Show Review: Hamra Streets Festival – Maraya 2010 (Spetember 11 & 12, 2010)

The Hamra Streets Festival- Maraya 2010 was an eagerly anticipated three day event, especially the last two days, which featured a series of musical performances going on simultaneously on three different stages. So there were lots of choices and a lot of planning in advance; sort of like Fete de la Musique, except with fewer stages and all on one street. The lineup was not as you would expect however. The usual suspects (The Incompetents, Zeid and The Wings, Fareeq el Atrash, etc…) were included, but also some lesser known names, and some rarities which I liked to catch a glimpse of, regardless of how known they were. Let’s see what went down!

 ~The First Day~

Zeid and The Wings were up first, scheduled to commence at 4:00. The concert began three hours later than scheduled. I would say this was probably due to the fact that setting up the stages took longer than expected (since the streets were completely empty for the parade that took place the day prior). This was at the Starbucks stage.

 Meanwhile, at the Fransabank stage! *Batman swirl transition*: Ram6 was starting just on time. This was honestly the best I have seen him to date (note: I have only seen him perform a handful of times). He had two other rappers supporting him, which spiced things up a bit since he had someone to interact with onstage and stuff. The beats were nice and funky (produces them himself by the way), there was a healthy amount of crowd interaction throughout, and the people were into him too; well done sir!

 Back at the Starbucks stage! : It was 7:00, and Zeid and The Wings had just started playing their set (after sound checking on the spot). Honestly, they’ve given better shows; maybe because those were for better audiences. Zeid and The Wings were booked at 4:00, as “the starters”; the warm-up. Not too fierce and engaging, just light and danceable reggae-pop-rock. Their set is… set! No matter when or where it is played, it can’t be pumped up (though it could be softened, but the situation didn’t call for that). The music is not too flexible (since you can’t exactly alter a pre-recorded track right then and there to suit the atmosphere). That night, it was played for a restless crowd who had been waiting three hours for something, anything (people were watching the sound check… taking videos of it… the sound check). It wasn’t their fault that people didn’t get chills when “Sah el Nom” was played. That’s just the style, the non-negotiable style! Unfortunately, the circumstances under which it was presented were not as originally intended, thus diminishing its effect.

 Over at the Fransabank and Jack & Jones stages, things were presumably going according to schedule. Not that I was there; I was patiently waiting for The Incompetents to go on.

 And at the Starbucks stage: The Incompetents were sound checking, before playing their set. This was one of their best shows yet. There were new arrangements (every single song from their sole debut album was re-invented), a couple of new songs (or new covers, I dunno), and a lot of energy (energy and toys, don’t forget the toys). It’s funny to think how people who saw them for the first time that night left with the impression that “Bullets Gently Flying Over My Head” has always been an upbeat disco-y song.

 Following them, “JLP” broke musical barriers and put their careers on the line when they played acoustic covers of popular chart hits. Thus, I decided to just beat it beat it, just beat it beat it….

 I briefly returned to this very stage later on to see Smooth Acoustics, a band described as playing “acoustic covers of hip hop songs”, about to do an acoustic cover of Lady Gaga’s “Pokerface” *commits harakiri*. (Ok, maybe they played actual hip hop after I left, so I won’t judge… much).

 As previously mentioned, the schedule at the Starbuck stage was shifted three hours ahead. According to reliable sources (A.K.A people who were there), the artists had to shorten their sets in order to be able to squeeze everything in before 12:00, when it was agreed upon that the festivities would cease for the evening. That’s what happened on the ill-fated Starbucks stage at least. The Fransabank stage was ahead of schedule even, and I guess the Jack & Jones stage was fine as well. And thus I missed out on some acts I had been eager to see…

 

 ~The Next Day~

I had higher hopes for Sunday since the stages are all set-up from the day before, so all that had to be done was do sound checks in the morning and that’s it!

