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French Version

The Soap and Scrambled Eggs revitalize Beirut underground-music scene

Two local bands perform live gig last Sunday to celebrate birth of new Lebanese electronic record label

If a 17th century Jesuit monk, or for that matter a Dutch Calvinist, traveled 400 years in time to last Sunday in Beirut's Club Social and was able to witness Charbel Haber, lead singer of Beirut alternative rock band Scrambled Eggs, sing and play guitar they would probably cry witchcraft and try to hang him.

For when Haber is at the microphone, his skinny torso jumping up and down like a man on fire, he seems as if possessed.

But for the 300-strong audience, sweating and squashed together in the oblong venue Sunday night, Haber's "possession" was par for the course. Alongside his band made up of bass, guitars and drums, Haber demonstrated what possession by music can do to a man - and that is give you freedom and passion few attain.

Scrambled Eggs were performing their rites of thrash rock alongside Soap Kills, the electronic dub duo powered by Zeid Hamdan and sugar coated by the silken (and at times screeching) voice of Yasmine Hamdan. If those religious men had crossed themselves at the sight of Haber, they would have fallen into apoplectic fits gazing at the swaying hips and doe-eyed grace of Yasmine.

This was Beirut's live music scene at its most hybrid, eclectic and accomplished and for all the Lebanese who work themselves into a frenzy at the sound of Fairouz, or (and yes its unfair to place her in the same sentence but still) Haifa Wehbe, there is a vast ocean of music lovers eager to hear their contemporaries breaking down walls and exploring boundaries.

Which was exactly what Soap Kills and Scrambled Eggs were doing. The two groups, who have in some form or other been playing music and working together for ten years, put on a performance Sunday that had all the elements of filmic soundtrack - wide in scope and thought and littered with treasure.

Soap opened the evening with a mix of some of their known tracks led by thumping dub beats and karmic echoes moving from slow grooves to hybrid drum and bass. Walid Sadek, American Univeristy of Beirut professor by day, added the resonance of a muted horn and pipe organ to proceedings calmly flying in between the spaces of Zeid Hamdan's electro drum thuds and echoing keyboards. Layer these two elements with Yasmine and her clipped Arabic vocals and wordplays and the crowd forgot they were fighting to get to the bar, so mesmerized by the scene they were. Yasmine, these days, is less flighty on stage and more self-possessed than the last time I saw her play at the 2004 Byblos International Festival. She is growing gradually into a performer who can command a stage with both her voice and her looks.

Zeid Hamdan's melodic structure is richly textured and using sampler and old analogue organ he coaxes tripped out rhythms to complement his singer. There is perhaps a little Massive Attack in Soap Kills' beats but they do sound specifically Lebanese and on popular songs like "Cheftak," remixed into a dub soundscape, they mix local idiom and tradition with modern technology and their interpretation of what it is to be young and creative in Beirut today.

After this loudly applauded performance from Soap, Scrambled Eggs, took to the stage in a blaze of thrash guitars, and heavy drumbeats shaking the foundations of Club Social. Charbel and his band are relentless in their pursuit of noise and its fluctuations. This was their first performance after Haber and local art gallery owner and curator, Fadi Mogabgab, together founded the independent music label Those Kids Must Choke, as a platform for this sort of improvised though rehearsed music.

Opening with a rolling composition that built into a crescendo of warped guitar noise driven by bass and drums, and Haber's roaring and melodramatic vocal turn ending with a screaming "Those Kids Must Choke," the show continued in this vein with a theme of revolution and change.

It was a brave show of powerful playing and the crowd seemed enthralled to be part of it. Performing a final track together with Soap Kills the bands took the smoke-filled atmosphere to another level attacking the opportunity to play in front of so many. With luck the two bands will see their records fly off the shelves (they are available at La CD-Theque in Achrafieh) and for Soap perhaps the chance this year to see their third album come out on an international label. The sound of the Beirut underground is here - possessed, passionate and free - and there will be surely more to come.

Beirut,02 20 2005
Ramsay Short
The Daily Star
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