Show Review: Zeid & The Wings Live @ Basement (August 27, 2010)

 For a while, I didn’t know what Zeid & The Wings was. Look at past instances where they have been mentioned here: I would list elements I saw before me, not really picking up on the soul of it all. Well, I finally picked up the broadcast.

 Over the past couple of years, Zeid Hamdan had been hopping from one dimension to another (from an Arabic trip-hop duo (SoapKills) to an indie-pop trio (The New Government)) and playing different roles (from manning a plethora of machines and programs to wielding a humble guitar). Left and right the needle on the scale was fluctuating, until finally it settled, and equilibrium had been reached: this was when Zeid & The Wings was born. Zeid & The Wings are not a standard rock band, nor are they a band responsible for reproducing Hamdan’s self-produced studio material live. It is a fusion of his digital production with live accompaniment. This was the case when he worked with Hiba and RGB, but this isn’t anything like just playing guitar to a whole track, it’s more elaborate.

 Hamdan played the first prerecorded track on his laptop, consisting of drums, bass, and some ambient effects. The tracks for tonight were not the same as the studio versions. Different drumbeats could be heard, new percussion was added, among other alterations, and the female vocal section, Yasmeen Ayyashi, Gihan El Hage, and Sara Barraj joined in adding live percussion. The main role of the girls is of course to add backing vocals, and they do it well. You can tell they weren’t assembled for their ability as solo vocalists, but for their ability at performing together as a single entity in harmony with Hamdan himself… because that was the absolute result.

 Marc Codsi on guitar, Rita Okais on retro keyboards, and Bachir Saade on nay were each filling in the gaps in their own ways.

 Now some random comments:

-“Hkini” featured Hamdan playing some mouth harp in the intro. I too play a mouth harp. That was cool to see. Mouth harps are cool.

-It was nice to hear some new stuff, for example the song “Inspiration”, written by Hamdan out of a lack of… inspiration.

-“Rocket” sounded like happy-Portishead (at least to me it did).

-Whenever Hamdan performs, no matter who he joins, I think about how I don’t know anyone here but him who plays ska and dub… every single time, since the first time I saw him play almost a year ago.

 And they gave away a nice 4-track EP. By the way, lately if you want a band’s CD, you have to attend the release of it or a live gig, because there are seriously no more good record stores left.

 That was it overall: Good playing, good vocals, good arrangements, good band, and good show! Put this on the record: The best I have seen them yet!

 Which is precisely why it was too bad I had to leave in the middle of it…

Also, this was my first time in The Basement, and I feel it necessary to say: it has couches and a single long-ass table in the middle of the room with seats like some chillout coffee lounge, but it’s actually a nightclub with dance music and no dancefloor… oh well.

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:!/event.php?eid=102662206442747&ref=ts

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

Visual by Youmna Saba

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

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

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

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

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

 I noticed something I wasn’t happy with. On Halloween, the restaurant played host to a big costume party, and one of the things that I didn’t like was the “performance-area”. It was this room where tables and chairs would usually be found, but those were cleared out and replaced with a drum set, amplifiers, and other musical equipment. But the thing is, the room is open and everything, but only through a door and a huge gaping window thing. This: 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:

Read Jackson Allers’ article on the Crate Sessions (featuring an interview with Yared):




 *by Tanya Traboulsi:

The Road to Kfifan: The Return! (September 24, 2009)

This was the second incarnation of Road to Kfifan, which was due to take place September 19 in Sporting Club, but was delayed due to rain. Rayess Bek, who has not performed here quite the long time, was to make a spectacular comeback, but the weather made that impossible. It was still taking place in Sporting club, but to make up for his absence, three, not one, but three new acts were brought in. There was Ziad Nawfal, A.K.A DJ Panic, DJing, Serge Yared of The Incompetents and the pianist Vladimir Kurumilian performing reworked versions of Incompetents songs for guitar and piano, and the hip hop band, Fareeq el Atrash, who I was supposed to see at an event earlier that Monday which was also delayed by the rain, so I was glad I would be seeing them twice in one week. Though in the end, no amount of artists could replace Rayess Bek.

 -Before the Show: The weather was great, not a cloud in the sky. I did some socializing while Ziad Nawfal DJed. There were a lot of photographers and cameramen, the most I have ever seen at a show actually.

