Saturday, 28 November 2009

I once heard... About a tree of broken promises

It towers so high, people say it reaches an 8th heaven; a tree, bare and naked and rough with lanes and lanes of grooves etched into its dry bark by old man time. So many in fact that one could believe that they each represent the lifeline of each being on earth, at least, that is what is said. This tree holds no fruit, no leaves. Instead, it stretches out into hands that reach towards the sky, yearning for something to hold. A gypsy once told me he watched as a new branch sprouted out from the side of its trunk, and a hand slowly drew it up, up and up until it stopped, and by that point no one was able to see it for all the clouds that had masked its wooden appendage. But not all of its branches were high up in the heavens. Some branches hung low on the tree, close to the earth, close to us. And they held bones; wishbones that dangled desperately, distressed and desolate.

I poured the gypsy a drink of moonshine on that autumn evening, standing by the back wall of the tavern, and he told me what he had heard of this tree.
"It lies in a no-man's land somewhere and everywhere," he gushed, slurring slightly under the influence of badly fermented cheap gin. "A tree, like no other, striking fear, awe, and melancholy all together. An orchestra of muddled feelings that you cannot begin to comprehend...I have seen it once when I saw that hand-branch shoot up, from afar. And when I blinked, I could not see it anymore." His head bobbed left and right before tipping as he lowered his eyes and stared through my knees into the back of his mind where he conjured his images. "It's the Tree of Broken Promises..." he uttered silently, more serious and less grandiose in his expression. "All those hands, reaching towards the hope of a divine consummation of the promise made between two. The universe has ears, and it whispers your promise to this tree. Don't think no one hears. Do not make that mistake surioară. Do not make that mistake. Mother earth hears, Brother Wind hears, Sister moon hears. And all comes to the Tree of Broken Promises. I have heard that that's when a branch breaks through the bark and goes up. That must be why it does that, it waits for the promise. Waits. Reaching up, up, up...", and as he is saying this he raises his jar with the murky homebrew in steps with every "up" he utters.
"And what have you heard of the lower branches? Why do they hang low like that?" I slowly and quietly ask, curiosity gnawing at my insides, as I hold the bottle of booze towards him as an enticing bribe, and perhaps a shield.

"Ah, va. Yes. those branches. The tired fallen ones. The promises that cannot hold anymore. Where the tree gets its name. You see surioară, they reach and reach and reach..." (once again, pushing his jar up representatively with every "reach",) "till the branches dry up, and they start to shrink and bend and fold onto themselves. This is what I've heard surioară. They fall to the earth, hanging low on the tree, and grow a wishbone. This is the tragic fruit they bear. A dry, brittle fruit that with one hand, very much like a clap, has no outcome. When a promise breaks, the tree makes a wish. It wishes that the promise will be fulfilled someday. So it holds its wishbone close to us, uselessly waiting for someone to end its wait. It waits with its heavy promises. încă mai este în aşteptare..."

I once heard about this tree from a gypsy with a gold serpent earring. We shared a bottle of moonshine under an autumn moon, behind a tavern in the town Segarcea. He told me of the heavy heart this tree unwillingly held, and the weight that mankind wickedly lay on its branches, bending and breaking and drying it up. And of this tree, I do not wish to hear anymore, for fear my heart may unwillingly bend and break and dry up.

Monday, 16 November 2009

A Case of “the Deaf Leading the Blind”

I never was into Hip Hop. I started a “flower child”, so to speak, raised in a household that revered idols like Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, Cat Stevens, Don McLean, Janis Joplin, James Taylor, and the list goes on. My parents took me to a Pink Floyd concert when I was 3 (well, they had to since they couldn’t afford a babysitter in London at the time, but I’m not complaining). Perhaps it was since those days that music began to seep into my blood, and over the years, into my soul. As any audiophile, I went through my stages, at some point refusing what my parents listened to, at 13 writing Leonard Cohen off as an “oldie”, busy with my Nirvana, and my Greenday, and even Marilyn Manson. Slowly I moved up in the musical atmosphere, passing by the more studied Alternative and acoustic folks of lyrical expression, entering the Realms of Classical masters like Beethoven, Rachmaninov, Mozart, and then swerving left and right to go through neighbourhoods of Jazz and Blues,,appreciating Nina Simone years after I saw her live, being, once again, dragged to a concert in Lebanon, by my parents who unknowingly were creating a musical fiend.
I could go on and on about my travels with the bars and the notes and the crescendos and the melodies, but I’m trying to get to a point. I nearly forgot about that point.

