Thursday, July 22, 2010

zeid hamdan makes mark in london


Zeid Hamdan: Lebanon's underground maestro
by Susannah Tarbush
Saudi Gazette 22 July 2010
A throng of young people, many of them Lebanese, crowded into the basement of the Hoxton Gallery in East London a few nights ago for an eagerly-awaited performance by the legendary pioneer of Lebanese underground music Zeid Hamdan and his new band Zeid and the Wings.
Hamdan was born in Beirut in 1976, a year after the outbreak of the 15-year civil war. He is a pivotal figure in the development of alternative or underground music in Lebanon both as a performer and as a producer.
In an interview with Saudi Gazette, Hamdan said: “I grew up in a region where there is not an alternative movement for music. You have classical stars, and then the pop mainstream”. The mainstream pop scene has become dominated by Arabic video clips and “doesn’t have a beautiful vibration.”
Hamdan wanted “to give the Beirut youth a new model, a new way of considering Arabic music.” The Lebanese younger generation “has been traveling and learning abroad and coming back to the country with ideas.” The underground developed as a musical expression of this generation hungry for social and political change.
Hamdan and his band had been invited to London by the cutting edge Monocle magazine/website to record a show for Monocle’s Summer Series. Hamdan also took the opportunity to appear with his musicians at the concert arranged in the trendy area of Hoxton famed for its art galleries and restaurants.
The other acts booked for the concert included local bands Franco and Second Head and the Lebanese electro musician Charif-Pierre Megarbane, founder of Cosmic Analog Ensemble and of Heroes and Villains.
During the event, the performance of Zeid and the Wings could not quite go according to plan, with the visas of three members of the band not coming through in time for them to travel. The final line-up in the Hoxton Gallery consisted of Zeid with two members of Wings – keyboardist Rita Okais, and nay and bass clarinet player Bechir Saade – plus backing vocalist Reine Kabban, Charif-Pierre Megarbane on bass and local drummer Oscar Challenger.
Hamdan has his own special brand of on-stage charisma, and sang a selection of his songs in Arabic and English in his distinctive tender and soulful voice which in its upper reaches has an otherworldly quality. He was ably backed by the attractively-voiced Reine Kabban. Zeid and the group received an enthusiastic response to numbers including “Chouei”, “Castle of Sand” and “Ocean”, with “Sah al-Naum” as an encore.
Earlier in the day Monocle had recorded a Summer Series show with Zeid and his musicians in the Hospital Club in Covent Garden. Monocle will release the Zeid show as a podcast in mid-August. Producer Alex Mills said the “absolutely amazing” recording “went so well”.
Hamdan has come a long way since, as a young boy living in Paris, he first picked up a guitar and found himself spontaneously composing a song. His family moved to France for six years in 1986 when Zeid was ten.
While living in Paris he got to know the music of Western performers such as the Doors, David Bowie, French hip hop artists and above all the Beatles. “My band The New Government is very influenced by the Beatles” he says.
Hamdan typically has several music projects on the go. His solo vehicle is ShiftZ, into which “I throw all my experimentation. It can be a reggae song, it can be Arabic electronics. Shift Z is my playground, my space for myself.”

He has founded several bands over the years. After he returned to live in Lebanon in 1992 his first band was Lombrix, which released the hit EP “Lucy” in 1994. It was a time of optimism and stability and the press was interested “that a young Lebanese band made an EP after the war which had a mixture of Western and Eastern influences.” The Lombrix line-up included singer Yasmine Hamdan (no relation to Zeid), possessor of a beautiful sultry voice.
After other members left the group, Zeid and Yasmine formed Soapkills. Why this name? Hamdan explains: “I wrote a song called Soapkills, and it talked about erasing all remains of the war, cleaning up the town – like killing the memory, killing the truth, through the action of washing up.”
Soapkills drew both on classical Arabic song and on electronics. Zeid and Yasmine first wrote songs in English, but then the artists Rabih Mroue and Walid Sadek joined the group and worked with them on Arabic lyrics. Soapkills gained much from this input “because their writing in Arabic was so rich and funny, and because Rabih is an incredible flute player and Walid is a trumpet player.”