 -The Show: After a while, Serge Yared and Vladimir Kurumilian took to the stage. They played versions of Incompetents songs reworked for guitar and piano. They played some songs from “More Songs from the Victorious City” and also a couple new ones. Ziad Nawfal was there to do his spoken word bit himself this time for “The Damned Don’t Cry”. One song that stood out was “Monster Song” which I was seeing live for the first time. It was played on guitar, piano, and a toy piano with a crappy little microphone, so that was something unexpected.

 More DJing by Ziad followed. Later on, it was time for the Baalbak Project or Mashrou3 Baalbak to go on which is a group consisting of Zeid Hamdan, Hiba El Mansouri, RGB, and Miles Jay. Miles Jay could not make it, since he had prior plans to play with another mashrou3. Mashrou3 Leila, in Saida. So Zeid and Hiba took the stage at performed their own songs, no SoapKills covers. Zeid was operating his machines and playing guitar. As I mentioned, there was many a cameraman and photographer. People were mostly watching from a distance. After that, RGB joined in but before he started performing, he called for people to gather in front of the stage, and so they did, that little area soon became quite crowded, and I swear, it stayed that way till I left. RGB needs an active audience. He performed two of his songs with Zeid, “Ma3na L’Rap” and “Awwast Il Sherif”. Beats were played on the laptop while Zeid played guitar along to them. Hiba joined on “Awwast Il Sherif”. The special thing about this performance was that the first time I heard these songs live they were played acoustic (Crate Sessions), then they were played electric, but just with guitar, bass, and drums (Three Little Pigs), and now this was electric with sound effects and everything. I heard these songs performed in ascending fidelity.

 DJ Panic gave us all an interlude while Katibe 5 prepped themselves. Katibe 5 was not one of the groups I wasn’t looking forward to seeing, but still I wanted to check them out. They were very energetic, I’ll give them that, but I didn’t really find that “hook”. The fact that they rapped to prerecorded tracks was a bit of a turn off for me.

 Ziad bridged the gap between them and the next act, Fareeq el Atrash. This show marked the debut/ return of their guitarist Ghassan Khayyat. The set they played was similar to that they played in Zico House, nothing new, though the presence of guitar this time around did mix things up a bit (in a good way). As usual, all the members were very energetic and lively, though Ghassan could have loosened up a little.

 -After the Show: That was it. There was Trash Inc., Underdolls, and Jade after that but was not interested in them. I said my goodbyes, knowing that I would see Fareeq el Atrash once again that Sunday, and made haste.



 *Other: Tanya Traboulsi:


*Personal: I have a video of Fareeq el Utrush that I will edit in when I get to upload it.

*Other:  Fareeq el Atrash:

Album Review: SoapKills – “Cheftak”

Today I am reviewing SoapKills’ second album to be released through Incognito, “Cheftak”. Released in 2002, it was one of the albums of the earlier days of the scene, and thus helped lead the way and helped shape the artists to come.

 -The Look: The front cover is a very visually appealing one. It is reminiscent of classic Arabic movie posters. It is an illustration actually, done on the computer. I know this for a fact because I’ve seen the photo that was used as source material. It does start looking unrealistic in some tiny areas, but as a complete piece of work, it is very well done.

 On the opposite side of this card, the credits and track list, written in gray, on top of white. One of the things that caught my eye was the very authentic-looking stamp that says “جديد”, which is Arabic for “new”, the word that sells. The thing is, it looks like it was hand-stamped, as you might be able to tell from its faded look, and very nostalgic of the past. It says “new”, in quite the antiquated fashion…

 The CD itself is just plain red, with the same album title logo as on the front but this time in white, along with a track list.

 Behind the CD, plain red with the album title in a slightly different font colored black with white outline/ shadow. I am a big fan of the red-black-white combo.

 The back cover is plain red, once again, with the track list, but in black on the right is the track list with the standard Latin alphabet track names, while in white a little to the left is one where the tracks are all written in Arabic. The Arabic word are written in their true forms as well as the rest of the, non-Arabic, track names and the results are Arabizations of English words that would baffle an Arabic reader. I find an appeal in this because I am a big fan of cross-lingual wordplay, writing English words in Arabic letters, popping an English letter into an Arabic word (رسPمد), I dunno, just being creative with letters. I find this a creative use of Arabic letters. Also, credits are printed once again.

