Memories of a movie poster artist

Young Salvatore, aka Toto in Cinema Paradiso, would not have fallen in love with cinema and become a great filmmaker without Alfredo, the village cinema projectionist. Similarly, Yervant Hawarian may not have become a sought-after affiche (cinema poster) artist had it not been for Pedros, an affiche artist in Hawarian’s hometown of Qamishli, Syria.

Much of Hawarian’s artwork has been lost but, in his flat in Bourj Hammoud, he showed NOW a few of his remaining pieces. The first was one of Martyr’s Square on a rainy day in the 1960s, pedestrians holding umbrellas. A tram is passing big banners at the Rivoli, advertising a Farid Al-Atrash film, Love Beach (‘Sha’ate el hob’ in Arabic).

The surviving works include paintings of many American, Swedish, Italian and French film stars. Quite a few adopt sultry and seductive poses. Some, like Ingrid Bergman, are demure, and others, like Charles Bronson, are feisty. The fact that Hawarian loves Gina Lolobrigida is obvious to see. The same goes for Sophia Loren, whom he painted twice, once in a reclining pose as if she’d just woken up. Ava Gardner is adorned with a traditional Armenian necklace and, because the artist likes the King a lot, he painted Elvis Presley too.

Hawarian painted more Western stars than Arabic ones, which is a reflection of the distributors he worked for. He did, however, become friends with some of the big names in Arab cinema, notably Samira Tawfik, whom he took to Damascus during the war.

Asked whether he feels he knows the stars better, having painted them, Hawarian replies: “Yes, of course. I am an artist, all the doors are open, there are no limits, I can meet anyone I want through my imagination and my painting.”

He laughs when asked whether he had guidelines to follow as to how to paint actresses. “When you watch old Egyptian movies, you’ll see the actresses were more open than today. There were no restrictions, in fact, when I painted them in sexy or sultry poses, they [the distributors] were happy!”

As a child in Qamishli, Hawarian was given weekly drawing classes at the Sagesse School. “We used to have a model, a picture or something and we’d have to copy it,” he recalls. “Once done, our teacher would check with a ruler, and I’d usually get good marks as I magnified it.”

When he was eight, Hawarian met Pedros, an affiche artist in Qamishli. “There were five cinemas in Qamishli, it was the Petit Paris.” Hawarian says. The weekly art sessions enabled him to discover his passion, but Hawarian emphasizes that it was Pedros who inspired him.

The young Hawarian used watercolor in such a way that it looked like oil. He’d buy kilos of paint in the form of powder, mixing it with wood glue and water. He still uses the same method, but also uses oil and gouache.

Hawarian’s life changed during the era of the United Arab Republic. His family, originally from Sasoun (present-day Sason a district in the Batman Province in Turkey), had moved to Syria in 1915 to escape the Armenian genocide. His father had done well and had become wealthy and well known, running a water mill. The mill was nationalized as part of the widespread nationalization of businesses under the UAR, and the family moved to Burj Hamoud. No compensation was paid and so Hawarian did not continue his education.

His father was against the idea of his son becoming a painter, but still Hawarian painted. At 14, he was the youngest affiche artist of his time.

“There was the Cinema Madonna in Burj Hammoud, owned at the time by George Bedorian. Armenians know each other… he knew of my talent and commissioned me,” Hawarian recalls. “That was in 1963. But I painted affiches for Qamishli’s Cinemas. There was the Cinema Damascus; Cinema Fouad, which was Armenian Catholic; Cinema Haddad was Assyrian; Cinema Garbis was Armenian; and the Sheherazade, an open-air cinema.”

“We used to paint in the downtown cinemas, the Cinema Pigalle, Rivoli, that was the best area,” he explained. And indeed Hawarian’s breakthrough came when he was introduced to Chafic Fathallah, a prominent film distributor, who asked him to paint for the Rivoli. Having started out as the youngest of the lot, Hawarian quickly made a name for himself and became a sought-after affiche artist.

“There was another guy, when I started working with them [the Rivoli], but I became the prominent artist there. So I entered the bigger market thanks to Fathallah. Then American companies opened, Concorde, Metro, United, Paramount, Universal, CIC, they came to me to do the posters.” He continues: “I started working for the Rivoli in 1968, then Concorde, then Piccadilly, the affiches would go to Byblos, Tripoli, Sidon, Tyre, and Zahle – it grew until 1975.”

Hawarian, who has a prominent moustache and a mischievous, friendly smile, readily admits to being in love with cinema… and with some of its greatest stars. He would not need to watch the movies to paint his affiches. He received the studio pictures and replicated and magnified them as he’d done at school.

