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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Fete de la musique 2009

For those who were there, those who missed it, and those who miss it but couldn't make it, here's my (small) coverage of the Fete de la Musique in Downtowm Beirut...
For those who were there, those who missed it, and those who miss it but couldn't make it, here's my (small) coverage of the Fete de la Musique in Downtowm Beirut and Gemmayzeh


It might look as though the band was comprised of only three members (and a dog), but Cristobal, songwriter and singer, was surrounded with a handful of musicians in the intimate stripped down setting of the St Nicolas stairs in Gemmayzeh. With two acoustic guitarists, a drummer/percussionist, a bass guitarist, a cello player and a female backing vocalist, Cristobal's music took volume, and despite the much 'less than ideal' sound circumstances, managed to appeal to much of the audience.

Personally, I thought Cristobal's music would serve well as background music, but in itself, it lacked consistence and variety. Most songs being built on top of guitar patterns and a vocal melody the arrangements often fell short of being different across songs, which I wouldn't entirely blame on the individual musicians, given that the central guitar patterns and vocal melodies of the songs weren't so different.

Youmna Saba & Fadi Tabbal

Then comes the next band. Youmna first appears holding a Buzuk, while Fadi borrows a floor tom from the stage drum kit. The songs are in Lebanese, most often accompanied by two acoustic guitars with the occasional interjection of some weird instruments or sound-making gadjets. The composition is simple, yet rich and layered, and comes to support delicately written lyrics sung by Youmna's ever-so sincere and touching voice.
As this wasn't the first time I have seen Youmna and Fadi perform, I knew what I was walking into, and they didn't disappoint. This is definitely one of those duos you should keep an eye out on, very promising talent at work.


Meanwhile in Martyr's square, Arcane were scheduled to perform, but due to some unexpected delays, I had the opportunity to watch Anne perform. If the words "Rock music with an over-the-top hyper frontwoman" mean anything to you, then you have pretty much guessed what this performance was like. Even though Anne did not go off key at any point I can remember, her singing abilities and her voice were far from impressive. As for her fronting abilities, I believe she was acting out her songs way too much and far too aggressively for her to have any chance to establish a rapport with the audience, although she never stopped trying. The music on the other hand was decent, with solid musicianship from her supporting band.


And finally, Arcane took the stage, all nine of them. Luckily for them, they were performing on one of the festival's largest stages, so despite their number, there was still both breathing and wiggle room for each of them. What wasn't so lucky however, was the sound. Imagine listening to a metal band (which Arcane is) with no electric guitar sound. What you get, is the keyboards and violin riff harmonies, but no central guitar riff. All the people standing close to the stage were listening to that same atrocity throughout the performance. For those lucky enough to have been standing a few feet away from the stage, they had the privilege of having the lead guitar blasting their ears away, while the other guitar was still absent. An utter massacre of sound if you will.
Regardless, from what I could make out, Arcane's efforts for a second album (after the first one released a few years ago is apparently officially sold out) show some very interesting tracks, but also some compositions that have no unique identity, and could easily be mistaken for other Arcane compositions, or similar style music.
I suppose that what sounds good, or even average during a performance shot to hell by lousy sound settings, should be well above average when heard properly, so I'm still looking forward to the new Arcane album.

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