment *gasp!*.

 But here’s the after-thoughts thing I usually wrap up with:

Did they live up to all the buzz and hype? Yes, indeed they did! They were all very skilled and very energetic, but much noteworthy is Carl Gerges’ drumming, which is some of the best I’ve ever heard live. The location was great aesthetically and functionally. Sound and lights were very good. It was all very well organized, except for the devastating incident of the band’s tardiness which is actually the main reason why we had to leave early (reasoning that if they started on time, they would have finished on time). The turnout was insane. People are claiming this is the largest audience an underground act has ever gathered. They actually ran out of CDs (they sold every single one), so for all of you who didn’t get one, look for it on record store shelves December 23rd (do me a favor: buy it from La CD-Theque. JUST. DO. IT). Oh and, they announced that a video for “Raksit Leila” will be released soon and that they had fun making it with Yelostudio.

 -Mashrou3 Leila artist analysis for all you need to know: https://feelnotes.wordpress.com/2009/09/29/artist-analysis-mashrou3-leila/

-Photos:

*Personal: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=363037&id=842365214&saved

*Courtesy of Tanya Traboulsi: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=131133&id=131783523805&ref=mf

Show Review: The Crate Sessions: Zeid Hamdan – Live @ Walimat Wardeh (August 25, 2009)

-Before the Show:  This was the first of a still ongoing series of performances referred to as “The Crate Sessions”. The Crate Sessions is the brainchild of Serge Yared of The Incompetents, who also DJs at the restaurant/ pub, Walimat Wardeh, located on Makdessi Street (next to the Marble Tower building), Hamra. The idea is that, every Tuesday at Walimat, an artist will come and perform, but he/she must use an amp provided to him/her. That amp is a Crate CA15. The point of all of this is to see what happens when different artists are forced to perform under the same conditions, with the same method of amplification. Zeid Hamdan (Shift Z) of SoapKills and The New Government fame kicked off the series.

 This was the second musical event I ever attend, so I brought some friends along, who also accompanied me on my first ever expedition into the underground, The Incompetents at Daraj El Fann. We got there early. I like getting to these kinds of things early. You get to soak up the atmosphere of the venue before the show, as opposed to just arriving and diving head first into the situation. It was my first time ever there and I knew that it was somewhat of a hotspot for musicians and artists and such; A very “alternative” place. So, I brought some CDs along with a marker, just in case. ( :3 )

 We were greeted by Serge, behind the bar/ DJ workplace located near the door. I had made reservations, so we got a table and ordered some food (to my friends’ dismay). While sitting at the table, I spied a familiar face. It was Hamed Sinno of Mashrou3 Leila. I’m a big fan of Leila. I had taken this into account, and as luck would have it, I had brought along the “96.2 FM Modern Music Contest” CD, which is the only CD that features their material available for purchase (for now). I greeted him, and learned that Ibrahim Badr, bassist of Mashrou3 Leila was with him also. A quick chat about how recording is going, the Leka@Eka3 tour (who the rest of the band were on abroad), and the amusing fact that the most prestigious Deir El Qamar Festival people uploaded a video of Mashrou3 Leila performing “3al 7ajeez” on their Youtube account with the title “3akrout song”, followed by a signature and friendly handshake, and with that, we parted ways.

 More waiting followed, but then Zeid had finally arrived. I greeted him, got “Party Animals” signed, and he proceeded to start his performance.

 -The Show: Serge had told me that Zeid would not be performing alone, but with Hiba El Mansouri and RGB. Prior to that night I had never heard of Hiba, and had only known RGB by name. Zeid kicked off his performance, using Serge’s acoustic guitar, playing some of his own personal material and some New Government material, which included “The New Government” and “Murder In Slow Motion”. Hiba El Mansouri then joined him in performing some of her own songs, “Lola” was among those, and some SoapKills material, “Aranis” was played. Finally, the crowd was in for some acoustic hip hop, as Zeid was joined by RGB. They performed some of RGB’s songs such as “Ma3na L’Rap” and “Awwast El Sherif”.

 -After the Show: It was a good performance overall, very informative as well, because between some songs Zeid would give a little note, a tidbit, a piece of history behind that song. He said how Aranis was inspired by the activity of a certain street. How Zeid first discovered RGB  and his fomer group, Kita3 Beirut, beatboxing in a tree.

 I went back to the table. Oh, did I mention that my friends didn’t even bother getting up? They were too preoccupied with Bullshit. Yes, that’s right, they had been playing a card game called Bullshit, claiming that they could see and hear just fine from where they were. Brief personal remark here, but a live performance is all about seeing. If you’re not eager to get a good spot, or focus on the performer, just pop a CD into the stereo at home…

 So I got up to do some socialization. I spoke to Zeid again, and met RGB for the first time. I spotted Ziad Nawfal as well, but he had to leave. I went back to the table and joined in the card game my friends were playing (I learned it on the spot and sucked at it, like I do with many other games).

