Art or music? Jeddah duo finds freedom in both

Abdulmalik Zubailah. ( (AN photo by Huda Bashatah)
Updated 25 December 2018

Art or music? Jeddah duo finds freedom in both

  • Statues of Sinking Men celebrate release of debut album with rooftop launch party
  • “I never thought this would be happening here in my hometown,” said Zubailah

JEDDAH: Jeddah-based music duo Statues of Sinking Men are known for their stirring live performances — an irony since the band make every effort to stay out of the spotlight.
“The idea is for the audience to notice us as little as possible,” said Abdullah Babrouk, who produces art and visuals to accompany Abdulmalik Zubailah’s beats and vocals. “The focus is meant to be on the music.”
Statues of Sinking Men celebrated the release of their debut album on Friday night with a rooftop launch party. The self-titled album is the first offering from the band since their formation in 2017, and has been in development since October that year.
Zubailah’s music is only part of the duo’s show, with Babrouk’s mesmerizing visuals the main focal point.
Using little more than a synthesizer and a microphone, Zubailah manages to create music that is both complex and catchy, with soulful lyrics that express a variety of emotions.
“Statues of Sinking Men is an outlet for me to express everything I could never say with words alone,” said Zubailah. “The good, the bad and everything in between, with full freedom.”
Babrouk uses a computer program to create visual effects live and in time with the music — a demanding process that requires intense concentration. The combined effect of music and art is ethereal, as much live art performance as musical performance.

Winter breeze
The launch party was hosted by Mnassa and held on the roof of their office in Al-Zahraa. Admission was free, and a sizeable crowd showed up to support the musicians on a cool December night, accompanied by a full moon and a winter breeze.
Up-and-coming musician GHADA opened the show with her haunting, powerful vocals.
Later, she told Arab News that she was delighted to have been asked to perform at the event. “I never thought that I would actually be doing this. I’m still processing everything that’s happening. But I’m glad it is happening.”
Statues of Sinking Men performed their latest album, with visual accompaniments projected on to a wall behind the stage.
Zubailah stepped on stage in a custom-made sea captain’s jacket, styling himself “The Deceased Captain Bartholomew Bellik.” With Babrouk as his seafaring companion “Xabris Black,” the performers told the story of a failed sea voyage, an untimely death and, ultimately, a rebirth.
“I was on the sea with them when I listened to the music,” one concertgoer said after the show. “I heard the waves in it. I felt the salt spray. It was bizarre, but it was interesting. I loved it. I can’t wait to attend another performance.”
The band also had a few surprises for the crowd. While performing “Criminal,” audience members were invited to “be criminals with them” as Babrouk handed over a PlayStation controller, which audience members could use to deliver the PlayStation classic “Hotline Miami” in accompaniment to the song.
After the show, Babrouk and Zubailah said they were exhausted, but immensely happy at the success of the event.
“I never thought this would be happening here in my hometown,” said Zubailah. “It’s so liberating.”
Asked if he had anything else to add, Zubailah replied with a grin: “Come to one of our shows and embrace the stage of sentimental night.”
Statues of Sinking Men can be found on Twitter and Instagram, and their music is available on all major music streaming and purchasing providers.

Remembering the siege of Makkah

Updated 10 min 16 sec ago

Remembering the siege of Makkah

  • Forty years ago, a group of armed fanatics led by Juhayman Al-Otaibi were primed for an assault that would cast a long, regressive shadow over Saudi Arabia

JEDDAH:  In November 1979, the Middle East was already on a knife edge. In Iran, a liberal monarchy that had ruled for almost four decades had just been overthrown by a fundamentalist theocracy preaching a return to medieval religious values that many feared would pollute and destabilize the entire region.

For the citizens of Saudi Arabia, however, the greatest shock was yet to come. The sacrilegious storming of the Grand Mosque in Makkah by armed fanatics that month sent shockwaves through the entire Islamic world.

Murder and mayhem erupted in the very heart of Islam, perpetrated by a reactionary sect determined to overthrow the Saudi government and convinced that one among their number was the Mahdi, the redeemer of Islam whose appearance, according to the hadith, heralds the Day of Judgment. 

Ahead lay two weeks of bitter, bloody fighting as Saudi forces fought to reclaim the Holy Haram for the true faith, but that battle was merely the overture to a war for the very soul of Islam in the Kingdom.

Open, progressive and religiously tolerant, Saudi Arabia was about to travel back in time. Only now, as the Kingdom pushes forward into a new era of transparency and modernization, can the full story of the siege of Makkah and the regressive shadow it would cast over the country for the next 40 years finally be told.