 -The Sound: This record covers quite a lot of ground. It is not just an electronic album per se. There are acoustic guitar pieces, harmonica tunes, hip hoppy drums, hypnotic nay, etc… You’d have to be crazy not to label it “alternative”. Zeid Hamdan had outdone himself sound-wise and so did all who contributed. All songs are sung by Yasmine Hamdan in Arabic. The lyrics are well-written, catchy, and heartfelt. They always take me “there”, “there” being wherever they want me to go, whatever emotion I need to feel.

 No offense to Yasmine, and her breathtaking vocals, but I’d like to give the music here some extra attention because Zeid really outdid himself on this one.

 -“Aranis”: Starts out with an acoustic guitar tune while Yasmine sings of corn cobs, paint, and watermelons, both delivered in a soothing manner. It then breaks into this muffled mechanical sounding beat that gradually escalates in volume with Yasmine singing lyrics from the song “Koullondif” over it, later echoing as a drumbeat joins in. It ends with her going back to the first verse of the song, this time acapella, followed by the beat playing one last time before fading away. I like how the beat is all chopped up, composed of broken samples; great opener.

 – “Cheftak”: The title track of this album. It opens to a harmonica tune and minor percussion. Though it is joined by some occasional bass and the harmonica tune has an effect added to it. This segment does go on for a bit too long. It could have been shorter. Then, a completely different beat with drums and some synth sound I can’t put my finger on. The harmonica bit is reused but with some synth (vibraphone? music box?) additions. The second beat plays again, now with Yasmine singing the lyrics, the most memorable of which being the Arabic wordplay masterpiece: “sheftak 3a shifta, shiftak kashaftak”. The synth that was added to the harmonica bit earlier takes the stage once again, this time with this beat. Then an exquisite swap takes place. The drums of the second beat play but with the harmonica tune and they fit like a glove, plus some very sad organ additions appear while Yasmine sings the lyrics, exposing her significant other for his betrayal and lamenting on the situation. The atmosphere here to me is that of a soap opera (pun not intended). The music box synth makes one last appearance with the aforementioned drumbeat. This track has so many pieces that are interchanged with one another. It is very well crafted, and so are the lyrics.

 -“Tango”: This track is a reworking of the song “Tango El Amal” by Nour El Hoda. It starts out with a classic Arabic sample that fades in and out (LPF effect?); a staple of Zeid’s style. A mystical yet distinctly Middle Eastern atmosphere is created. Yasmine sings the original lyrics in formal Arabic, which makes them all that more poetic. While she delivers them, a string section sample plays in the background. As she finishes off that last line, a muffled voice can be heard which is then accompanied by another string sample. This is interrupted by a drumbeat, but it is not an ordinary drumbeat, as it is accompanied by a scratchy synth sound. The drums go silent for a second then burst back in more as an in-your-face-hip hop breakbeat! More of that classical Arabic sampling is utilized for extra percussion. The drums go all “drum n’bass” with the voice heard earlier reappearing with the string sample, then shifting back to breakbeat, then finishing off with just the string samples and the voice. This song is definitely a must hear for Zeid fans.

 -“Kazdoura”: A simply beautiful track where Yasmine really shines. It starts out with an acoustic guitar tune accompanied by a synth sound. Yasmine sings the lyrics so purely. She wants her lover to make her breakfast, but it’s far from a nagging command, and more like a playfully humble request that plays off the love between the two. These are requests, not commands. Requests that may or may not be satisfied, but are given with an air of relaxation, knowing with a certainty that they will be satisfied, not because of her loved one’s obligation to serve her, but because of love itself. These are two people who are truly aware of their love for one another. Before her craving for chick peas, hommus, she says to her lover that he looks cute. This isn’t an attempt at sweet talking him. She doesn’t say that expecting something in return, but simply, just blurts it out, out of overflowing passion. She requests for them to talk about each other’s dreams, him letting her sleep, letting her rest, and she professes her adoration for him. The acoustic guitar tune and synth that kicked off the song are played joined by a drumbeat that fades in and out. The beat plays, guitar, synth, and breakbeat. She wants him to feed her, she wants to be with him, in his house, on his bed, and wants him to hold her in his arms. The declaration of love is evident. Over the beat, her requests echo. Suddenly, a robot starts babbling some unintelligible electro language, which turns out to be Arabic. The beat is nice, but here Yasmine is the main attraction with her sensual delivery of the very honest, very passionate lyrics.

