Thursday, 28 July 2011

The Arab Prog Spring

Note: It has been very long time since I posted anything. here is an article about a new music scene in many Arabic countries. nothing to do with Iraqi politics, so if you are not interested in Music do not read it. Thanks

The Arab World refers to the region stretching from the Atlantic Ocean in the west to the Arabian Sea in the east. It always has been a hot spot attracting the attention of politicians and the media in the West for its geopolitical and economic importance. However, for Prog fans there is more than politics to look for in this part of the world. In this article I would like to shed light on the growing Arab Prog culture and introduce some of the bands who are shaping this phenomenon.
In the last six months a wave of massive prodemocracy protests swept several Arab countries and captured the attention of the world. This movement was named The Arab spring. On the other hand, there was a thriving, but unnoticed and very often neglected underground Rock culture in many of these countries. The share of Prog was small but significant. It is very hard to exactly establish when it all has started but most likely during the late seventies when the first amateur attempts appeared. It was nearly two decades later; a resurrection of Progrock came with a new wave of young ambitious musicians in different countries with diverse tastes and inspirations and a strong will for wider international success. In both of these periods, most of these bands were not only influenced by Prog giants like Yes, Genesis, Pink Floyd and ELP etc. but incorporated traditional folk Middle Eastern and Arabic heritage into their music. To me the Prog scene at the moment looks very promising but fragile and threatened at the same time. Lack of political stability, financial difficulties, limited fan base at home and the absence of interested Arab record companies in Prog music, all these obstacles put the future of many of these bands at risk.

Osiris (Bahrain)

In this small island state in the Gulf region, the two talented Al-Sadeqi brothers, Mohammed (Guitar) and Nabil (Drums) formed Osiris in 1980. With a career spanning over three decades I chose Osiris to be on the top of the Arab Prog list. The two brothers mastered their instruments at very young age and were exposed to wide range of Classical, Jazz and Rock during the sixties. The roots of Osiris can be tracked back to 1969 in a small band, WITCH doing gigs for fun at parties. In 1974 the band broke up when both Mohammed and Nabil left for their university studies abroad and it was not until 1980 when they returned home and decided to form a Progrock band playing their own material. “They chose the name Osiris from Egyptian mythology not only for its sound but its reference to Arab culture, youth and fertility”. Finding musicians to complete the band was a struggle with many different line-ups but the addition of Abdul Razak Aryan on keyboard two years later was a significant step that consolidated Osiris music and contributed to its richness and augmented its sonic diversity. Their repertoire contains four studio albums and two live recordings. Their style, especially in the first two albums “Osiris- 1981” and “Myths and Legends-1984” is very influenced by Camel and Genesis but lacks the authenticity and complexity of their influential bands. The opening track “Fantasy” in their debut album has a strong affiliation to Camel’s first two albums. In addition to their Prog influences, their music also revealed strong links to Bahraini traditional music and the little island heritage. Concepts of pearl-diving and sailing (the main two professions on the Island before the discovery of Oil) were heavily reflected in their albums (for example, their 1985 live album Tales of The Divers). Osiris released their third album Reflections in 1991 and sixteen years later they released their last studio album Visions From The Past. Osiris is very popular in Bahrain since the 80s but it was only very lately when Musea label released their works, they gained limited international popularity among Progrock fans. Osiris planned a concert in next September in Bahrain but with the current tense climate in over there it is very difficult to guess what is going to happen but keep fingers crossed.

Eftekasat (Egypt)

“In short, if Steely Dan and Steve Vai had been born Egyptian and raised on oriental folk music, this is the sound they might make “that’s how the Herald Tribune described Eftekasat, A highly professional and talented group of young musicians playing high standard Oriental Fusion blended with Jazz Rock elements. Amro Salah, the founder member and keyboard player formed the band in 2001 though he was very active in the music scene since early 90s. They played in several Jazz festivals in Egypt then found some international success after performing in the 4th Bansko International Jazz Festival in Bansko, Bulgaria in 2004.Their debut Mouled Sidi El-latini’s album (or The Latin Dervish) was released in 2006 and has many progressive moments through the album but mainly on tracks written by their former guitarist Ousso. The Nay player Hany Badri sounded like Tull’s Ian Anderson on some tracks. Their second album “Dandasha” was released 6 years later and is less progressive than their debut but still maintained the same band musical style. Being very determined and ambitious, Amro Salah expressed his dreams about the band in an interview “"To be internationally recognised, to be one of the groups on the international scene, performing a number of concerts per year. As Chick Corea Electric Group or Spyrogyra, there would be a group by the name Eftekasat from Egypt."

Nu.Clear.Dawn (Syria)

“What if your soul has no value and what if you have no rights” (from the song Falcon and Crow, Poem of the Knight album). There is nothing more accurate than this verse to describe the current atmosphere of fear in Syria where prodemocracy protesters being persecuted by a tyrant regime. Although the lyrics tells the story of a French couple in medieval ages, Nu.Clear.Dawn debut album, Poem of the Knight (released in 2003) reflected the aspirations of a young generation struggling to find meaning in life and hoping for better future. Their music is melodic power Prog metal influenced by Dream Theatre, Symphony X, Pain of Salvation and even Steve Vai with no oriental or Middle Eastern influences. The band was formed in late nineties and released a single “To Stand Forever” in 2000. Despite several line-up changes and difficulties to find a producer, the band determined to continue and managed to produce a decent album in 2003 with promising lyric-writing talent and solid musicianship (mainly by Shant Hagopian-guitarist, Aram Kalousdian – Drums and Amr Rifai-Vocals). The group gained limited international recognition when they played in Rock the Nation music festival in Turkey alongside metal giants like Iron Maiden and Pain of Salvation. This band definitely needs support from fans and production companies to fulfil their ambition of introducing an “immortal music” as described by their drummer Aram.

Myrath (Tunisia)

Hailing from Tunisia where the spark of the Arab Revolution started, Myrath (which means Legacy) was founded in early 2001 by Malek Bin Arbia, by then a 13-year-old guitarist. After many years of playing cover songs for heavy metal bands, fortune knocked on their doors when they opened for Adagio and Robert Plant in 2006 in the 3rd edition of Mediterranean guitar festival. They attracted the attention of Adagio’s keyboard player, Kevin Codfert who was a sound engineer and a producer as well. In 2007, the French label Brennus Music produced their debut album Hope. It was a significant step forward for Myrath. The music was a Progmetal mainly influenced by Symphony X and Adagio with North African traditional Arab music influences. Three years later, their second album, Desert Call was another achievement. Here Myrath maintained the same power of mixing Progmetal heavy riff s with folk Arabic music and harmonies and the first song Forever And The Day was in Arabic, a breakthrough in this growing Prog culture. In November 2011 Myrath is touring Europe with Orphaned Land (a talented metal band from Israel, again with Middle Eastern Music influences).
Finally, the four bands mentioned above were just an example of a growing phenomenon in the Middle East and North African Arab countries. Prog always broke any boundaries in music and kept “progressing” further and further. In addition it does not have any geographical homeland, unlike other form of music. I think it is the time for Prog fans and music companies to start seriously looking at this growing movement. The Arab Prog Spring is promising but threatened at the same time.