The cutting-edge sounds of today's Arab youth music floated across the River Thames Monday evening as the musical opener of Shubbak: A Window on Contemporary Arab Culture - London's first-ever festival of contemporary Arab culture - A Musical Revolution Into the Arab World was staged in the Scoop amphitheatre just by City Hall and Tower Bridge.
The event featured "three of the most exciting performers from the Middle East, coming together in Europe for the first time". London's earlier clouds were chased off by a hospitable sun as Zeid Hamdan (Lebanon - on machines, guitar, keyboards, frame drum etc), Tamer Abu Ghazaleh (Palestine - oud and vocals) and Maryam Saleh (Egypt) did their stuff. Zaid used his machines to play numbers from his various musical incarnations, including most recently Zeid & the Wings, and remixes of other contemporary music and Arab classics.
As a tribute to the Arab Spring the event kicked off with the anthem 'Eskat el Nizam'.
The free event was more like a gathering in a club than a formal concert as groups of friends, many of them Arab Londoners, chatted on the tiered steps, kids played, and passers-by paused to look down from the top level of the Scoop. Zeid, the maestro of Lebanese and Arab underground music, was an affable and relaxed presence as he orchestrated the event, at times bouncing up and down or jogging in his trainers.
While the event was highly enjoyable, and generated enthusiastic responses from audience members, perhaps more could have been said about the music performed live and mixed on the soundtrack, for the benefit particularly of those hearing Arabic modern alternative genres for the first time. Who were those various wonderful, arresting vocalists on Zeid's mixing track? We were left in the dark. And what were the songs the three musicians performed? Little was said. Never mind - there's plenty of material on the three out there on the net. Maryam Saleh, actress as well as singer and songwriter, from Alexandria who has been collaborating with Zeid Hamdan since last November, has an entry and a few tracks on the lebanese underground site. She has been tipped as "Middle Eastern music artist to look out for in 2011" She started her career as vocalist for Cairo alternative rock band Baraka. Her voice is bold, at times almost harsh. She is very much the rebel songstress.
Zeid has numberous references on the net, in his own right as ShiftZ in his pioneering duo with Yasmine Hamdan Soapkills and now with his new band Zeid and the Wings which has just released its first album in Beirut. His Lebanese Underground, website is an invaluable, constantly updated source of information and sounds from Lebanon's alternative music scene. And for written material, there's always Tanjara's interview with him from last year!
Tamer Abu Ghazaleh has a bio and music downloads on Mondomix - he was born in Cairo to Palestinian parents, but moved with his family to Ramallah in 1998 and pursued his music studies there, then studied economics at the American University in Cairo. On graduation he founded eka3 Productions. He composed and performed music for Ghassan Halwani's music film Takhabot