 -“Marcoslow”: This is an instrumental. It starts out with this tune played on a Middle Eastern string instrument whose name I am not sure of, accompanied by intermittent percussion samples. More percussion is layered on top, and bass joins in, then drums top the beat off. The drums then shift into a slightly different beat and a classic Arabic string sample plays. It echoes to classic Arabic movies, just like the album cover. The beat returns and the string samples are reintroduced but sliced up, and thus this piece ends. It’s nice but not too spectacular.

 -“Wadih”: This one starts out with a drumbeat and some synth bass interrupted by an occasional noise, reminiscent of that of an electric guitar, probably synthesized. Other noises also play, which is nice to hear, because noise is part of electronic music that I enjoy. As this beat with intermittent dissonance goes on, a string sample plays, and along with that Yasmine starts singing the lyrics. The drums shift a bit, but other than that the rest has already been heard previously in the song. Not really one of my favorites, though it does have some lyrics that stand out.

 -“Dub4me”: This instrumental speaks for itself. It starts out with this sound that I cannot quite specify, but it makes me feel like I’m being sucked into the music, and it ends with this harp melody. It loops several times, until the track’s beginning is heralded by one of Zeid’s classic Arabic samples. A drumbeat plays, with a flute/nay accompanying with a mesmerizing tune, all on top of a loop from that sample that laid right before the drumbeats ushered the track in. Call me crazy, but at this point, I am reminded of Beirut. The fantastic and elaborative nay playing with the constantly looping monotone of the Arabic strings is reminiscent of the contradiction of contradictory nature of Beirut life, the contradiction between the magnificent and the mundane. All of the aforementioned elements are gone now except for the drumbeat, and instead now there is guitar strumming, with muting, a bit like in ska or reggae, another staple of Zeid’s sound. They give me the feeling of some kind of “wrong”; action that is forced perhaps. One working a job he despises, or one having to break the law to make a living. Those are just examples, but this guitar tune brings the uglier aspects of the society to mind. After that, the sound heard at the very beginning of the song, the one that ends with a harp tune, is played, leading to the looping of the guitar part, this time along with the strings. After these two parts repeating one more time, the previous nay/ string part plays once again, this time with the guitar, then the guitar on it’s own (with drums and the overlooked bass that is), then with the strings joining in, and it all ends with that sound that sucked you in, spitting you back out with that harp tune as your last memory of that experience. I really like this piece. As I said, I feel the city of Beirut in this; another great Zeid-solo track. Apparently, this track was so good that the Lebanese Arabic rapper Rayess Bek wanted to use it for a song, and that song was “Choufou 7alone”. You might that the lyrics he added to the music influenced my interpretation of it, but I swear, I listened to the music sans lyrics. I talks about the hardships of Beirut life basically. The stratification, the injustice, the lack of alternative musical talent, etc… Nice!

 -“Rnbullshit”: The third instrumental on the record starts out with a chopped up percussion beat with synth scratch noises that is soon joined by a drumbeat. It plays around with that percussion sample it had looping in the beginning. The track takes a turn toward the electronic. Various synth sounds are utilized and so is the phaser effect, if I’m not mistaken. The percussion sample then comes back into play, along with the synth from the previous section. New beats are formed. It’s a tolerable track, but not really up there for me with “Cheftak”, “Kazdoura”, and “Tango”.

Overall, both Hamdans gave it their all!

The Road to Kfifan, is a Wet One…

No actual concert-going occurred on that night, but some other interesting stuff did.

 -Backstory: I heard about this event around the time school was starting, but I was lucky that the very day this was going on was a Saturday, and it was the Saturday before a big vacation for Eid, so it was all free for the next couple of days! The main reason I wanted to attend this was because one of the pioneering artists of Lebanese rap, Rayess Bek, would be performing, and he hasn’t been here in a while, spending his days in Paris now. Plus, there would be Zeid Hamdan’s group, Hiba and The Baalbek Project (Mashrou3 Baalbak), which consists of himself, the vocalist Hiba El Mansouri, Arabic rapper RGB (who has taken the place of the vocalist Doshka), and the double bass player Miles Jay. Their performances are rare occurrences, so this would be well worth it. Other acts included Katibe 5, the three DJ team known as The Underdolls, Trash Inc., and the Basement nightclub DJ and founder, Jade. Tickets were 20 dollars which I thought was quite fair seeing as the proceeds would be going to the Offre Joie charity. Around this time, a film crew that were working on a documentary called “Yallah Underground”, about the steadily evolving contemporary Middle Eastern culture, mainly its music, were in Beirut for two weeks shooting footage. I had talked to the main man behind the project, Farid Eslam, earlier online, giving him a tip on this how, but to my surprise he already knew about it. They were quite prepared and had things all planned out, which was impressive. I was hoping to meet them that night.