As the citizens of Makkah and those pilgrims who had remained behind after Hajj saw out the final hours of Dhu Al-Hijjah, the 12th and final month of the Islamic calendar, and prepared to greet the year 1400 in prayer within the precincts of the Grand Mosque, a few inconspicuous pickup trucks slipped unchallenged into it through an entrance used by construction workers under the Fatah Gate, on the north side of the mosque.

The trucks and the men who drove them were there at the bidding of Juhayman Al-Otaibi, a disaffected former corporal in the Saudi National Guard.

As a firebrand at the head of a small group of religious students based in a small village outside Madinah, Juhayman had been on the radar of the authorities for some time. According to Prince Turki Al-Faisal, who in 1979 was the head of Saudi Arabia’s General Intelligence Directorate, the group consisted of students from various religious seminaries who had put their faith in the eschatological figure of the Mahdi, the supposed redeemer of Islam. 

“Their aim, according to their beliefs, was to liberate the Grand Mosque from the apostate rulers of the Kingdom and to liberate all Muslims by the coming of the so-called Mahdi,” Prince Turki said in an interview with Arab News.

Juhayman and his group were set on a path that would lead to tragedy, reaching out to potential recruits both inside and outside the Kingdom. “Through their correspondence and preaching, they managed to recruit a few individuals,” Prince Turki said. 

Juhayman Al-Otaibi after his capture following the end of the seige. (AFP)

One temporary recruit was the Saudi writer Abdo Khal, who in 2010 won the International Prize for Arabic Fiction for his novel “Throwing Sparks.” In an interview in 2017 with MBC television, he said that when he was 17 he was one of Juhayman’s men and had even helped to spread the group’s ideology by distributing leaflets.

“It’s true, I was going to be part of one of the groups that was going to enter the Haram,” he said and, were it not for the intervention of his elder sister, he might have found himself among those who were to seize the Grand Mosque. 

“I was supposed to move out to (a mosque) where our group was gathering. We were supposed to be in seclusion at the mosque for three days, and we were supposed to leave with Juhayman on the fourth day.”

But his sister stopped him going to the rendezvous point, on the ground that he was too young to be sleeping away from home for three nights. Almost certainly, she saved his life. “And then, on the fourth day, the horrendous incident happened.” 

Writer Mansour Alnogaidan was only 11 years old when the siege happened, but like many Saudis of his generation, he felt the tug of various Salafi groups in his youth.

Now general manager of Harf and Fasela Media, which operates counter-terrorism websites, he has done extensive research on the Makkah siege.

Alnogaidan says there were a number of possible reasons behind the 1979 incident, including an existing idea in the mind of Juhayman and his group that they were the successors of a Bedouin movement by the name of “Ikhwan-men-taa-Allah.”

“Some believed they had a vendetta against the Saudi government,” he said in an interview with Arab News. “Another issue was essentially the personal desires of certain people (such as Juhayman) who sought power and control. He wanted to satisfy something inside him.”

Alnogaidan added: “Also, we must not forget that this incident came after the Khomeini revolution in Iran, which had an influence even though not a direct one.”

Juhayman and his group were on the radar of the security services. Over time, recalled Prince Turki, “there were many attempts by authorized religious scholars in the Kingdom to rectify the group’s beliefs by discussion, argument and persuasion.” 

Occasionally individuals were taken in for questioning by the authorities “because they were considered to be potentially disruptive to society. Once they were taken in, however, they always gave affidavits and signed assurances that they would not continue with the preaching and so on.”

But “once they were released, of course, they returned to their previous ways.”

At some point in the closing months of the 13th Islamic century, Juhayman’s group identified one of their number, Juhayman’s brother-in-law Mohammed Al-Qahtani, as the Mahdi.

In the early hours of Tuesday, Nov. 20, 1979, as the inhabitants of Makkah and the pilgrims who had lingered after Hajj gravitated toward the Grand Mosque for the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to experience the dawning of a new century in Islam’s holiest place, the stage was set for the most unholy of outrages.

Carrying firearms within the Grand Mosque was strictly forbidden; even the guards were armed only with sticks. An armed assault on the precincts of the mosque — on the sacred values it enshrined for the world’s two billion Muslims — was unthinkable.

But on the first day of the Islamic new year of 1400, the unthinkable happened.


Juhayman: 40 years on
On the anniversary of the 1979 attack on Makkah's Grand Mosque, Arab News tells the full story of an unthinkable event that shocked the Islamic world and cast a shadow over Saudi society for decades