With the war in Beirut most of the cinemas froze. “There was only one cinema in Jounieh at the time,” Hawarian points out. “In 76/77 there was a little improvement, all the other old customers started asking for affiches again. I worked with Empire, also in the Hamra area the cinemas started again. There were also singers, artists who used to do shows, and I used to paint them. And not only cinema stars, but I painted the open air cinema in Zaitounay, owned by a friend’s father.”

Known to be able to do big jobs, Hawarian had a good reputation and said he was able to maintain himself financially through his art. His biggest job was a 40x10m affiche that was put up in Verdun, to announce a new James Bond film. “It took a lot of time to dry, it was humid, I got the commission during the rainy season but I accomplished it in 10 days. It got Concorde the best turn-out for any movie ever!”

Once the weekly run of a movie was over, the affiche would, however, be whitewashed and he’d have to paint over it. The posters in the street would be covered by others. This affected him and by the early 70s he had already started doing his own artwork – a few of these works still survive. His focus gradually shifted and included commissions for religious work. Then, in 1980, he started accepting commissions to paint political figures. Just like his film stars, he painted Lebanon’s political who’s who from photographs.

Though many cinemas closed due to the war and because of the advent of TV, the demand for Hawarian’s work didn’t decrease, but he chose to stop. The very last Hawarian went up at the Espace 2000 in Jounieh in 1995 to advertise the movie Seven.

Not surprisingly, Hawarian is nostalgic.

Houry Ellezian contributed to this article.

https://now.mmedia.me/lb/en/features/memories-of-a-movie-poster-artist

Advertisements
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Genia Boustany’s A FREEtown of Mine

 

Models and actors before the war frequented the tropical beach of Tokeh. Image courtesy of Genia Boustany

Models and actors before the war frequented the tropical beach of Tokeh. Image courtesy of Genia Boustany

Sierra Leonean children, born after the end of the pernicous civil war, giving the author peace signs. Image courtesy of Genia Boustany

Sierra Leonean children, born after the end of the pernicous civil war, giving the author peace signs. Image courtesy of Genia Boustany

Koidu Holdings, a diamond mining company located in the diamond fields of Kono District in eastern Sierra Leone. Image courtesy of Genia Boustany

Koidu Holdings, a diamond mining company located in the diamond fields of Kono District in eastern Sierra Leone. Image courtesy of Genia Boustany

Genia taking photographs at one of the Diamond Mines she gained access to. Image courtesy Genia Boustany

Genia taking photographs at one of the Diamond Mines she gained access to. Image courtesy Genia Boustany

King Jimmy Market is located in one of the best natural harbors in central Freetown and one of the oldest markets in Sierra Leone. Image courtesy of Genia Boustany

King Jimmy Market is located in one of the best natural harbors in central Freetown and one of the oldest markets in Sierra Leone. Image courtesy of Genia Boustany

Since the war in Sierra Leone (1991-2002) ended, the small West African nation rarely grabs the attention of the world media.

The fact that a young woman, author and photographer Genia Boustany, who is not Sierra Leonean but Lebanese has published a book on Freetown, the country’s capital, is therefore quite remarkable. It is even more so for the fact that this is the first book published on Freetown in 25 years. This was a one-woman project: Genia Boustany self-edited this, her first book, A FREEtown of Mine…, organized the layout, and oversaw the entire publishing process.

A few African-born Lebanese or Lebanese of mixed raced, referred to as Afro-Lebanese, have gained considerable fame. There was Roda Antar, for example, a Freetown-born midfielder. There was also John Joseph Akar (1927-1975) who was an entertainer, writer and diplomat. Born to a Lebanese father and a Sierra Leonean mother he wrote Sierra Leone’s national anthem.

Boustany herself spent six years of her early childhood in Sierra Leone. Upon finishing university she decided to revisit Freetown.

Boustany was enchanted by Sierra Leone’s colors. The country felt familiar while being also new and unknown to her, returning as an adult with childhood memories. The photographs she took in 2010 and a subsequent trip this year led to the publication of her book. “I visited Freetown and I fell in love with it,” Boustany writes in her introduction.

The war was raging at the time she left Freetown in 1995. While her father and uncles went back once the war was over, Boustany would not return for 15 years. When she did return in 2010, after studies in cinematography and creative management, she brought back many impressions: 7000 photographs. “When I went and visited the place it felt familiar but at the same time it was new and unknown to me,” Boustany tells NOW. “The thing that affected me the most were the colors, you find similar tones and hues in Lebanon and Europe but the colors there made a huge impact on me being a photographer.”

Showing her friends back in Lebanon her photographs, ranging from gorgeous tropical beaches – Bureh and Maroon Island are her favorite spots in Freetown – to busy markets and amputee soccer players, they were surprised by what they saw and felt she needed to do something with what she had captured. Slowly the idea of a book materialized. Launched in July, A FREEtown of Mine… is a labor of love, full of vibrant images – portraits and landscapes. It also includes information (people, history, religion culture and economy) on a country that has become synonymous with war, child soldiers and blood diamonds and is ranked 177 of 187 on the 2012 Human Development Index.

In the absence of official bodies or institutions that could have facilitated the process or issued permits (to take pictures), her family in Freetown assisted her and gave her vital access to a 4×4 and driver. “Especially as a woman with a camera, you can’t really leave the house on your own,” she explained.

Asked about the lack of Lebanese-African creative collaborations, Boustany argued that there were not many artistic productions, no publishing houses or even media outlets in Sierra Leone. “It’s a very poor country – these things make people express themselves at a personal level, but it’s not easy to make such a connection, to share art. You have to gain trust to collaborate, especially with photography – people didn’t like my camera. Partly they were afraid of it (a big, professional camera,) or they thought it was devilish. After a while you get a feeling, whether someone consents to you taking a photo or not,” she added.

Aliah her driver, who was a tourist guide and was enthusiastic about her project, negotiated on her behalf, often helping her gain peoples’ trust. Through her family’s connections, she also had unique access to various companies and even mines, of which the book features a number of astonishing shots. “Few people could make such a book, most Lebanese have not been there,” she emphasized.

Her book was also motivated by her wish to change certain perceptions. “When people hear you’re from Lebanon they assume you come from a war-torn country. Freetown or Beirut, they know us for our wars and negative facts instead of positive ones. There used to be tourism in Sierra Leone before the war but now all the hotels have been destroyed and the situation is worst than it was. There are no hotels and nobody to take you around. The roads are bad… the movie Blood Diamond had a bad impact.”

The book underlines how Sierra Leone, like Lebanon, has great potential. It had a significant impact on those Lebanese who’d lived in Sierra Leone. After seeing her book some families have apparently even been toying with the idea of going back. Those who have never visited the country will be surprised at what they discover. Above all Boustany hopes that it will make Sierra Leoneans proud.

“The book didn’t change me, being there did.”

‘A FREEtown of Mine…’ is available at: Librairie Antoine, Virgin Megastore, Wonders of the Sea Museum in Jdeideh.

https://now.mmedia.me/lb/en/features/genia-boustanys-freetown

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Making Afro-Lebanese Connections

Sae Lis' first album The Quest, released in 2012 and infused with soul, motown, ska and African musical elements. Image courtesy of Sae LIs'

Sae Lis’ first album The Quest, released in 2012 and infused with soul, motown, ska and African musical elements. Image courtesy of Sae LIs’

Sae Lis performed at Château Tamberma in Togo for the first time earlier in 2013 together with local musician Elom 20c. Image courtesy of Sae Lis'

Sae Lis performed at Château Tamberma in Togo for the first time earlier in 2013 together with local musician Elom 20c. Image courtesy of Sae Lis’

Having spent 15 years in post-apartheid South Africa, I have rather strong feelings with regards to racism and racial discrimination or at worst, racially-motivated hate crimes. I’ve always refused to accept racism in any form, however subtle, including the “it was just a joke” cover. That said, Lebanon’s challenged me many times with really crass racism, statements made even by nice people (friends) or racist practices.

Pointing fingers doesn’t usually help but when it happens in a personal environment, I have initiated conversations, asked (hard) questions, tried to have whoever made that comment take a look at the other person’s position or situation. At times it has worked… others not. My refusal to step into any beach club (if they let non-Europeans or non-Arabs onto their premises, they’re most likely not allowing these patrons to have a dip. They may look after children or animals or run errands and sweat in the sun…..) did not inspire anyone else to stop frequenting these places.

Rather than point the finger at the dire situation, which many organizations work on improving, pushing for Palestinian, Syrian or migrant’s workers’ rights and greater tolerance overall, I decided to look for Lebanese who embrace their African childhoods and through creative work, have been shining a positive light on the continent.

Here is musician Sae Lis’ Portrait:

Lebanese people first settled in West Africa in the mid-nineteenth century. In small countries such as Togo and Sierra Leone, a handful of Lebanese families worked hard to establish themselves and quickly gained significant economic clout. At present there are an estimated 250,000 Lebanese in West Africa.

