After ‘Love & Revenge’ it’s ‘Glory & Tears’ for Rayess Bek

After ‘Love & Revenge’ it’s ‘Glory & Tears’ for Rayess Bek
Rayess Bek. (Supplied)
Updated 24 December 2018

After ‘Love & Revenge’ it’s ‘Glory & Tears’ for Rayess Bek

After ‘Love & Revenge’ it’s ‘Glory & Tears’ for Rayess Bek
  • Lebanese musician draws inspiration from Saudi singer Ibtisam Lutfi for new project celebrating ‘lesser-known’ Arab artists
  • Best known by his stage name, Rayess Bek, and once renowned as a trailblazer in Arabic hip-hop, Koudaih is almost unrecognizable from the artist he once was

DUBAI: “She has one of the most incredible voices I’ve ever heard,” says the Lebanese musician Wael Koudaih of the Saudi Arabian singer Ibtisam Lutfi. “She really is an incredible singer and oud player. She would sing very classical Arab music, sometimes with a little khaleeji touch that had a very special rhythm, and she had a very beautiful way of playing the oud.”

Softly spoken and affable, Koudaih is sitting quietly in Fabrika, a co-working space in the Achrafieh district of Beirut. Best known by his stage name, Rayess Bek, and once renowned as a trailblazer in Arabic hip-hop, Koudaih is almost unrecognizable from the artist he once was. The quick-fire lyrics in Lebanese Arabic or Parisian French have faded into memory, replaced by a wider artistic repertoire and an appreciation of both classical Arabic and modern electronic music.

He first discovered Lutfi while researching for the sequel to “Love & Revenge,” his much-lauded audio-visual collaboration with video artist Randa Mirza. An ode to the Golden Age of Arabic music, “Love & Revenge” was a fusion of ‘electro pop music and cinema from the Arab world’, with Koudaih’s re-working of classical Arabic songs accompanying Mirza’s edited film sequences.

Now Koudaih and Mirza are working on “Glory & Tears,” a follow-up to “Love & Revenge” that focuses on lesser-known artists from the Arab world. It will retain its predecessor’s pop edge — utilizing drum machines, synthesizers and electric oud to create a contemporary sound that draws its inspiration from artists including Lutfi and the Mauritanian trio Houria.

Koudaih is also working on “Dabake,” an electronic dabke project funded by the UNHCR that will be performed soon in Beirut, and features Syrian electronic artist Hello Psychaleppo, Khaled Omran from the Syrian alt-rock trio Tanjaret Daghet, and Lebanese indie-rock outfit Who Killed Bruce Lee frontman Wassim Bou Malham.

“It was very unusual to see a woman dressed the way Lutfi was, with this haircut and those beautiful dark glasses, playing the oud and singing in Saudi Arabia,” says Koudaih, returning to “Glory & Tears.” “We are not used to this image and it’s quite unusual. She’s a quite unique person in a quite unique environment. I think this is why I enjoyed listening to her songs.”

One of Saudi Arabia’s greatest singers, Lutfi was born in Ta’if in 1951 and began her singing career in Jeddah in the 1960s. An exceptional oud player, she was blind and had a distinctive, striking appearance, yet disappeared from public life suddenly in the late 1980s following the death of her parents. She re-emerged briefly in 2013, only to disappear again shortly afterwards.

Now elements of her work are to be given new life through “Glory & Tears,” which Koudaih says will be sewn together using the theme of hybridity.

“It’s quite interesting, because we’re getting out of this glorious Golden Age, which I love, into something else that existed,” he says. “Where you have singers or musicians that were known locally but didn’t get the chance to become superstars. Singers from Sudan and Yemen, and groups such as Houria, who wore traditional clothes, had an electric guitar, and played Mauritanian songs in Arabic but in their own dialect.”

Downstairs from Fabrika a sound lab is in the process of being built. An isolation room has been installed and special flooring laid, although the space isn’t expected to be fully functional until next year. It’s where “Dabake” was recorded and where Koudaih has chosen to co-invest with the owner of Fabrika.

