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

  • 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.”


Line-up, jury announced for first Red Sea Shorts Competition

Updated 28 February 2020

Line-up, jury announced for first Red Sea Shorts Competition

  • Tim Redford to helm jury alongside Tunisian actress Najla ben Abdallah, Saudi screenwriter Ahmad Al-Mulla

JEDDAH: The Red Sea International Film Festival has announced Tim Redford as president of the jury for the inaugural Red Sea Shorts Competition.

The festival will run from March 12-21, and will screen 107 features and short films. Joining Redford as jurists will be Tunisian actress Najla ben Abdallah, and Saudi screenwriter and cinema pioneer Ahmad Al-Mulla.

Redford is a leader in the global short-film scene through his work with the Clermont-Ferrand International Short Film Festival, the Short Film Conference, and the Curtocircuito International Festival of Short Films. 

Mahmoud Sabbagh, director of the Red Sea International Film Festival, said: “Short films have a special place in Saudi film culture. It’s a format that allows for experimentation and expression.”

The competition “taps into a lively Arab shorts community to showcase the best of next-generation filmmaking,” he added.

“It’s exciting to welcome Tim Redford, with his global outlook, to helm the jury for the first Red Sea Shorts program.”

The competition, which is open to all Arab directors, represents the pulse of next-generation Arab creativity, with a curated selection of short films produced or directed by the most exciting contemporary voices. 

Redford has dedicated his career to diverse film organizations across Europe, especially those supporting short films.

Since 2015, he has been part of the executive team for the Clermont-Ferrand International Short Film Festival in France, where he coordinates the international selection committee, the African Perspectives program, and the online submission platform Short Film Depot.

He also serves on the board of the Short Film Conference, the only non-profit worldwide organization dedicated to the short-film community.  

Born in Tunis, Ben Abdallah began her career in front of the cameras with TV commercials. In 2009, she featured in her first TV show, the Ramadan series “Donia.” Her first cinematic role was in “False Note.”

In 2015, she starred in the Tunisian film “Thala Mon Amour” by Mehdi Hmili. In 2019, she starred alongside Sami Bouajila in Mehdi Barsaoui’s film “A Son,” which had its world premiere at the 76th Venice International Film Festival, where it was nominated for best film.

A major contributor to Saudi cultural life, Al-Mulla is a poet, arts developer and cultural consultant.

He was director of the Saudi Film Festival in 2008, 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2019, and director of the Poetry Festival in 2015, 2016 and 2017.

He was executive manager and board member of the Dammam Literary Club from 2006-2010. He is currently a consultant to the Saudi Culture and Arts Society. 

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Film overviews

‘...And When Do I Sleep?’

Husam Al-Sayed | KSA | Arabic | 16 mins

Cast: Mustafa Turkistani, Fatima Husein

In the dead of night, vision is warped by insomnia. Adam hears a woman call out, but there is no-one there. Dreamlike and eerie, as if being plunged into a twisted dream.

 

‘Barakat’ 

Manon Nammour | Lebanon | Arabic | 14 mins

Cast: Mounir Maasri, Camille Salameh, Rudy Ghafari, Christine Choueiri 

An aging man prepares for his grandson’s wedding in an ever-changing Beirut. This affecting and elegant drama moves beyond nostalgia to tackle constant transformation, memory and its loss.

 

‘Clouds’

Muzna Al-Musafer | Oman | Arabic | 15 mins

Cast: Bandar Al-Shihri, Hassan Al-Mashani, Amal Bait Noyra

A journey inside a tribal Omani society undergoing rapid transformation in 1978. Dablan faces pressure from his village to kill a leopard. Instead, he resolves to set the animal free.

 

‘Goin’ South’

Mohammed Al-Hamoud | KSA | Arabic | 14 mins

Cast: Fatima Al-Banawi, Ayman Mutahar, Alanoud Yousef

Newlyweds pay their first visit to the groom’s hometown. Despite a modern approach to dating, discovering they come from two different worlds, their relationship is put to the test.

 

‘The Return’

Charlie Kouka | Tunis/France | Arabic and French | 22 mins

Cast: Fares Landolsi, Salim Kechiouche, Sondes Belhassen

Returning home after seven years abroad, Tarek meets Khaled, who is everything he is not: Successful, handsome and helpful. Kouka immerses the audience into their inner turmoil, to explore the consequences of staying and leaving.

 

‘Ongoing Lullaby’

Hisham Fadel | KSA | Arabic | 12 mins

Cast: Sarah Taibah 

An intimate portrait of daily life for a lonely yet independent woman who is hounded by melancholic thoughts and doubts. A personal and moving performance by Taibah, meticulously captured by Fadel. 

 

‘So What if the Goats Die’

Sofia Alaoui | Morocco/France | Arabic | 22 mins

Cast: Fouad Oughaou, Moha Oughaou

Abdellah, a solitary mountain shepherd, discovers a village abandoned in supernatural circumstances that destabilize his most fundamental beliefs. A trek through an arid, mountainous landscape stresses an encounter with the fragility of human existence.

 

‘Soukoon’

Farah Shaer | Lebanon | Arabic | 14 mins

Cast: Hiba Sleiman Al-Hamad, Lara Ayazri, Ghassan Chemali

With her marriage in turmoil, Mariam discovers she is pregnant. Trapped in a prison of lies and societal pressures, she yearns to break free. A blunt and uncompromising look at sheer perseverance in the face of brutal obstacles.

 

‘Sunday at Five’

Sherif El-Bendary | Egypt | Arabic | 17 mins

Cast: Hadeel Hassan, Khairy Beshara, Ayten Amin, Sedky Sakhr

Selfishness makes Hadeel unstoppable, even if getting what she wants is at the expense of others. Conflating fact and fiction, this is a tale of mind games and manipulation. 

 

‘The Ghosts We Left at Home’

Faris RJ | Jordan | Arabic | 21 mins

Cast: Nadeem Rimawi 

RJ patterns unfinished thoughts into a distinctive visual language in this fragmentary and brooding meditation on a man and a city, featuring an utterly compelling performance by Rimawi. 

 

‘The Girls Who Burned the Night’

Sara Mesfer | KSA | Arabic | 24 mins

Cast: Jana Qomri, Haya Almari

A small act of rebellion causes tension, then understanding, between teenage sisters Sasabel and Wasan. Impatient to grow up, they stay awake together through a restless night, exploring dreams and hopes.

 

‘The Other Cheek’

Sandro Canaan | Egypt | Arabic | 9 mins

Cast: Tarek Abdelaziz, Dora Youssef, Mohey Dorgham

After Nashaat’s daughter is viciously attacked by his neighbors’ dog, he is indignant to read claims that she provoked the attack and takes frustrations out on the perpetrator in this tale of guilt, repentance and revenge.

 

‘Ward’s Henna Party’

Morad Mostafa | Egypt | Arabic | 23 mins

Cast: Halima, Ward, Marina Victor

Halima, a Sudanese refugee living in Egypt, takes her 7-year-old daughter Ward to work, painting henna for a bride-to-be. The average day takes an unexpected turn when curious Ward sets off exploring.