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.

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