After Mroue and Sadek left the group Zeid and Yasmine continued as a duo and enjoyed considerable success in Lebanon and beyond. But the parting of ways came at the end of 2005 when Yasmine saw her music future as being in Europe and moved to Paris while Zeid wanted to develop the local Lebanese music scene.
Soapkills remains influential, and six of its albums are still on sale.
Hamdan was involved with several other acts on the burgeoning Lebanese underground scene, such as Scrambled Eggs. In 2006, he met Katibe 5, a hip hop group of five young Palestinians from the Bourj Al-Barajneh refugee camp. He got them signed to the Lebanese label Incognito and co-produced their 2008 CD “Ahla Bil Fik Moukhayyamat”.
In November 2004 Hamdan formed The Government. The name was changed to The New Government the following year after Lebanon was plunged into a period of assassinations and political instability. The New Government’s first CD was released in 2006.
The band had five members, of whom three now remain: Hamdan and French brothers Timothée and Jérémie Regnier. Although the Regnier brothers live in France, they regularly perform and tour with Hamdan.
On June 7 last year, the day of Lebanon’s parliamentary elections, The New Government released five free downloadable tracks to “voters” who cast a vote for the band on its website. Hamdan sums up the band’s indie rock style as “a blend of the Pixies tendency with the Beatles, Beach Boys and Franz Ferdinand.”
Hamdan’s African project Kanjha Kora-ShiftZ began in December 2006 when he was brought together with Kandia Kouyate, a 17-year-old singer and kora player from Guinea. The duo’s collaboration produced a highly appealing mixture of “reggae, hip hop, Guinean music and electro.”
Hamdan says The New Government and Kanjha Kora have signed publishing agreements with Moka Music, a subdivision of Chrysalis, and should be developing their new albums by the end of this year.
Hamdan has also worked to develop the singing career of Syrian singer Hiba El-Mansouri, who was last December signed by Jihad Al-Murr of Murr TV (MTV). Hamdan produced and directed Hiba’s first video, “Ahwak”, released in January this year. MTV recently released a video of Hiba’s rendition of “Fog el Nakhl” directed by Pedros Temizian with music produced by Hamdan. MTV is soon to produce a third video, the song “Suleyma” written by Nawaz Charif and originally sung by Zakia Hamdan.
Hamdan has written music for several films, and is currently scoring the music for the latest movie by controversial Lebanese director Danielle Arbid, due for release in spring 2011. He has also licensed seven tracks to Shankaboot, the Arab world’s first Arabic webdrama, which is produced by Batoota Films in association with the BBC World Service Trust. A Shankaboot launch concert took place in Beirut on June 12 with performers including Zeid and the Wings.
Hamdan is negotiating a CD release for Zeid and the Wings with the independent Beirut record label Forward Music,. “If we agree, a CD should be ready by the end of the year,” he says.
He has also produced with Wings, “with a special boost from Marc Codsi”, a song for the Nat Geo Music Channel series “Making Tracks.” On July 30, Zeid and the Wings are to perform at the Batroun International Festival in Lebanon, in an event entitled the Electro-Acoustic Waveform.
As ShiftZ, Hamdan is due to perform with the Syrian singer Dima Orsho in Damascus, Friday. “We’ll be creating an hour of live music in a workshop taking place from July 20 to 23. The concept is to create music for the live digital performance of a young genius visual artist called Mohamad Ali.”
As if all these activities weren’t enough, Hamdan is also playing guitar with Ziad Saad’s electro band Pop Will Save Us. “I think this band has a unique style and I am curious to push this project that has been on hold for too long,” he says.
below: Hoxton Gallery gig

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