‘Shahba’: An Interview with Hello Psychaleppo

In this interview, Samer Saem Eldahr (aka Hello Psychaleppo) talks about his video Shahba commissioned for Shubbak Festival 2015; his upcoming album; and his hope that electronic music can bridge both a musical and non-musical divide between the Middle East and the West.

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Still from Shahba, Hello Psychaleppo

Aimee Dawson: In the Middle East you often hear traditional, classic Arabic music such as Umm Kulthoum and Abdel Halim Hafez but your music takes these classics and remixes them – re-invents them almost – in a way that attracts both new and old audiences.

Hello Psychaleppo: Arab people are becoming increasingly nostalgic for our heritage and culture and I’m trying to use it in a new way that you can really dance to. I think that just clicked at some point and people seem to really like it.

AD: I read in an interview that you did that you felt like electronic music could help to bridge a gap between audiences in the Middle East and the West. You’ve recently moved to the USA – have you found a positive reaction to your music there?

HP: I’ve actually only been here for about four months so I haven’t had an opportunity to play here yet. But last week I was at Fusion Festival in northern Germany and I got some really nice feedback. The people didn’t understand Arabic, which most of my samples use, but mainly they related to the music phrases, the electronic sound and the dance – it’s this whole experience that they like to be in.

AD: Despite the fact that some Western audiences aren’t able to understand the Arabic, because they are drawn in by this familiar sound but with a new dimension it encourages them to find out more about the music and get to learn about the musical culture from Syria and the Middle East that they wouldn’t normally know.

HP: Yes, the music is fresh and it’s very new in the Middle East to have this kind of fusion of modern and heritage. At every gig there are a lot of people that don’t know this type music and it is always fun to watch how they are slowly engaging with it – enjoying certain lines or rhythms. At the end of the set people often feel like it’s been a journey and that’s very nice for me. Observing these kinds of small details is why I love playing live. After the set you get great feedback and lots of questions and that is why I do what I do.

Continue reading on the Shubbak Festival blog.

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ARA-B-LESS? : An Interview With Riffy Arts Collective

Meriem Bennani, the New York-based artist who was recently featured in the New York Times, is one of the artists selected by Riffy Ahmed and Sarah El Hamed for the ARA-B-LESS? project at the Saatchi Gallery, part of The Nour Festival of Arts. I spoke with Riffy to learn more about the project.

Ara-B-Less poster
ARA-B-LESS poster

How did you conceive the title ARA-B-LESS ?

The project title ‘ARA-B-LESS ?’ is a neologism born of a play on the word ‘Arabness’ (Arabism). Two designs hint at the meaning behind “ARA-B-LESS ?” –  the first emphasising ‘BLESS’ suggests that Arab identity is a blessing, while the second emphasises “LESS’, the ways in which what it means to be Arab have evolved over time, perhaps losing something along the way. ‘ARA-B-LESS?’, as a question, also focuses on whether we, the artists, consider ourselves to be more or less Arab for having been born and brought up in the West, albeit by parents from Arab countries.

Continue reading on the Nour Festival blog.

Studio Daze

From ‘Scenes and Types’ to Shehrazade and El Sham: studio photography in the Arab world

An early 20th century French Scenes and Types postcard of an Algerian girl published by Lehnert and Landrock
An early 20th century French Scenes and Types postcard of an Algerian girl published by Lehnert and Landrock

The value of a photograph – its principle charm, at least – is its infallible truthfulness. We may have long revelled in the poetry of the East; but this work enables us to look, as it were, upon its realities1.

So said the 19th century Orientalist, Sophia Poole. Poole’s perception of photography’s unique ‘claim to truth’2 was widely held by early photographers from the West, to whom the colonial realms of the Middle East provided their principal training grounds3. In her seminal book, On Photography, Susan Sontag challenged the ‘presumption of veracity’ that had long been associated with photography, arguing that photographs are ‘as much an interpretation of the world as paintings and drawings’4. But to what extent is this appreciated today? Whilst many claim to have developed their understanding of the art from the idea of a visualised ‘truth’ to a moment of representation, people continue to search for realities within photographs, particularly withinarchives. How useful is it to mine such documents for historical and social ‘realities’? Can these momentary representations of individuals, as captured in a photograph, be extrapolated to speak of an entire society, time, or people?

Continue reading on Reorient website.