Thursday, July 31, 2008

Pepsi vs Coca : the mother of all Arab stars

Boycotted until the beginning of the 90’, Coca is still running behind Pepsi in the Middle East with only 35% of the market shares. Although the area is priceless for soft drink producers, with a terrific demography of (presumably) non-alcoholic young drinkers, Pepsi should keep leading the run.

A few days ago, Pepsi launched its last advertising campaign for the area. Sea of stars (بحر النجوم), the first promotional full-length arab movie, has been released, simultaneously in many arab countries. Not a great event on the artistic side, the movie could be nonetheless a hit thanks to the participation of five famous stars of Arab pop music.

At a time US policy in the area does not use anymore the expression anymore but, instead, new concepts like “the Muslim world” (what could it be !!!) or “the New Middle East’, it is interesting to note that Pepsi advertising campaign focuses on something called the “Arab world”.

Otherwise, what could be the explanation of a such a casting gathering, around the leading sexy Lebanese trio (Haifa Wehbe, Carole Samaha and Wael Kfoury), an “oriental” singer (Ruwaida Al Mahrooqi) and another one (Ahmed El Cherif) from Maghreb (meaning "Occident" in arabic) ?

A remark which leads to another reading of the movie pitch : indeed, the forgotten island which needs a new impulse for its future, it is, of course, the Arab world. United, this world will be able to face up to its destiny. Of course under Pepsi umbrella!

The more elaborated post in French following that link and the moovie trailer

Friday, July 25, 2008

Egyptian movies: Hassan & Morcos, without Cohen

“Leader” (zaïm, his nickname) of the Egyptian (and the Arabian) stage for more than three decades, why should Adel Imam care to pledge allegiance to his national authorities? The fact is that the young actor who claimed formerly to be an “artist for the people” is now firmly committing himself for Jamal, putative heir of his father Hosni Mubarak (see previous post).

Hassan & Morcos is already one of last summer blockbusters in Egypt. Co-starring Adel Imam and Omar Sharif, it is the story of two men, a Copt and a Muslim, who have to change their identity in order to get away from religious fanatics. The Coptic thinker (Omar Sharif) pretends to be an imam and the Muslim guy (Adel Imam), a Christian priest.

The comedy, in the usual Adel Imam style, is obviously aiming at delivering a political message, that of the national unity jeopardized by religious extremism, from all sides.

The movie is successful and the public seems to approve the political lesson given by the two Egyptian main stars. Nonetheless, voices have raised, especially on the net, calling to a boycott of the “Christian(ised) Adel Imam”.

Today, movies play a major role in shaping the “national collective memory”. Thus it is striking to notice that Hassan & Morcos refers to a well-known movie from the 50’ called Hassan, Morcos & Cohen.

As in Fatma, Marika and Rachel, another movie of that time, the plot gathers a “trio” of Egyptian main confessions : the Muslim one, the Christian and the Jewish.

Sixty years after the birth of the Israeli state, Cohen has disappeared from the screen. And in the “New Middle East”, calls to National unity seem to be necessary in order to keep Morcos and Hassan side to side…

The more elaborated post in French following that link and the moovie trailer

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Arab Alternatie Music (5) : Morocco

World music is a story which started long ago in Morocco. Just after World War2 to be precise, when Paul Bowles and the Beat generation came to Tanger, followed by musicians looking for their (imagined) roots: guitar player Brian Jones for sure, but also free jazz musicians like Ornette Coleman or Archie Shepp among many others. Without forgetting the very first of all, the great pianist Randy Weston.

And almost every time, the beating heart of those encounters was the musical tradition of the gnawas. A tradition revisited by two bands still very active on the Moroccan stage, three decades after they appeared : Nass el-Ghiwane (see previous post) and Jil Jilala.

But like the previous countries already visited, there is a new impulse for alternative music mixing world traditions. In Morocco, the starting point for this phenomena is the L’Boulevard festival, organised in Casablanca since 1998.

Dragging hundreds of thousands young Moroccans, l’Boulevard festival became a kind of social event, giving the opportunity for a part of the Moroccan youth to express its own way of life, encapsulated by a funny moto: H’mar wa bkheer (I’m a donkey, and I’m proud of it!).

Meaning more or less “having a great time”, nayda is another Moroccan expression which expresses this counter-culture in which hip-hop music plays a leading role. But with the growing success of “dirty” rap singers like Taoufik Hazeb “Al-Khasser” (the “rude”), there is a growing risk of commercial and political hijacking.

Recently, a liberal publication like Telquel has expressed openly its satisfaction after king Mohamed VI declaration in favour of financial support to some “good” local rap musicians. A good news for the liberal wing as many Islamic circles are criticizing everything which has to do with alternative music. But not necessarily a good news for the music itself…

With the link to the more elaborated post in French, links to publications (in French too) dealing with alternative music in Morocco :
Nextline, Raptiviste, Rap-bladi and Marock magazine (actually off-line).

And the very interesting trailer of a documentary about the Nayda phenomenon.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Arab Alternative Music (4): Syria

One does not need more than a quick look to its musical production to understand that Syria is not anymore an isolated country living under particular conditions. Some ten years ago, like in the surrounding countries, a new generation of musicians has appeared, opening the classical repertoire to the last trends in world music. With a very few exceptions like Al-Theatro, a popular venue opened by actress May Skaf, well trained musicians lack places to perform.

The turning point for the alternative music came with a band called Kulna Sawa (كلنا سوى : All together) by the mid 90’s. Thanks to its production, the Syrian audience has learnt how to appreciate a kind of “oriental fusion,” meaning the mixing of Oriental musical traditions with rhythms and melodic lines coming from other cultures.

For many people, Hiwar (حوار : dialogue), founded in 2003 by Kinan Azmeh and Issam Rafea, is today the leading band for this kind of music in today Middle-East.

“Oriental jazz” is a trend represented in Syria by Lina Shamamian (لينا شماميان) who sings with local saxophone and trumpet player Basel Rajoub. Their first record in 2006 was a audacious interpretation of various local traditional songs, something which raised a new and interesting issue for today’s Syrian culture, that of the intellectual property of the classical repertoire when “remixed” by contemporary players.

Of course, there is also rock or folk music in Syria, distributed by Incognito, the Lebanese producer of alternative music, along with another interesting group founded in 2004 by Issam Refat (also playing with Hiwar). Playing in a more classical mood, the band is called Twais (طويس), a tribute to the first singer of the Islamic era who, according to tradition, was born in Madina and who died in Bosra (south Syria).

A way to make clear that alternative music aims at a real revival of the tradition.

Follow that link to read the original post in French.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Arab Alternative Music (3): Lebanon

It would have been impossible to give an idea of the alternative musical scene in Lebanon without the help of some Internet sites.

Four of them deserve a very special mention:
- Incognito, founded very recently by Tony Sfeir in order to settle a kind of regional network for Arab alternative musicians (and artists as Incognito also offers a selection of DVD, books and comics).
- Forward Production founded in 2001 by film maker Carole Mansour and player Ghazi Abdel Baki with the idea of “pooling together the cooperative efforts of young artists in the Middle East” and aiming “to encourage new and creative trends in the musical
- Al-Maslakh (the Slaughterhouse) is an UFO says the group of
musicians who launched that new label some five years ago, in order to “document the nascent scene” which was emerging at that time, largely thanks to Irtijal, a festival they organise since 2000, dedicated to (experimental) improvisation.
- The last one, Those kids must choke, goes more or less on the same experimental tracks.

Following the previous posts, some remarks about “Oriental Jazz”, an expression made popular in the mid 80’s by Ziad Rahbani who does not like it anymore. Mention must be made to musicians like the oud player Charbel Rouhana or the singer Rima Kcheich.

In a less jazzy mood, you may enjoy Ziad Sahhab work with his band Shahhadeen Ya Baladna.

Fans of musical experimentation will listen to the works of the Irtijal (Improvisation) Festival, Bechir Saade, Raed Yassin and Mazen Kerbaj (author of the picture used for this post).

Here to read the original post in French.