Born in Nabatieh in southern Lebanon, it’s all far removed from Koudaih’s early days as a rapper and beatmaker, performing with the likes of Eben Foulen and Tamer Nafar from the Palestinian hip-hop group DAM. Koudaih’s art has evolved, encompassing theater, dance, and productions such as “Goodbye Schlöndorff,” which combined intimate cassette recordings from the civil war with short sequences from director Volker Schlöndorff’s movie “Circle of Deceit.”

“You know, I got to a certain point where I felt that hip-hop was not something I could go further with,” he once said. “I felt it was over. I felt I’d done everything I wanted to do with this kind of music and that it was limiting me as an artist. I thought what I was saying — or what I had said — was enough in the context of lyrics and of rapping to a beat.”

With Mirza he has found greater room for artistic expression, with the duo also working on a separate archival project; one that is based on the first ever recordings made in the Arab world.

For Mirza, “Glory & Tears” has opened up a whole new realm of Arab cinema. Whereas previously she had worked with classics such as Hussein Kamal’s “Abi foq Al-Shagara,” or Youssef Wahbi’s “Gharam wa Intiqam” (Love and Revenge), she has now delved into the obscure, drawing on movies including Hamada Abdel Wahab’s “Rihla Ila Al Qamar” (Trip to the Moon).

“What Randa is doing is quite amazing, because she is taking forgotten, lowbudget genre movies like ‘Star Wars,’ but done by Arabs,” says Koudaih. “It’s crazy. You have Arabic kung-fu, you have an Arab James Bond, the Karate Kid, an Arab Dracula. They are amazing and super-funny. We are playing on this double — or troubled — identity, where we are in the post-colonial phase. It is modernity as seen through the eye of the colonized.”

The first performance of “Glory & Tears” is expected to take place early next year, with both Mirza and Koudaih to be joined in Beirut in late January by the Algerian electronic oud player Mehdi Haddab and French musician Julien Perraudeau, both of whom were also part of “Love & Revenge.”

“In these films you see this influence that came from the West but is then treated in a very funny and very Arab way,” says Koudaih. “You still have the cowboy, but then you see an Arab running, then the army arrives, and then he gets into a space machine and goes to space. Then he meets Dracula. All in the same movie. It’s so confusing. So many clichés. But it’s super-funny.

“And I think this is what we are today. At least this is what I am, if I have to speak for myself. I am this weird, unclear mix of French, Lebanese, a little bit of American because I watch so many movies, and maybe German because I lived in Berlin for three years. I have this tendency to grab stuff from cultures. Grab the stuff that I like. Even if I wasn’t a creator I would still do it, because this is human nature. It is this hybridity that ‘Glory & Tears’ is all about.”


‘The Arsonists’ City’ by Hala Alyan spans the world to tell a complicated tale  

‘The Arsonists’ City’ by Hala Alyan spans the world to tell a complicated tale  
Updated 14 June 2021

‘The Arsonists’ City’ by Hala Alyan spans the world to tell a complicated tale  

‘The Arsonists’ City’ by Hala Alyan spans the world to tell a complicated tale  

CHICAGO: From California by way of Beirut, Lebanon, Hala Alyan introduces readers to the Nasr family in “The Arsonists’ City” — a family of five whose multi-faceted members create worlds within worlds to cope with their complicated lives. Alyan places her characters together in Beirut, where they’ve all laughed and loved and where some secrets come to flourish and others die.

Alyan’s story transitions between past and present, where both spiral around one another until they clash. Idris and Mazna convince their American children to travel to Beirut for the summer before Idris sells his father’s home, a decision no one takes lightly. Despite the fact that they are spread out across the globe, their grandfather’s home is their base, where their roots have taken to the Earth, where their memories come alive and where the façade of perfection holds no value against the past and the truth.