 First up on the Fransabank stage were Vahan and The Revolution of Ants. I think this should update you on previous issues I’ve had with them. One of the features of this group is the constantly shifting lineup. Today, they consisted of two percussionists, a vocalist, and Vahan Papazian himself on sitar, and later on, Armenian tar, electric guitar, and manning the synths. What I noticed here was that though they were still a loose flowing jam ensemble, they are gradually adopting slightly more structure, organization, and stability. For example, some of their pieces now have titles and even lyrics. They’re not exactly songs with verses and choruses, but lyrics are lyrics. An aspect that needs to be worked on is having better interaction between the live instrumentation and the playback. As is, the play button is hit, and the drums, bass, and extra effects start looping, everything else joins in, then at the end, everything stops and the play button is hit once again, ending the song. The loop doesn’t have to be a loop even; the drums and other elements could be gradually built up, silenced at points, just… produced! This could bring two advantages: The first, having a less monotonous sound, and the second: having a fixed length for each song, which is an inevitable fate. Even classical Indian ragas have fixed lengths! One of the songs called “You Turn Me Blue” was reminiscent of trip-hop a la SoapKills. In one song they were joined by Peter Jam on acoustic guitar, who sang with the group a song about peace and love. I liked the fact that the sitar wasn’t just swirling all over the place, but playing the melody along with the guitar. See, what did I tell you? Structure and stability! Finally, they were joined by Mohamad Hodeib of the band Wled el Balad. Papazian played a distorted metal riff on his electric guitar, while Hodeib sing-rapped his Arabic lyrics about aliens invading Beirut, backed by percussions and occasionally repeating onomatopoeic chants from the vocalist. The revolution is far from complete, but it’s making progress.

 On the Jack & Jones stage were Shake Well Before Use, a band who cover punk rock songs, with a couple of originals. Though they are a cover band, I was impressed with particular things about them. They played pure punk instead of the moregenerally acceptable pop-punk (Blink 182, The Offspring (although I love The Offspring, but they’ve been crappy these last couple of years), etc…); they did not compromise the genre and its spirit in order to appeal to the mainstream audience. Then there are some peculiarities such as their young ages, the vocalist being female, but not merely some girl plucked from the conservatoire solely for her voice, instead, a person who shares the overall attitude with the rest of the musicians and has the requirements of a punk vocalist (which aren’t too extravagant mind you), and the drummer does backing vocals too, which is also a rarity. If they ever reach a point where their set is 100% original, they could be the successors to the dead/dying genre that is Lebanese punk. Will Scrambled Eggs ever play “songs” again? Is Lazzy Lung’s pop-punk all we have left? Has any of you ever heard of Detox? (They’re terrible).

 7:00 PM, Starbucks stage: The band Wled el Balad was to play. I had only seen the aforementioned Hodeib perform an acoustic set with a percussionist before, but never the full band. At first, the crowd (95% of which really should have stayed home today and yesterday) were dubious of this odd dude with the dreadlocks and what he had to tell them, but as the band played their first couple Arabic rock (blues/ jazz/ reggae) songs, they warmed up to them. Walad are sort of like a simplified Mashrou3 Leila. The Arabic lyrics are witty and tackle unconventional topics, such as love, drugs, and other social issues young people would care to hear about, except the music is a bit less intricate and easier to digest; a fusion of genres not too drastic, which would be rock, blues, and a bit of jazz and reggae. I’m not implying that Walad’s style aims to satisfy less-demanding listeners with low musical expectations, but merely that it is not of the same degree of alternativeness as other acts categorized as “alternative”. By the end of the performance, the people craved more (oh NOW you want more… 45 minutes means 45 minutes, bitches) Though this was my first time seeing Walad, I’m sure this was a landmark performance that earned them that all essential public credibility.

 There was nothing worth seeing for about three hours… well Banana Cognacs were playing at the Starbucks stage at 11:00, but I had to head to the Jack and Jones stage to see:

 Munir Khauli, the man who gave birth to Arabic rock back in the mid-80s, A.K.A the man who’s style is probably engraved into your subconscious through the local media, since he’s responsible for several original TV show openings (for instance the first two “La Youmal” themes (before the current copyright infringing Akon rip-off) and product jingles (such as the X-Tra juice one). Anyway, he played his set of old school Lebanese comedy rock. Subject matter ranged from such pressing issues as commenting on the state of television these days to more whimsical ones such as the impact that his child’s name could have on his (if he names his child Tique, he shall have to live with being Bou Tique, etc…) (that was more of a comedy skit than a song though). I’ve only seen him once before, and I must admit that the previous time was more enjoyable. Munir did do much more narration and storytelling between songs than necessary, which majorly affected the length of the set (in musical content I mean).

 So that was it.

