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

This image is property of Tanya Traboulsi.

“Untitled Tracks: On Alternative Music in Beirut”.

Photographs by Tanya Traboulsi.

Edited by Ziad Nawfal and Ghalya Saadawi.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Show Review: “Untitled Tracks” Book Launch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 More transitional music followed… Still thirsty.

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

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

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

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




Check out Tanya’s work here:

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

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

Visual by Youmna Saba

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

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

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

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

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

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

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:



*Courtesy of Tanya Traboulsi:

Show Review: The Crate Sessions: Youmna Saba and Fadi Tabbal – Live @ Walimat Wardeh (September 1, 2009)

-Before the Show:  This was my second “Crate Session”, and set to perform that night were Youmna Saba and her partner in crime Fadi Tabbal. I was a bit reluctant about this one. I am not a big fan of Youmna’s. I haven’t listened to her debut album “Min Aafsh El Beit”, but from what I’ve found here and there on the web, I didn’t fall in love with her songs the minute I heard them, but I’m planning to take a closer look at her album in the future. Although, I am very attracted to the fact that Fadi Tabbal of The Incompetents plays a big part in her sound. There’s variety in instrumentation, which I like very much. The man is truly talented, full-stop. Nonetheless, I decided that going would be fun, so I did.

I intended on bringing the same three friends I had brought along the week before. However, we did not plan it as thoroughly as the previous time, so I just very hastily specified some details and I was off. But before I left, while I was on the net, the hip hop band Fareeq el Utrush announced that they had a show at a place called Zico House coming up that Saturday. Keep that in mind for later on.

 So I met up with one of my friends in front of his house, in Hamra, all three of them live near that area, but I don’t. We go over to Walimat Wardeh where outside I see Ziad Nawfal. The reason I need to talk to him is because I was hoping for somekind of meeting similar to the one I had with his brother, Jawad (Munma). That notion would be obsolete in the near future. So I told him about it and he said we could arrange it someday. Also hanging out with him was Serge Yared’s sister, Nathalie, who actually recognized me as “The One and Only Incompetents Fan”. Upon ending that brief chat, we entered the building. Once again greeted by Serge, we had no reservations this time, so we just snagged a table, but things would not be that easy.

 On that night, I was introduced to Walimat’s seating policy, which is actually quite fair and logical, I’m not complaining at all. If there is an empty table, one with reservations has more right to sit at it than one who doesn’t. If one who doesn’t wishes to sit at it, one must order some food. I won’t lie, but the food is pretty expensive. A can of coke costs four-times what it costs in most of the Hamra area. But I have my own strategy. One plate of tabbouleh is enough to qualify me as a “diner”. I would have not even bothered sitting if it wasn’t for my friend, but this is beside the point. So we each order a plat of tabbouleh and we’re good.

 Some time passes, and Youmna shows up. We are informed that Fadi will not be playing with her due to technical difficulties. Youmna was still performing though, so it was alright. She grabbed her acoustic guitar and kicked off the performance.

 -The Show: If I may divert from the topic, since a crucial event occurred mid-show. The performance had started and I was standing around the corner where Youmna was performing, while my friend was still determined on staying seated at the table. He wasn’t that eager to check her out, as I basically dragged him there, and myself I wasn’t even a huge fan of Youmna’s but still I was curious to see what she was all about. Then my other two friends arrive and they join my friend at the table as well. Our reluctantly ordered two plates of tabbouleh had still not arrived. After being asked to order, they decided to leave, and they had all the right to do so, after all, I didn’t tell them about this policy (which I didn’t really know about myself), and the artist was one they didn’t care about, and this whole night was poorly planned. If they were a bit more open-minded, they would have given the artist a chance, thus not needed to sit, since you don’t sit at a table in the back when you go for the show, and all of this could have been avoided. Don’t worry, we didn’t fight or anything, it’s just a social experience that occurred with me on that night that I thought was worth mentioning.

Now for the actual show, Fadi, who as I had stated earlier, was unable to perform due to technical difficulties, placed a recorder I think in front of the Crate amp, so you might hear clips from that night some day, or maybe he’ll just keep them for himself and Youmna, or maybe that wasn’t a recorder, it looked like one though. Recalling the set-list is tough, one because, I am not too familiar with her songs to begin with, two because, there were songs from her debut album, songs from her upcoming album, and a Sabah cover I think, but I remember there was “Fa La Tehremni” which I recall from her myspace because the instrument it’s played with sounded nice. There was one song called “Lal Heetan” I believe. Other than that, it’s all a blur…

 -After the Show: So that was it. I had attended the second ever Crate Session. It wasn’t as impressive as the first, but that’s mainly due to two things. One, I didn’t really see the whole “forcing artists to perform out of their usual comfort zone” thing in this now that I had attended more than one show. It was basically just acoustic performances, nothing too radical. Two, because I wasn’t a fan of Youmna’s going with a certain purpose in mind. I was a neutral audience member who had even probabilities of liking or disliking the performance, and though there were several points that made me like it, and several that made me dislike it, in the end I was not getting the tunes stuck in my head like when I saw Zeid the prior week.

 I got the chance to speak to Fadi for a while. I asked about Mix Up Beyrouth which is a live project that consists of French musicians Rudolphe Burger (vocals, guitar), Julien Perraudeau (bass), and Frederic Nevchehirlian (vocals, guitar) teaming up with some of Beirut’s best, Fadi himself, Youmna, Abed Kobeissy (on the buzuk, also plays with Fadi in The Incompetents), Rayess Bek (previously of Aks’Ser), and Ziad Saad (Pop Will Save Us). He briefly explained it.

 Then I spotted Zeid. That made my night. I greeted him and his friend, who I later found out, was Ian Jay, brother of the double bass player, Miles Jay. So I asked what’s new if I recall correctly, and he said that he, Ian, and Miles would be playing three shows as a band called “Three Little Pigs”. I asked when and where, and he listed the venues, and one of them was Zico House, and the date of that gig was that Monday. This was incredible; two great shows in the same place. This would save me the trouble of scouting out the location twice. I intended on locating Zico House. I said my goodbyes, and was off…

 Listen to Youmna Saba yourself here:

If you like her music, become a fan here:

Find out more about The Crate Sessions here:

Find out more about Walimat Wardeh here:

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:

For information on the restaurant Walimat Wardeh, birthplace and host of The Crate Sessions, check this group: