Rayess Bek and La Mirza — ‘Love and Revenge’

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Randa Mirza (L) and Rayess Bek (R) during their recent performance at the Louvre Abu Dhabi
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Randa Mirza and Rayess Bek during their recent performance at the Louvre Abu Dhabi. A scene from "Love & Revenge" projected on the screen behind them.
Updated 05 May 2018
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Rayess Bek and La Mirza — ‘Love and Revenge’

  • The viewer is taken back to an era of cinema that probably won't be recreated
  • “Love & Revenge” was recently at the Louvre Abu Dhabi for two consecutive nights

DUBAI: There’s a scene early on in “Love & Revenge” that epitomizes the poignancy in Rayess Bek’s and Randa Mirza’s audio-visual ode to a cultural golden age - clips of classic Egyptian cinema set to contemporary electro-pop reworkings of vintage Arab songs. 

In a sequence of scenes taken from Hussein Kamal’s 1969 film “Abi Foq Al-Shagara,” the Egyptian star Abdel Halim Hafez poses self-consciously in front of a camera in Baalbek, Lebanon. With him is the actress Nadia Lutfi. As their love affair unfolds on screen, they laugh and embrace and kiss. All is set to Bek’s masterful reworking of Mohamed Abdel Wahab’s “Ya Msafer Wahdak,” sung by Nagat Al-Saghira.

It’s a sad piece of film to watch. Not because of its beauty, innocence or freedom, or because of the snapshot of an unspoiled Lebanon that it provides, but because you know, deep down, that nothing like the original film or music can ever be created again.

At the heart of “Love & Revenge” is the realization that the Arab world seen through the prism of the golden age of Egyptian cinema bears little or no resemblance to today’s world: A world in which expressions of love, romance and sexuality have been effectively erased. As such, “Love & Revenge” can be viewed as an attempt to reclaim a more liberal past; one where Hafez is free to embrace Lutfi on screen at will.

Created by Bek, a former Arabic hip-hop trailblazer turned audio-visual collaborator, and Mirza, a video artist, “Love & Revenge” was at the Louvre Abu Dhabi for two consecutive nights last week, and brought with it a keen sense of nostalgia.

Even the title is important, taken as it is from Youssef Wahbi’s 1944 film “Gharam Wa Intiqam” (Love and Revenge), the last movie to feature the singer and actress Asmahan, a Druze princess who died in mysterious circumstances before the film was finished. It is Bek’s mid-tempo, beat-heavy reinterpretation of Asmahan’s “Emta Hataraf” that is arguably the project’s standout track.

Yet, for all the perceived freedom depicted in “Love & Revenge,” with the possible exception of Asmahan the movie scenes chosen by Mirza represent a man’s vision of women. Even now, that cinematic vision is only slowly changing.


Gulf-inspired Chip Wickham ushers in winds of change on the jazz scene

Updated 16 min 3 sec ago
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Gulf-inspired Chip Wickham ushers in winds of change on the jazz scene

  • “Shamal Wind” takes its name from the Arabic Gulf’s primal weather patterns, and there’s a distinctly meditative, Middle Eastern vibe to the title track
  • There’s rather less goatee-stroking to be found across the four further up-tempo cuts, which swap soul-searching for soul-jazz, soaked in the breezy bop of a vintage Blue Note release

PARIS: The hotly hyped “British jazz invasion” has been the toast of international scenesters for some months now, with breathy adjective-heavy sprawls penned on both sides of the Atlantic paying tribute to a fresh generation of musos who grew up not in the conservatoires but the clubs, channelling the grit and groove of grime into a distinctly hip, 21st century strain of freewheeling, DIY improvised music.

Now the Arab world has its own outpost in the form of Chip Wickham, a UK-born flautist, saxophonist and producer whose second album grew out of extended stints teaching in the GCC. “Shamal Wind” takes its name from the Arabic Gulf’s primal weather patterns, and there’s a distinctly meditative, Middle Eastern vibe to the title track, a slow-burning, moody vamp, peppered with percussive trills, with hints of Yusef Lateef to be found in Wickham’s wandering woodwind musings.  A similar spirituality drifts over “The Mirage,” another probing eight-minute dirge, featuring rising trumpet star Matthew Halsall, which sways with the languid trot of a camel crossing a desert plain.

There’s rather less goatee-stroking to be found across the four further up-tempo cuts, which swap soul-searching for soul-jazz, soaked in the breezy bop of a vintage Blue Note release. Recorded over a hot summer in Madrid, a heady Latin pulse drives first single, “Barrio 71” — championed by the likes of Craig Charles — with Spanish multi-percussionist David el Indio steaming up a block party beat framing Wickham’s gutsy workout on baritone sax.

Having previously worked with electronic acts, including Nightmares on Wax and Jimpster – and been remixed by US producers Andrés Carlos and Niño – one imagines the dancefloor was a key stimulus behind Wickham’s rhythmically dense, but harmonically spare compositional approach. Phil Wilkinson’s sheer, thumped piano chords drive the relentless nod of second single “Snake Eyes,” Wickham’s raspy flute floating somewhere overhead, readymade to be skimmed off for the anticipated remix market.

In truth, Manchester-raised Wickham is both too thoughtful, and too thoughtless, to truly belong to the London-brewed jazz invasion — Shamal Wind yo-yos between meditative meandering and soulful strutting with a wilful disrespect for trend.