 One last point: The schedule was amorphous and ambiguous. No brochures were printed (if they were, I guess there were only 50 copies or something) and also, the organizers were trying to fit in as much acts as they could, adding new acts each day and shuffling slots. The schedule would be modified on a daily basis! Typically, there should be a point where they say “Ok, we have until this time to book artists, after that the schedule is not subject to alterations! Capiche?” But no. I should have mentioned this before, but Khauli was scheduled to be on the Fransabank stage, and all of a sudden he was playing on the stage at the exact opposite end of the street. This wasn’t all bad though. Walad were one of the late additions and people loved them; squeezing them in paid off. But for the future, I offer the same advice I did earlier to Vahan and The Revolution of Ants: structure, organization, stability!

 That’s it for the music, but overall it was a good project and I hope it becomes an annual tradition, though I personally find it essential to point out that Hamra is a pretty neat place with or without a 3 day festival in its honor. Going to school in the area, I literally grew up with it. I’ve seen graffiti sprayed onto empty walls and walls going blank once again. I’ve seen the metal barriers surrounding a construction site weekly layered with posters and leaflets for whatever someone felt the need to inform passersby of (concert, book release, private tutoring). I’ve seen the lifespan of a branch of La CD-Theque, from opening, to moving, and eventually closing. To experience Hamra is not to live in it, but merely to live with it and treat it not as a destination for shopping and eating, but as a place to learn (not necessarily in a school or university), make friends (not necessarily with people your own age), and draw inspiration (not necessarily from the same things that inspire everyone else). This festival was surly entertaining, but no amount of stands, concerts, jugglers, Capoeira dancers, or whatever could bring one close to truly grasping the essence of this dear street.

 Photographic Evidence!

Show Review: Fundraising Concert for Artists Vol.1: I-Voice @ Zico House (April 17, 2010)

Yaseen of the Palestinian-Lebanese rap duo I-Voice was accepted at the London University in Ontario, Canada to complete his studies in sound engineering. The visa was in the bag, but some cash was still required. So, since the scene here is so supportive, some friends and artists, led by Serge Yared, decided to pitch in and throw a fundraiser concert at Zico House. The lineup included: Zeid and the Wings (Zeid Hamdan’s latest project), I-Voice (themselves…), Malikah, OkyDoky, Double A the Preacherman, Ram6, and the most prestigious guest in my opinion, Rayess Bek.

 -Before the Show: I’d like to dedicate this segment of the review to Ghalas Charara, expecting a swift glasses-shattering punch to the face afterwards.

 They said it would start at 8:00 PM. Then to be ultra-specific, they said that it’s the DJing that would start at 8:00 PM, and the actual performances an hour later, 9:00 PM… on the dot? Doing this is like telling people: “If you don’t have anyone to mingle with, instead of showing up at 8:00 PM and wasting an hour staring at a wall, come at 9:00 PM, because that’s when the actual show starts”. Excuse me if I somehow misinterpreted this message.

 8:45-ish: Arrive at Zico House. Pay fee of 20,000 L.L, which isn’t that bad, since it is a fundraiser after all. Expecting an eager crowd that has been busy socializing/ mingling/ chatting/ dancing for an hour now, I found a slightly less dense crowd. Ok, so low turnout is a big deal in this case. I mean, every person (and his/ her money) counts. But it was delayed by about… an hour. I have a statement to make later concerning this. Throughout this hour, I made up for my lack of mingling and socializing with whoever I knew…

 A little debate was started on the infamous PirateBeirut, which is actually starting to dry up on material to upload for the moment (that’s right, beotch). Rayess Bek is definitely against. And also, I do not aim to promote it, only raise awareness of its despicable deeds.

 There was also a strong media presence. Yaseen himself was interviewed as well as Kinda Hassan of Eka3, who had a table of their CDs available for purchase set up outside.

 EVENTUALLY, the performances started.

