arab music

update: i'm back from beirut and it gives me hope

Bliss Street, Beirut. 

Bliss Street, Beirut. 

Beirut, Beirut, Beirut... where do I begin?

I just got back from three amazing days in the Lebanese capital. It's been 8 years since my last visit. The last eight years have been disastrous for our region and it saddens me that the turmoil and destruction have kept me away from Lebanon for so long. Political instability and speculation about war have kept many of us from venturing around the region; a kind of ban on mobility and a barrier to exploring our history, culture and who we are as a people. Coming back to Lebanon brought back memories of summers there as a kid and premature partying as a teenager. It also made clear to me how disgusting the war in Syria really is.  My earliest memories of Lebanon have always been connected to a transit in Damascus - we often drove to Beirut from Amman through Syria - a kind of right of passage for any Levantine Arab. Syria connected us all by land, by history, by culture, by identity. 

Today, we fly over Syria to get to Beirut. The idea that I may never feel effortlessly connected to Lebanon in the way that I used to as a child makes me angry. And it makes me realize that the imperial drive to destroy the region is calculated - destroy the mobility, the connection - to drive animosity and difference. But in any case, seeing Lebanon once again made me feel hopeful. Beirut is relentless - it continues to be the home of art, culture and contemporary critique that we (as a people) always admired. 

I spent three nights in Beirut before Easter. On my second night, we danced till late to political songs of freedom and resistance. "I breathe freedom" - the lyrics of a Julia Butros song I still can't get out of my head. I almost cried that night while dancing and watching young Lebanese drink to the lyrics of resistance. It almost felt like we were no longer in 21st Century Middle East - we were transported back in time to the victories of the Civil War. My nostalgia was real. 

In any case, I am preparing a Beirut photojournal that I've yet to decide the title. I can't wait to share it with you all and show the beauty of Beirut that we haven't had the priviledge of seeing in a long time. 

xx 

Darah

exhibition review: habibi funk at d3

source: kickstarter

source: kickstarter

When I first heard of Habibi Funk a year or so ago, I was intrigued. I wanted to know everything behind the brilliant project that re-releases underground music from the Arab world. Luckily for Dubai residents like myself, you can now get an insider view of the project at East Wing Gallery. Habibi Funk is a label headed by Berlin-based DJ Jannis Stuertz who is on a mission to re-compile and release Arab music that never really had its time in the limelight.

I headed to East Wing last week to check out Habibi Funk's first exhibition which will be rolling out across the world this year. I spent a relatively long time going through the stories, photos, records, and old clippings absorbing the journey of Habibi Funk from its early days in Morrocco to where it is now, re-releasing priceless records from across the region. The exhibition was not only perfectly intimate but truly reminiscent of the beautiful time creatives had in the pan-Arab era. The exhibit includes underground music from Morocco, Algeria, Sudan and Egypt with interactive displays for sampling records and music videos. 

I know the word underground seems a bit too "westernized" to use in today's Arab cultural context but I feel the word is genuinely reflective of the era. Habibi Funk complies old records that is pretty much unheard of - music from 20th-century Arab bands that rarely made it to the timeless ranks of Umm Kulthom and Abdel Haleem. Basically, the underdogs of the Middle Eastern music scene of the last century, a real underground scene that doesn't apply to the alternative scene of today's Arab fusion. The exhibit made me wonder to what extent today's alternative scene is truly groundbreaking... 

In any case, I highly recommend the exhibition. I met Jannis on his last day in Dubai whilst wandering around the gallery, and I can only say that his passion is infectious and admirable. I asked Jannis how he managed to stay motivated while looking for remnants of the artists he was going after, seeing as it took him years of searching to find the music of Faddoul, a funk artist from 1980s Morocco inspired by the soulful sounds of James Brown. He told me that he never gave up on finding the story, especially since Arab communities are so interconnected, and he knew that eventually, he would find something. Jannis found the family house of Faddoul in Casablanca in 2014, where his three-year search had simultaneously ended the search for Faddoul and began the journey of Habibi Funk. 

With the noise of the Art Season in Dubai this month, Habibi Funk was a breath of fresh air. I especially enjoyed the interactive aspects of the exhibition which is sometimes difficult to find in the premature landscape of arts and culture in our region. I recommend this exhibit for lovers of North Africa, music and those interested in alternative storytelling. 

The Habibi Funk exhibition is on at East Wing Gallery in Dubai Design District until May 2018. More info here. To know more about Habibi Funk you can follow them on instagram  @habibifunk or www.habibifunk.com 

xx

Darah