Life flourishes despite the civil war that raged in Lebanon during Idris and Mazna’s youth and the present Syrian conflict that now prevents Mazna from returning to her native Damascus. Their children, despite growing up in American, still hold dear their grandparents’ home, a short walk from the Corniche that was built two centuries ago. They remember the events of their childhood, the people and circumstances that shaped them into the adults they have become. And no matter how far from their roots they travel, how far from their grounded reality they venture, they always come back because they are connected to one another and to their past.

Alyan’s novel brims with life as the Nasr family’s secrets are revealed, pushing past into present. Spanning across the globe, from Palestine to Lebanon and from Syria to America, each character is housed in pockets of social and identity politics, exile, civil war, and everything in between. But Beirut means something different to everyone, and going back makes them all face their predicaments head-on. There is no more glossing over devastation and past tragedies here. They must relive their lives, where love rushes to the fore as quickly as heartbreak.


French star Omar Sy gives magical touch to season two of ‘Lupin’ on Netflix

French star Omar Sy gives magical touch to season two of ‘Lupin’ on Netflix
Omar Sy plays the artful protagonist Assane Diop (right). Netflix
Updated 12 June 2021

French star Omar Sy gives magical touch to season two of ‘Lupin’ on Netflix

French star Omar Sy gives magical touch to season two of ‘Lupin’ on Netflix

CHENNAI: The second season of Netflix’s “Lupin” is exhilarating, high on style and full of swagger. Its lead star Omar Sy, who plays protagonist Assane Diop, is a classy master of disguise and disappearance, modelled on the “gentleman burglar” Arsene Lupin, a fictional character created in 1905 by French novelist and short-story writer Maurice Leblanc. Loved to bits by international viewers — the French show’s first season entered Netflix’s Top 10 in most countries around the globe in 2021 — Lupin seems a good contemporary counter to Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories.

Season one, which premiered in January, had all the excitement to banish pandemic lockdown blues. Netflix

Season one, which premiered in January, had all the excitement to banish pandemic lockdown blues, beginning with a daring heist in the Louvre in Paris, going on to narrate the ups and downs of a Senegalese immigrant, who dies in prison after being falsely accused of a crime he never committed. 

His son, Assane, swears to clear his father’s name and take vengeance on the rich and nefarious aristocrat, Hubert Pellegrini (Hervé Pierre), responsible for the tragedy. Director Louis Leterrier and creator George Kay left the season on a nail-biting cliff-hanger centering on Assane’s son, Raoul (Etan Simon), and his ex-partner Claire (Ludivine Sagnier). 

Director Louis Leterrier and creator George Kay left the season on a nail-biting cliff-hanger centering on Assane’s son and his ex-partner Claire. Netflix

The five-episode second season, with screenplay by François Uzan, takes off from where it left off, with whirlwind chases and a touching love story between Assane and his childhood sweetheart Juliette (Clotilde Hesme) on the banks of the Seine, and his emotional bonding with Raoul. 

The narrative is tightly edited and the episodes are knitted together seamlessly, taking us back and forth between Assane’s boyhood and adulthood. Mamadou Haidara, who plays Assane in his schooldays, is delightfully mischievous, and carries all the attributes of the adult “gentleman burglar.” A scene where he “borrows” an expensive violin to help a very young Juliette is moving. In fact, the one big difference between the two seasons is that the second is high on emotions, which makes it even more appealing. 

The five-episode second season, with screenplay by François Uzan, takes off from where it left off. Netflix

Shot in Paris, the city becomes a character itself. Warmly glowing during the day and twinkling brightly at night, it has irresistible romanticism. The grand finale leaves us craving a third season, and more of the brilliant lead character so wonderfully portrayed by Sy.

 


Saudi artist’s paintings helping sell luxury Hollywood properties

Saudi artist’s paintings helping sell luxury Hollywood properties
Abdulrahman Hamdi, backed by his mother, his biggest supporter, secured an ‘amazing opportunity’ to work for Premier Stagers, a leading US luxury staging and interior design company. (Supplied)
Updated 12 June 2021

Saudi artist’s paintings helping sell luxury Hollywood properties

Saudi artist’s paintings helping sell luxury Hollywood properties
  • Abdulrahman Hamdi’s artwork has been decorating homes up for sale in the film capital of the world, and some of the residential properties his pieces hang in are on the market for more than $14 million

JEDDAH: A Saudi artist is making a name for himself in Hollywood after his paintings were selected to adorn the walls of some of the famous Los Angeles neighborhood’s most luxurious properties.

Abdulrahman Hamdi’s artwork has been decorating homes up for sale in the film capital of the world, and some of the residential properties his pieces hang in are on the market for more than $14 million.

Every day, one sees something new in an abstract painting and feels more of it.
Abdulrahman Hamdi

Hamdi, backed by his mother, his biggest supporter, secured an “amazing opportunity” to work for Premier Stagers, a leading US luxury staging and interior design company, a breakthrough that has helped to provide a shopwindow for his paintings.
And his American success story does end there: A Los Angeles-based real estate magazine has published one of his works on its front cover, and Vogue Arabia ran an article about Hamdi accompanied by a picture of another of his paintings.
His artistic talents were first spotted by his kindergarten teachers but at elementary school he said students paid more attention to football and his tutors often frowned on his drawings.
Now living in Los Angeles, Hamdi, who gained a master’s degree in law, told Arab News that he had been obsessed with fine art from an early age.
“At the time, my kindergarten peers were waiting for the physical education class, while I was counting hours for the arts class to begin. I used to save up money (to buy painting tools) from the amounts I received from my relatives on Eid occasions.”
Abstractionism slowly began to capture his interest and he started displaying his artwork on social media platforms, such as Instagram, with the hope of one day becoming a professional artist.
“I consider abstract art, with its broad scope, as an interesting art. Every day, one sees something new in an abstract painting and feels more of it,” he said.

HIGHLIGHTS

• At first, Hamdi felt apprehensive about displaying his abstract paintings in public, fears that were soon to be justified as exhibition halls rejected his approaches. But he said the reforms now taking place in Saudi society had changed attitudes and art had been given a raised profile through the support of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and bodies such as the Misk Foundation.

• Hamdi’s first participation in an exhibition came at the Misk Historic Jeddah event in 2017, and the following year he took part in Misk Art, which encouraged artists to promote their cultural identity in their works.

However, in late 2014, Hamdi was involved in a traffic accident that completely changed his outlook on life.
“I was locked up in memories and pains. I even failed to express my feelings in words. I became completely destroyed. I then realized that drawing was the only way to take me out of my sufferings.
“When the unpleasant event was over, colors began to mean something else to me, and I began to deal with them differently,” he added.
At first, he felt apprehensive about displaying his abstract paintings in public, fears that were soon to be justified as exhibition halls rejected his approaches. But he said the reforms now taking place in Saudi society had changed attitudes and art had been given a raised profile through the support of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and bodies such as the Misk Foundation.
Hamdi’s first participation in an exhibition came at the Misk Historic Jeddah event in 2017, and the following year he took part in Misk Art, which encouraged artists to promote their cultural identity in their works.


A collection of works of female writers of Arab heritage sets out to ‘win hearts, change minds’

A collection of works of female writers of Arab heritage sets out to ‘win hearts, change minds’
Updated 12 June 2021

A collection of works of female writers of Arab heritage sets out to ‘win hearts, change minds’

A collection of works of female writers of Arab heritage sets out to ‘win hearts, change minds’
  • A spirited new anthology of poems and stories by Arab women down the ages overturns common expectations of gender 
  • ‘We Wrote in Symbols’ celebrates the literary works of 75 female writers of Arab heritage spanning five millenia

DUBAI: British-Palestinian author Selma Dabbagh hopes a new book featuring 75 stories of love and desire penned by Arab women will help pave the way for more female authors to emerge from the Middle East region.

The English-language anthology “We Wrote in Symbols,” edited by Dabbagh, was published in April this year, marking a literary first in showcasing the works of women from the region on subjects many might consider bold.

Spanning several millennia, the volume includes the works of classical poets, award-winning contemporary authors and emerging writers.

“It brings together a diverse range of voices who are writers in English, French and Arabic, coming from all of the three main monotheistic religions, as well as those that are not religious at all,” Dabbagh told Arab News.

‘We Wrote in Symbols’ editor Selma Dabbagh. (Courtesy of Sussana Baker Smith)

The idea arose after Dabbagh stumbled on an anthology called “Classical Poems by Arab Women,” which contained writings from the pre-Islamic period up to the fall of Andalusia in 1492.

The collection left a lasting impression. “Some were what you would expect. There were poems lamenting the loss of a brother in battle,” Dabbagh said.

“But other women were talking about sexuality in a way that was very self-assured. Some were being a bit provocative, but others were just content with that aspect of their life. The voices were surprising, but they also felt fresh, contemporary and spirited.”

Dabbagh began to notice similar themes in the work of contemporary female authors discussing issues of love and desire — in some cases dealing with the disconnection between the two in relationships, which were portrayed with remarkable sensitivity.

As a fiction writer, Dabbagh had always found this a difficult topic to handle, partly due to self-censorship stemming from her own notions of shame.

“There is a universal insistence on associating the actions of a character with the behavior of an author, which we need to be freed from,” she said.

Sabrina Mahfouz. (Courtesy of Greg Morrison)

“To be a writer who is able to depict those delicate shifts in mood and connections between people takes an enormous amount of skill and imagination. So, the collection is basically a combination of the older, classical poets and the newer voices looking at this difficult terrain.

“A lot of them are very funny, some are quite daring and explicit, and it’s just a different way for women identified with the region to have their writing viewed — through matters of the heart and the body.”

Dabbagh said there is an expectation among English readers that most Arab fiction is slightly depressing, political or downbeat. In the words of Nathalie Handal, one of the poets featured in the anthology, “people think Arabs don’t love with a beating heart.” The book aims to challenge this misconception.

“It tries to bring that sense of emotional excitement and tenderness to a vast, diverse and varied region through the writing of women,” Dabbagh said.

Indeed, there is much to celebrate about women in Arab literature, which actually predates anything published by a female author in the English language. One of the earliest poems included in the anthology dates back almost 5,000 years.

“You have this tradition, mainly in poetry, of writing and letter writing by Arab women before women started writing in Europe,” Dabbagh said. “I really wanted to show that, because it’s not something that is associated with the Arab world in terms of having higher levels of advancement in female literacy.”

Hanan Al-Shayk. (Supplied)

For Dabbagh, whose debut novel “Out of It” was nominated as a Guardian book of the year in 2011-12, navigating the affairs of the heart is not something that necessarily becomes easier with age.

Although she read the works of Hanan Al-Shaykh and Ahdaf Soueif avidly in her 20s, she wishes there had been more Arab women writers in her youth. “Sadly, I only read fluently in English,” she said.

“It was really radically life-changing for me to read accounts by women of a similar background. I grew up between the Gulf and Europe mainly, and I always found it such a difficult subject matter for me to find my voice.”

Reading their stories made Dabbagh more articulate about her own feelings.

“It just gives you a set of tools with which to negotiate this tricky emotional terrain,” she said. “I think (my book) might help to provide a level of self-knowledge because there are so many different characters in it that readers should be  able to relate to.”

Having read the works of critically acclaimed American writers, whose brash depiction of the hook-up culture she found dulling, her interest returned to the writings of women of Arab heritage to see how their interpretations of romance, sentimentality, vulnerability and desire affected her.

Laura Hanna. (Supplied)

In these works, she found creativity, humor and craft. “We’re always being told to see these two worlds I come from (the West/Europe and the Arab world) as almost antithetical to one another,” Dabbagh said.