 -The Show: I liked the space this time. Usually, Zico House has had a either stage set up or a table for the turntables and CDJ decks.This time however, nothing, just beautiful empty space. First up was Zeid and his new band, The Wings, which consisted of himself on lead guitar, Marc Codsi (of Lumi) on rhythm guitar, Bachir Saade on nay, flute, and bass clarinet, Yasmine Ayyashi and Gihan El Hage on backing vocals, and Rita Okais on keyboard. The drums and bass were provided by a CD being played on one of the CDJ decks. They started out with a song called “Hkini” which has a very “deserty”-type sound. That of course, coupled with Zeid’s electro-dub style. It was actually their only song in Arabic. Zeid’s voice melted together with the voices of Yasmine and Gihan. Bachir’s flute playing was kinda neat, because I don’t think I’ve seen flute playing live that many times. Rita added minimal tunes on the little keyboard before her. Marc just supported Zeid on guitar. Not Lumi, I still want to see them someday. Following it was a song called “Cowards”. This one was in fact written for one of his previous bands, 3arab. A very good ska-punk piece originally, now with a hint of electronica. They continued with a more political number called “General Suleyman”. Zeid wanted some audience participation. Yes, there were enough people for it to count as an “audience”. He asked for a clap-along and for them to yell “go home” in response to various undesirable things mentioned in the lyrics of the song (ex. All the militiamen, etc..) They did indeed participate… To wrap up, they played Zeid’s own song “Castles of Sand”, a song about broken dreams. Bachir was on the bass clarinet for this one, which was quite interesting. I’d like to note that there were some technical difficulties with a microphone at one point… Is there never anything that goes off without a hitch in this city? 😛

 Following them was the guest of honor, Rayess Bek, who is playing several shows this week in three different locations in Hamra. Tonight, he would not have with him his flutist Nayssam Jalal from his band the Rayess Bek Orchestra and his groovebox, instead, a CD of instrumentals. He opened his set with a blast from the past, “Am Behki Bil Soukout”, the title track from his debut album. It was nice, especially because it gave us something to compare what was about to come next to; Before/after. He continued with a new one: “La Min?” As I’ve said once before, the beats on the new album are some of Rayess Bek’s best work yet, and back to the live show, a very nice delivery as well. He continued with another new one, and a personal favorite of mine, which would be “Samm”. Again, very powerful delivery. Finally came “Schizophrenia”, another oldie, but not as old as “Am Behki Bil Soukout”. This one is a more emotional and intimate one. For a portion of it, he sat down on the floor, becoming level with some of the audience members, making his storytelling more personal. With that, he concluded his set… or did he? RGB grabbed a mic and began beatboxing while Rayess Bek rapped the lyrics to his song “Amercaineh”. That doesn’t happen daily; very neat. I was glad to finally see Rayess Bek rapping live, but wasn’t too thrilled about the fact that the music was pre-recorded. Good news though, you and I may see him and his full band, the Rayess Bek Orchestra perform live for the official physical release of his album, on June 6th.

 Afterwards was someone I had wanted to see but had never got the chance before. It was electronic musician Faysal Bibi, who performs under the alias, OkyDoky. I wanted to see him because I heard some of his work on the CD distributed at 7keeleh Vol.1, and thought it was pretty remarkable. I was also curious to see how the “pros” did electronic music. His setup consisted of a laptop, a program running on it, and to interact with that program, various MIDI controllers. He started out with a very techno-y bit. Noteworthy was his use of voice alteration software to “robotize” his own voice (vocoder?) Following that was a piece that sounded like a fusion of drum n’bass and noise, and featured a memorable looped sample of a man yelling “shou ya’akho l’sharmouta?”. He wrapped up with a piece that sounded like “electronic death metal”, with distorted guitar samples and death growls and everything. The guy was very lively too. Overall, it was certainly something special and he’s been added to my list of “newcomers to the scene who are awesome”.

 I only managed to catch a bit of Ram6’s performance, but I had to leave because SOMEONE didn’t show up on time. By “someone” I mean “everyone”… well 70% of everyone.

 Let me tell you exactly what happened that night. It’s a phenomenon I will call “Confitardiness”. Confitardiness, a portmanteau   of the words “confidence” and “tardiness”, is when one is deliberately late, or tardy, with the knowledge, and confidence, in the fact that no activity whatsoever will go on while he/she is absent. Somehow, on this night, everyone got together before the show and agreed to display some confitardiness, by not arriving on time. Unfortunately, they usually get their way, but if I ever work on some musical project and have to do a live show, I will make them like bullets. You blink you miss it. It might be an utter crap performance, but by God, you would not have caught that utter crap of a performance from the start.

One time someone said concerning this issue: “Hey, it’s Lebanon”. Well… why can’t we take an initiative and change Lebanon for the best? Late-ic Pride! Go!

 -After the Show: I dunno what happened with the rest of the acts that were supposed to perform afterwards. The acts were diverse, the sound was good, but the time management could have been better, and that was a direct effect of low turnout for some inexplicable reason. Actually it is explicable: confitardiness.

 The whole thing made 3,509$ and hopefully the future fundraiser event to come will work out better.

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