The point is music in Lebanon. Underground music in Lebanon. The bands that are coming up under the surface, untainted by the mainstream stain, working slowly and surely and adequately on their sound. There are many of them. Like weeds, mushrooms, in the dark damp places of the country they strive, slowly building an army of sound armed with calibre.

The point is I never was into rap or hiphop. Ok, so I heard Eminem when I was 15 and happily sang along to “My Name Is..” and sure, I still like his first couple of albums, if only for nostalgia’s sake. Perhaps I’m more into old school sounds like Beastie Boys, and Jurassic 5, and Run DMC. But still, their air time on Karma Radio was very little.

I never was into rap or hip hop. Until I heard some freestylers in Sydney, playing with instruments, not a beat loop. And after pulling off a somewhat successful event at Zico House in July (Kharbish Bilsanak) I was introduced to one of the alleys of Lebanon’s Underground Music city. I heard many rappers, hip-hoppers... They all seemed good, but still, as I said before, I never was into rap or hip hop. So it was me trusting what little knowledge i had.

Until I heard Fareeq il Atrash.
That simple.
The rush of blood to my ears that I had felt watching those amazingly talented freestylers in Sydney was reiterated. The beat, the music, the lyrics (dare I say poetry? Yes. I dare) the performance, the overall choreography... Stunning.

I now knew what my ears wanted to hear. I knew the calibre I was craving for. Actually, calibre is a good word in this situation.

Fareeq il Atrash are different than the other Rappers/Hip Hop artists I’d heard. This is not to say the others are worse, but that at least for me, Fareeq il Atrash hit that high note. They demand a calibre (there’s that word again), a specific maturity of their audience. They too, like the Sydney peeps, played with instruments live. John Imad Nasr on bass, dealing out a bassline that resonates as a solid foundation for Ghassan Khayyat (aka Goo) with his masterful guitar improvs and welcome interruptions, Fayez Zouhairy (aka Fz) with his beat making machine mouth, Nasser Al Shorbaji (aka Chino) with his bi lingual flow and dramatic presence, and of course Edouard Abbas (aka L’Edd) with his deep timbre and words that I’d like to coin as urban poetry.
Together, these famous five are able to pull a performance that the appreciating ear is more than happy to experience over and over and over again. A performance of calibre, that requires a maturity.
A far cry from the type of loud rappers that yell and shout and scream their, albeit, valid messages that yes, are usually written well, the voice used from the Atrash’s body, is smooth, mellow, and shrewd. Their messages are subtle, not literally stated, and range from social, to political situations, to loves and people worth remembering. The “deaf” portray what many are blind to, and they are genuine in doing so. Their street “voice” also makes it obvious that being cultured and worldly doesn’t negate street “cred” or devalue their concerns within the social folds of the country. Their first EP is even strewn with musical “intermissions”, or ”2atshe’t” that feature a beat that sounds like it’s being played on a muted drum set (I think thats the best way of describing it) and even a taxi driver reciting a couple of lines of ‘zajal’, recorded on L’Edd’s phone during his ride.

My point is, i never was into rap and hip hop. My honest point is that Fareeq il Atrash have shot over this definition into a medley of studied musical styles, playful experiments of sound and production, pages of urban poetry that brings a smile to your face when you hear something you haven’t heard that last 20 times you played the track, and of course a down to earth demeanor that make them accessible to so many different types of people, as well as makes me grateful for knowing them.

Perhaps you think I’m easy to give praise, and although I could write more and more details on why I’ve done so, I think they can convince you themselves. Music is worth a thousand reviews.

Follow the “deaf” and hear them for yourself.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Pissing in the wind

"Yea, I got it. I understand your type now. I know exactly why someone like me interests you, but only till I don't.
It's because you're drawn to fuck ups. I'm not a fuck up. I won't make it too difficult. I won't light your kitchen on fire, or break down at the drop of a pin, or step on your charming advances to reach the next in line but pull a ball of yarn along to keep you at my tail.
I won't give you a run for your loving.

You're drawn to a fuck up. Until you aren't. And then you're drawn to another fuck up. Until you aren't. And so on, so forth.

It's that simple. You love the fuck ups. The problem with that, is sooner or later, the title is transfered. You become the fuck up.
And a lonely one at that.

And that's just the saddest thing I could think of happening to you.
It really really is."