“But with the language of love and looking at the Mediterranean as a kind of sea of stories, we can see how there’s been influence over time between Europe and the Arab world.

“In the 19th century, you had a lot of writers and explorers who came to the Arab world because it was a place of freer sensuality. It seemed to be less restrictive than the puritanical backgrounds these writers came from.

“Now that pattern has, to some extent, been reversed.”

During the Abbasid period, the topic  was written about and seen almost as a scientific study. “You could have a book which dealt with astrology and physics as well as expounding on sensuality, because sensuality and getting that harmony right between a couple was something that was indicative of how you can have harmony in the society as a whole,” Dabbagh said.

Elif Shafak. (Supplied)

“So, it was a way of ensuring that the community was in balance and that, to me, is such a beautiful idea. But it’s something that is rarely associated with the religion anymore.”

Nowadays, any associations between religion, women and sexuality appears to be overwhelmingly negative. “I wanted to show that range, to try to break up that stereotype,” she said.

And although one book is unlikely to change opinions overnight, Dabbagh believes women’s voices are gradually subverting traditional methods of censorship.

“The region has been engulfed with images, films and TV for the past 70 years, and most of it was state-run,” she said. “But now with Netflix and online streaming, we have a lot more content coming in and it’s hugely influential.”

Nevertheless, the depiction of Arabs and the Islamic world in Hollywood has improved little in the past century. “There is a kind of mass absorption of negative images of the region from outside, which is going to influence behavior,” Dabbagh said.

“We need to find ways of writing stories which are connected to regional history, cultures, which are exciting, dramatic, sleek and sexy. It’s just about being trained up, opting into it and starting to influence the way these stories are told.”

___________

Twitter: @CalineMalek


British actor Riz Ahmed leads bid to change way Muslims seen in movies

British actor Riz Ahmed leads bid to change way Muslims seen in movies
Riz Ahmed, 38, who was born in London to Pakistani parents, said that offering funding would be game changing in getting more Muslim actors, writer and producers into the movie and TV business. File/AFP
Updated 12 June 2021

British actor Riz Ahmed leads bid to change way Muslims seen in movies

British actor Riz Ahmed leads bid to change way Muslims seen in movies
  • Ahmed is the first Muslim to get a best actor Oscar nomination
  • The $25,000 fellowships for young Muslim artists will be decided by an advisory committee

LONDON: British actor Riz Ahmed on Thursday launched an effort to improve the way Muslims are depicted in movies after a study showed that they are barely seen and shown in a negative light when they do appear.

Ahmed, the "Sound of Metal" star and the first Muslim to get a best actor Oscar nomination, said the Blueprint for Muslim Inclusion would include funding and mentoring for Muslim story tellers in the early stages of their careers.

"The representation of Muslims on screen feeds the policies that get enacted, the people that get killed, the countries that get invaded," Ahmed said in a statement.

"The data doesn't lie. This study shows us the scale of the problem in popular film, and its cost is measured in lost potential and lost lives," he added.

Titled "Missing and Maligned," the study by the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative found that less than 10% of top-grossing films released from 2017-2019 from the U.S., the U.K., Australia and New Zealand featured at least one speaking Muslim character.

When they did, they were shown as outsiders, or threatening, or subservient, the study showed. About one-third of Muslim characters were perpetrators of violence and more than half were targets of violence.

"Muslims live all over the world, but film audiences only see a narrow portrait of this community, rather than viewing Muslims as they are: business owners, friends and neighbors whose presence is part of modern life," said Al-Baab Khan, one of the report's authors.

Ahmed, 38, who was born in London to Pakistani parents, said that offering funding would be game changing in getting more Muslim actors, writer and producers into the movie and TV business.

"Had I not received a scholarship and also a private donation, I wouldn't have been able to attend drama school," he said.

The $25,000 fellowships for young Muslim artists will be decided by an advisory committee that includes actors Mahershala Ali and Ramy Youssef and comedian Hasan Minhaj.