 -The Unfolding: When it was announced that there would be a tent in case of the rain, I laughed and said “what rain?” I guess I should watch the news more often, because it did rain indeed. Saturday, September 19th, I showed up at Sporting Club, and found that there were not that many people, or actually no people, except for some of the musicians. Do I need a better reason to hang around? Even when they’re not performing, you can still have a good time with all of these people. And performing or not, Rayess Bek was there, and I had yet to meet him. So I decided on staying. I greeted those present: Rayess Bek, RGB, Zeid Hamdan, and Miles Jay. Katibe 5 were there too, though I did not pay them that much attention.

 Some casual small talk followed, with the occasional joke or two. I ate sheesh tawouk; the caterers they had hired were still there and the food was on the grill and they did not want it to go to waste, so all was invited to chow down. I talked to Rayess Bek for a while, but he was kind enough to sign my copies of both of his CDs first I had some things that I’d really liked to know more about, like: what happened to the old Aks’ser albums? His answer: out of print, unfortunately. Lebanese music history, lost forever. Some copies could still be collecting dust somewhere out there. Also, whatever happened to the product of his work with RZA for the PBS documentary “Dissonance and Harmony”? His answer: Financial issues. RZA’s producer wanted a lot of dough for them to be able to release this one song. Finally, when is his album with the Rayess Bek Orchestra due? His answer: It’s being mixed. I saw a cameraman shooting video. He could only be shooting for one documentary on alternative music in the Middle East. I asked about “Yallah Underground” and he pointed me to Farid. I greeted him and exchanged the same comment as I did with everyone else I had encountered: “Sucks huh? What luck!”, but as Zeid said later on: “No, we suck!”

 So after a while, the Yallah Underground crew which consisted of Farid and three other people wanted to conduct an interview with Rayess Bek, so they did it right then and there, with him standing in front of the Raouche rock with the occasional lightning adding a special touch to the shot.

 In the meantime I continued socializing, and Sporting Club’s bamboo ceiling did not hold that well, as mini waterfalls were gushing down, onto the floor, onto unsuspecting victims, such as my shoulder, one even onto the grill that the food was being cooked on. It was raining hard for a while, but then simmered down. Zeid said that everybody had to leave now, so we had to get out of the tent, but assured me that the event would take place once again when they could arrange for it, so I kept the ticket. The guys continued their interview with Rayess Bek and it was very nice seeing an interview with someone like that done live, right in front of you.

 After the interview, I was invited by the guys back to their hotel for coffee, which coincidentally was just a short distance away on foot. While we were heading out, I started doing one of the things that helped shape the identity of this very blog, and that was: yammering on and adding unnecessary details concerning a simple straightforward subject. This time it was on the fact that for me, even though there was no concert, I still had a great time hanging around with the artists, because they’re not just good musicians, they’re good people. Then Farid had an idea, and that was to interview me. Why? He’s nuts, the weather got to him… no seriously, as he said, it would represent the view of the young fans. I’m pretty young, and I’m a big fan!

 So we headed over to the hotel, settled down for a while, some of us dried off a little, had coffee, but I had a soda, and chatted about the scene in general and stuff.

 Laterish, I was outfitted with a wireless mic, and we headed out to a nearby street and started the impromptu interview. Questions and answers were made on the spot. There were some annoyances like one truck that we just couldn’t get out of our hair. It kept going up and down that street, God knows why, maybe it was transporting cargo from one end of the street to the other… After finishing up, I said my goodbyes, and we were schedueled to meet again that Monday in Ashrafieh for the International Day of Peace event that Fareeq el Atrash will play in.

 -Wrapping Up: With that ended an amazing night that could have been all the more amazing if the concert had taken place and Rayess Bek graced us with a long-anticipated performance. But it just goes to show that you can salvage any night if you have the right people around.

-Video promoting the event: