“Gharam wa Intiqam” breathes life into the golden age of Arab cinema

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A screenshot of an old Egyptian film featuring actress Souad Hosni, which is used as part of “Gharam wa Intiqam” Photo courtesy of Gharam wa Intiqam's Facebook page

By: Muhammad Hamdar

Published Saturday, November 15, 2014

Against a backdrop of hip-hop music and scenes from old Arabic films, two Lebanese artists join forces at Metro al-Madina tonight, November 15, for a show that will take us on a trip back in time to the golden age of music and cinema. The experience is bound to feel like an adventure.

Today, more young artists – especially musicians – are increasingly revisiting al-Zaman al-Jamil, the glorious days of music and cinema in the Arab world. This awakening is not restricted to people playing or arranging old pieces of music, but also involves modern genres like electro and hip-hop.

“Gharam wa Intiqam” is a live music and video show by Rayess Bek and Randa Mirza that travels back in time to the golden age of Arabic music and cinema.

In the past, modern – or rather imported – music was portrayed as a revolution compared to old songs that became boring and repetitive. This drove music production, and even musical taste, to drastically decline. However, this alleged musical innovation later revealed itself as repetitive, and with time it increasingly repelled its listeners.

According to Wael Kodeih, also known as Rayess Bek, “people are nostalgic for the past, especially that era,” in reference to the golden age of cinema and music.

Born in 1979, Kodeih is among the first local artists to perform hip-hop music on stage in Lebanon and later performed it outside of the country, after it had been confined to homes and to the streets.

In 1997, he founded the group Aks’ser, then began a solo career in 2003 under the name of Rayess Bek. He released his first album “Am Behki bel Sokout” (“I Am Speaking With Silence”) featuring a number of local and international musicians as he moved between Lebanon and Paris. His most recent release was in 2011, titled “The Hip-Hop Republic.”

Mirza, born in 1978, is a photographer specialized in visual arts who has been working since 2004 in the field of video shows. She participated in many art exhibitions in Lebanon and abroad and earned a number of awards, including the Paul Huf Award in Amsterdam in 2011.

For Kodeih, Arabic music and cinema production is declining. “Large segments of current productions have no substance. In the past, business was indeed a goal, but today [musical] taste has become part of the business,” he said.

“Gharam wa Intiqam” at Metro al-Madina is an attempt to revisit the golden age with a new perspective.

Through this project, Rayess Beik poses a question on how to recover this [music and cinema] legacy: Should we copy it and repeat it as it is? Should we renovate it and present it in a way that draws in the generation that was not born during that era? Should we restore it to the way our parents listened to it, or should we breathe a new life into it?

Rayess Beik went beyond these legitimate questions and embarked on an adventurous experiment given the specificities and stature of the productions he uses, especially tarab music. The outcome was “Gharam wa Intiqam” (“Passion and Revenge”), in reference to the famous 1944 Egyptian movie starring Asmahan and Youssef Wahbi.

On Saturday, the microphone will be laid aside as we listen to a live broadcast of special musical compositions arranged with electro and hip-hop beats.

Rayess Beik worked on a wide array of songs by Mohammed Abdel Wahab, Abdel Halim Hafez, Sabah, Souad Hosny, and Warda among others.

The Lebanese artist and rapper left large segments of these music pieces unchanged for people to remember the original songs, then featured a technique that takes the song to a whole new dimension.

For the video part, Mirza will present a screening of scenes from old Arabic movies produced between the 1930s and the early 1990s with a special design and montage that she performs live on stage.

She combines movie scenes with photos of iconic stars who once ruled the box office and had their images printed on every movie poster. These include idols such as Nadia Lutfi, Rushdy Abaza, Shadia, Tahiya Karioka, along with a long list of stars who rose to fame during Egypt’s long and rich cinematic era which lost its thunder in the mid-1990s.

Until this day, and despite many new technologies and advertising tools, Arabic cinema has failed to restore its record-breaking box office numbers.

“Gharam wa Intiqam”: Saturday, November 15, 9:30 pm at Metro al-Madina, Hamra- Beirut. For more information, call: 76\309363

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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