Lebanese-American songwriter Naima Shalhoub discusses ‘Siphr’

Naima Shalhoub is a California-based singer-songwriter. (Supplied)
Short Url
Updated 25 June 2020

Lebanese-American songwriter Naima Shalhoub discusses ‘Siphr’

  • Shalhoub says making her debut studio album led her down ‘a rabbit hole’ of science and spirituality

BEIRUT: “People and their stories stick with me,” says the California-based singer-songwriter Naima Shalhoub. “They’re in my spirit and I really believe that we all carry other voices in addition to our own. We’re all sort of walking choirs, in a way, and we can choose to listen to the voices or not. And I think for this album I was led by the voices in my life.”

Shalhoub, the daughter of Lebanese refugees from Rahbé, is at home in the Bay Area patiently preparing for the August 6 release of her debut studio album, “Siphr.” The culmination of three years of hard graft and contemplation, it’s a work of deep personal reflection, exploring not only her own Arab-American heritage, but issues of injustice, sorrow and hopelessness.

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

#Siphr #magic #siphr٢ #desert

A post shared by naima shalhoub نعيمة شلهوب (@naimashalhoub) on

“I take my time before I record something,” admits Shalhoub, whose first album, “Live in San Francisco County Jail,” was released in 2015. “There’s a lot of emotional reflection, a lot of political and spiritual reflection, so to even get to the concept of ‘Siphr’ took about a year.”

That concept is a relatively complex one. Centered on zero (the English translation of siphr), the album “honors the value of wholeness,” with nine tracks serving as interconnected parts. Each song is named after a number, with subtitles acting as tributaries, “guiding listeners through different experiences on a collective journey.” That journey encapsulates everything from joy and self-doubt, to betrayal and the Palestinian right of return.

“You know how the creative process is, right? In the beginning, just not knowing where to start and feeling overwhelmed and going back to reoccurring themes,” she says. “Then I just started going down rabbit holes of physics, spirituality, Arab mathematics, different scripture passages, and it all kind of came together in this concept of siphr.

“I love that we can’t touch the concept of zero. It can’t be tamed, tethered, or trapped. It’s the everything place that is often categorized as nothing. But to me, it is not empty. It is grace in the midst of pain. Bigger than anything that I can comprehend.”

An educator and performing artist as well as a musician, Shalhoub recorded the album during a residency at the Women’s Audio Mission in San Francisco. Produced in collaboration with Palestinian-American musician and MC Tarik Kazaleh, and recorded with the help of cellist Ed Baskerville and bassist Marcus Shelby, the album is a fusion of sounds that draws on everything from the blues and hip-hop to R&B and the musical traditions of the Arab world. The project was further supported by a grant from Restoration Village Arts.

“My music would (be) very different if I wasn’t involved in the work that I do,” admits Shalhoub, a seasoned restorative justice practitioner. “Certainly there are periods of my life where I’m focused more on hands-on work with folks and less on music. And then sometimes it’s more about music and it’s sort of this dance and this equanimity.”

This close association between her work and music is most obvious on the track “Four (Roumieh Prison Blues).” Originally recorded in 2017 following a visit to the notorious Lebanese prison with drama therapist and performing artist Zeina Daccache, it features lyrics written by some of the incarcerated men and is a “reflection on human struggle.”

“In the work that I do, and with the people that I’m close to in my life, there’s a proximity that I’ve built with people who have experiences that are not my own,” says Shalhoub. “I certainly write about my own experiences, but I write a lot about things that are not my own. And I have to be very careful doing that.

“It’s like being a sponge. For example, with ‘Roumieh Prison Blues,’ it was about spending time with folks in a way that is in solidarity, not extracted. It’s not like ‘I’m coming here and we’re going to have a song at the end and it’s going to be on the album.’ It’s got to be soulful, it’s got to be meaningful, and people feel that or not,” she continues. “And I can confidently say my heart’s been in the right place with this music and I think that’s why it’s taken so long.”


Johnny Depp denies ‘wife-beater’ claim in London libel trial

Updated 07 July 2020

Johnny Depp denies ‘wife-beater’ claim in London libel trial

  • The high-profile case has laid bare Johnny Depp and Amber Heard’s turbulent relationship, which ended in divorce in 2017
  • The couple first met on the set of the 2011 film ‘The Rum Diary’ and married in 2015

LONDON: Hollywood actor Johnny Depp strenuously denied being violent to his ex-wife Amber Heard, as he launched a libel claim in a London court on Tuesday against a British tabloid newspaper that called him a “wife-beater.”
The “Pirates of the Caribbean” star, 57, is suing the publishers of The Sun and the author of the article for the claims, which were made in April 2018.
Depp, wearing a dark suit, white shirt and facemask, was met by a throng of cameras as he arrived at court while Heard, a 34-year-old actress, used a separate entrance.
The high-profile case has laid bare the couple’s turbulent relationship, which ended in divorce in 2017, just two years after they married.
But Depp said in a witness statement submitted to the court: “For the avoidance of any doubt, I have never abused Ms Heard, or, indeed any other woman, in my life.”
He said it was a “strong and central part” of his moral code that he would never hit a woman, having witnessed domestic violence growing up and vowed never to do so.
“I find it simply inconceivable and it would never happen,” he added.
“She (Heard) is a calculating, diagnosed borderline personality; she is sociopathic; she is a narcissist; and she is completely emotionally dishonest,” he went on.
“I am now convinced that she came into my life to take from me anything worth taking, and then destroy what remained of it.
The couple first met on the set of the 2011 film “The Rum Diary” and married in 2015.
News Group Newspapers (NGN) is contesting the case, and is relying for its defense on 14 separate claims of domestic violence said to have occurred between early 2013 and May 2016.
It argues Depp was “controlling and verbally and physically abusive toward Ms Heard, particularly when he was under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs” — and has evidence to prove it.
But Depp said it was the other way round, accusing Heard of violence against him during their “unhappy” time together.
In one alleged incident, he said she repeatedly punched him in the face, and in another severed his finger with a flying vodka bottle and stubbed out a cigarette on his cheek.
Heard has claimed she was physically assaulted over three days in Australia in early 2015 but Depp called the allegations “sick... and completely untrue.”
He rejected claims of being overbearing and instead said Heard had an “obsessive need” to control him, encouraging him to drink and take drugs, despite his well-known addiction issues.
Depp’s lawyers, in a written outline of his case to the court, also argued that although the couple’s relationship was at times “physical,” it was at Heard’s instigation.
Lawyer David Sherborne said his client on occasions had to defend himself from Heard’s violence, calling her allegations “complete lies.”
“He is not a wife-beater and never has been,” he said.
Heard was a “complex individual,” whose behavior was “extremely unpredictable,” with violent rages and prone to extreme mood swings, he added.
She sought attention, was provocative, had affairs, and was on a “wide range” of prescribed medication and other drugs.
Depp loved her but found her behavior “often bewildering” and “very difficult” to understand or deal with, he added.
Depp was the first witness called in the case and under cross-examination admitted using drugs and alcohol from a young age to “numb the pain” of a difficult childhood.
But he rejected suggestions from NGN lawyer Sasha Wass he had a “nasty side,” that saw him turn into a “monster” who would lose control, smash up hotel rooms and assault photographers.
“It wasn’t Dr. Jekyll and Mr.Hyde,” he insisted.
The Sun story — “Gone Potty: How can JK Rowling be ‘genuinely happy’ casting wife beater Johnny Depp in the new Fantastic Beast film?” — came after he had already publicly denied domestic violence.
Depp said he had suffered “significant reputational damage” as a result, both in terms of his career and personally.
The High Court trial is due to last three weeks.