On 24 September, Jordanian band Random House and Palestinian musician Tamer Abu Ghazaleh took the stage in a double-bill concert at Cairo’s El-Genaina Theatre.
First up on stage was Random House, known in Arabic as Al Bait Al-Ashwae—a four-member band founded in 2012, whose lineup includes Qais Raja (singer, songwriter and guitarist), Feras Arrabi (lead guitarist), Ahmad Al-Haj (bassist) and Saif Abu Hamdan (drummer).
In the space of an hour, the band performed their novel concord of sounds that spans folk, indie, reggae, rock, experimental and electronica—emphasised by Sufi undertones. Songs emerged from a budding repertoire, including Asr Al-Dalu (Nile) and other selections from their debut album Ya Aleem—self-released in October 2015—as well as new singles Nesf Al-Tareeq (Half Way) and Al-Baaz Al-Ashhab (Grizzled Hawk) released in June 2016.
Beyond their high-quality craftsmanship, which was especially vivid in their capacity for improvisation on stage, Random House exhibit a profound sensitivity towards their music and an avid preoccupation with its subject, namely the self and its spiritual evolution.
Jordanian band Random House perform at Cairo's El-Genaina Theatre on 24 September, 2016. (Photo: Nourhan Tewfik)
The idea to harmonise different musical genres came to Qais Raja as early as 2011 while he was studying in the United States, and materialised upon his return to Jordan in 2012 when he got together with the other band members.
“I was drawn to the unique melodic and rhythmical elements in old Arabic music, but then this music hadn’t evolved much in the most part of a century, so there was this dynamic that was mostly missing, which is found in rock music. I had also always felt that the energy in Sufi Hadra music can be taken further and to new places with some of these rock influences that we all have as a generation,” Raja told Ahram Online in a recent interview.
The most anticipated part of Saturday’s concert arrived in the performance of 'Sindibad', one of the band's most-celebrated songs to date.
The song, Raja told Ahram Online, follows a “fictional sailor as a figure who comes from the past to our present time, and starts judging what he’s seeing in the lands which he considered his home.”
“As Sindbad’s story tells, since he was a child he had the dream of becoming a sailor, to travel the world and discover its wonders; he knew what he wanted to be, so it means he understood his inner self really well, and that very much rhymes with Sufi thinking—'Who am I?' and 'Why am I here?' ”
The concert marked the band’s first show in Cairo, to be followed by two other shows, on 27 September at ROOM Art Space and on 29 September at Cairo Jazz Club.
Random House singer, songwriter and guitarist Qais Raja performs at Cairo's El-Genaina Theatre on 24 September, 2016. (Photo: Nourhan Tewfik)
Next up was Palestinian singer, composer and oudist Tamer Abu Ghazaleh, who performed his latest album Thulth (Third), and was accompanied on stage by Shadi El Hosseiny (piano), Mahmoud Waly (bass), and Khaled Yassine (percussion).
Throughout his performance, Abu Ghazaleh waltzed from the comical to the bitter as he played selections from Thulth, including Namla (An Ant), Al-Ghareeb (The Stranger), Takhabot (Clamour), Helm (Dream), and Al-Ballaat (Manholes) which quotes a line from late iconic Sheikh Imam’s timeless Baqaret Haha (Haha's Cow).
Produced by Mostakell—a music label for indie Arabic music operating under Eka3 platform and founded by Abu Ghazaleh himself—the nine-track album, released in May 2015, comprises new songs and tracks revisited from Abu Ghazaleh’s second album Miraah (Mirror), released in 2008.
Palestinian musician Tamer Abu Ghazaleh performs his latest project 'Thulth' (Third). He is accompanied on stage by Shadi El Hosseiny (piano), Mahmoud Waly (bass), and Khaled Yassine (percussion). (Photo: Nourhan Tewfik)
Thulth includes songs written and composed by Abu Ghazaleh himself, as well as selections of poetry by an array of Arab poets, including Qais Ibnul Mulawah, Tamim Al-Barghouti, Ramez Farag and Naguib Sorour.
Perhaps the most powerful moment of the night was when Abu Ghazaleh performed Alameh (A Sign), a poignant song penned by Ramez Farag, which meditates on the state of longing and its particulars. The lyrics, translated on Abu Ghazaleh’s YouTube channel, proclaim:
“Give me a sign that says/That longing ends/That white clarity will fill our souls/That the morning door will open/And let in a carnival/Of seventy shining moons/A brave bright light/Unreasonably abundant...”
Palestinian musician Tamer Abu Ghazaleh performs his latest project 'Thulth' (Third). (Photo: Nourhan Tewfik)
Another highlight of the night was Hob (Love), a poem by Qays Ibn Al-Mulawwah and set to music by Abu Ghazaleh.
Drowning in love, Ibn Al-Mulawwah wonders, “A thousand directions whose paths I have come to know/Yet without a heart, where will I go?” A question resolved with, “If I had two hearts, I would live with one/And devote the other to your torment.”
Abu Ghazaleh closed the night with his pièce de résistance Khabar Ajel (Breaking News):
“To all those hungry, from Chile to China/There’s free food in the land of Palestine/The offer has been on since the year 2000/Or a little before /And [will continue] until the end of times…”
Saturday’s concert marked the start of Abu Ghazaleh’s scheduled fall tour, which follows with shows in Denmark, France, Belgium, Germany and Switzerland through November.
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