 And so, we departed. I had seen Zeid Hamdan, one of Beirut’s most well known alternative musicians perform, and was introduced for the first time to Hiba El Mansouri, and RGB. Walimat is alright in my book.

For information on past and future performances as part of The Crate Sessions, check this group: http://www.facebook.com/home.php#/group.php?gid=118734329783&ref=ts

For information on the restaurant Walimat Wardeh, birthplace and host of The Crate Sessions, check this group: http://www.facebook.com/home.php#/group.php?gid=2458771491&ref=ts

Artist Analysis: Mashrou3 Leila

Photo by: Tanya Traboulsi. Logo by: Hamed Sinno(?)

-Name: Mashrou3 Leila (Arabic for: A Night’s Project, Leila’s Project, Project Leila, or Project Night)

 -Members: Hamed Sinno, Haig Papazian, Firas Abou Fakher, Andre Chedid, Ibrahim Badr, Omaya Malaeb, Carl Gerges

 -Genre: Pop-Rock

 -Years Active: 2007- Present

 -History: I am not so deeply informed on Leila’s history as I am on some other artists, so here is all I know.

In Februray of 2007, Haig Papazian, who plays violin and Omaya Malaeb, who plays keyboards, were looking to jam with other musicians, and thusly posted an open-invitation to do so in the Department of Architecture and Design of the American University of Beirut. 12 to 13 people answered the call, 7 remained, the rest is history. After many nighttime jam sessions, Mashrou3 Leila took shape with the line-up consisting of Firas Abou Fakher and Andre Chedid on guitar, Ibrahim Badr on bass, Carl Gerges on drums, Omaya Malaeb on keyboard, Haig Papazian on violin, and Hamed Sinno on vocals.

 They played many shows from that point, their popularity steadily growing with time, as well as their fan base.

 They participated in 96.2 FM’s “Modern Music Contest” with their song “Raksit Leila”. They and the other finalists played a show at The Basement which won them the contest. What they won was the chance to release an album through Incognito.

 They went on to play many shows afterwards including the Peter F. Dorman AUB Presidential Inauguration: Student Celebratory Concert, Fete de la Musique 2009, and the Deir el Qamar Festival.

 They were one of three bands selected by Eka3 to go on the “Leka@Eka3” tour in Beirut, Cairo, and Amman, along with Resalla, an Egyptian band, and pianist/vocalist Aziz Maraka and his band Razz, from Amman. This included workshops where members from all three groups would jam together, and the results of these sessions were presented live.

 After the Leka@Eka3 tour, they returned to Beirut to finish recording their debut album, playing some shows from time to time.

On December 19, 2009, they released their self-titled debut album in an event held at the Demco Steel warehouse in Bourj Hammoud which had a massive turnout and proved to be a great financial success.

They shot a video for their fan-favorite “Raksit Leila”.

They are currently in hibernation prepping themselves up for a busy summer that will kick off on July 8 in Byblos.

 -Sound: Mashrou3 Leila have quite the fresh sound. It is rock, with pop tendencies, with elements of classical, jazz, and gypsy music, the latter due mainly to the strong prominence of the violin in their sound.

 The traditional rock instruments, guitar, bass, and drums are present, while violin and keyboard (a synthesizer that is used to mimic piano and not other instruments) bring a sophisticated element to the music.  They have adapted these “foreign” instruments to their sound, and they do not limit them to their original genres, letting the violin for example only play tunes reminiscent of classical music, no, they take the instruments to wherever the song needs them to go.

In their debut album however, they appear to be taking a more “ominous” direction with some tracks through the use of synth and guitar noises (static, beeps, drones, etc…) and vocal effects.

One of the first things you would likely notice about this band is that their lyrics are in Arabic. There are not many groups who would do such a thing, so I applaud them on this. But it’s not enough just to sing in Arabic to get my approval. Their lyrics are thought provoking, and reflect on often controversial social topics, also featuring clever wordplay, for example this line from the song “3ubwa”: “Tic tic tic y’am Sleiman. Tic tic tic tic boom”. This innocent children’s song was transformed into a witty remark on terrorism and warfare in general (the “tic”s are those of a bomb, leading to it’s inevitable “boom”). The song “Arous” for example is either sung from the female perspective (something I myself have only seen Beck do, although I’m sure countless others have done this before) breaking gender barriers, or indeed sung from the male perspective, hinting towards the topic of homosexuality. Another song “3al Hajez” features Arabic swear words in its lyrics, making a bold statement on freedom of speech and censorship. The song talks about being unjustly held over at a checkpoint and abused.

Hamed has a very powerful voice that he does not hesitate to explore. He sometimes whistles, makes noises, and scats too (skibbidi bo-skibbidi-bi-ba-boo!)

 -Links:

Myspace: http://www.myspace.com/mashrou3leila

 Facebook Page: http://www.facebook.com/home.php?ref=home#/group.php?gid=6677629001&ref=ts

 Facebook Group: http://www.facebook.com/home.php?ref=home#/group.php?gid=6677629001&ref=ts

Blog:  http://mashrou3leila.blogspot.com/