Waka Waka, the official Soccer World Cup 2012 song performed by Shakira and South Africa’s Freshlyground, was a rare but momentous Lebanese-African artistic collaboration. While Lebanese cuisine has gained in popularity amongst West Africans, the cultures have not been mixing as much as one might expect after more than a century of cohabitation. Nor does the continent, on the whole, seem to have inspired an artistic response from Arab immigrants.

Singer and songwriter Sae Lis’ aka Elissa Boustani is a Lebanese cultural figure who celebrates her African childhood, portrays the countries she’s lived in in a positive light, and has shared this with Lebanese audiences (where African culture is seldom fêted.)

Born and raised in Togo’s capital Lomé, Elissa readily admits that her African childhood had a huge impact on her, and keeps influencing her musical choices. Asked what audiences felt about her fusing African musical strands into her work, she states that the response was much stronger in Africa and Europe than Lebanon. “There is a minority of people in Lebanon who are open to this kind of music but generally most of the country doesn’t know about world music. There’s one big exception and that is Zeid Hamdan who has also collaborated with African musicians.”

Elissa knows that some Lebanese businessmen exploit, or worse, mistreat, locals. “I have seen both (good and bad practices) and it’s very hard to accept, being Lebanese myself. I wish more Lebanese would involve themselves in African cultures , but from what I see they only work there and send money to their homeland. That is good for their families, but it would be great if Lebanese people were more open-minded.”

The vivacious young woman referred to as “The Girl with the Red Afro”, has worked with Mao Otayeck, a big name on the African music scene. “He produced my first album The Quest. He is half Lebanese, half Ivorian, and he lives in Senegal. He is a like a big brother to me.”

Earlier this year, Elissa played a first gig in Lomé. “I met a Togolese artist named Elom 20ce via Facebook, a young bright rapper with very smart songs. (…) I played The way you treat me with his guitarist and then we all jammed on one of my songs, Bétonville. It was a great concert with an amazing response from the crowd.”

Before moving to Paris with her mother, a choreographer, when she was nine, Elissa grew up in Lomé, where her mother had a studio. “We would put together a big show every year. There was always music, costumes, sets, artists… I loved being on stage, I was very curious. My mom would put on music at home all day, all kinds of music. I guess it influenced me.” Elissa is unequivocal that her upbringing was a blessing. Her mother’s musical tastes ranged from Bob Marley’s reggae to Mahalia Jackson’s gospel, Fela Kuti’s Afrobeat to the Malian griot Salif Keita.

“I hear a lot of African influences in my music without it being completely African but it lives in me,” she admits. What further impacted on her was the omnipresence of music and dance in Togolese people’s lives. “It’s a beautiful thing to be surrounded by this.”

The sounds of her childhood, notably reggae, run so deep that they have become a trademark of her own music. Besides influencing her style, Africa also features in some of her lyrics. In ‘La tête dans les nuages’ (Head in the Clouds in English), she refers to her childhood: “derrière une enfant sauvage se cache un coeur de bohème” (“behind a wild girlchild hides a bohemian heart” in English). “Most people only saw in me a growing rebellious kid but never knew that behind it was hiding a bohemian heart.”

Facing tough competition from 50 countries, Sae Lis’ recently scooped a silver medal in the ‘chanson’ category at the seventh Jeux de la Francophonie in Nice, France.

Diversity in life, in art, is precious to Elissa who laments the lack of tolerance in Lebanon. “I can only wish this will start changing with years to come. I think mixing cultures and colors is a richness.”

Sae Lis’ ‘The Quest’ is available at most music stores.

https://now.mmedia.me/lb/en/features/the-sounds-and-colors-of-sae-lis-africa

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Badguèr – a window into Burj Hammoud

Image

Image

Image

Amid Burj Hammoud’s narrow alleys – lined with shops and workshops, bustling with pedestrians and children on bicycles, and strung overhead with Armenian flags, electric wires, and washing lines – Badguèr stands out like an oasis. Dating back to 1930, this pink house near the Beirut River is a promotional center for artisans and creativity, the ground floor of which is home to authentic and delicious Armenian cuisine comprised of carefully prepared dishes from traditional recipes.

The two-storey house includes exhibition venues, a boutique for artistic creations and handcrafts, conference and training rooms, a guest room to host master artisan trainers or for residencies, and an outdoor terrace. The dining room is spacious and bright with cozy tables covered with crocheted tablecloths. Rugs are displayed on the walls and on the right hand side is a piano.

In the room adjacent to the restaurant visitors can watch a film about Burj Hammoud’s artisans. Upstairs, exquisite Armenian needlework, crochet creations, knitted slippers and jewelry are on display, some dating back decades.

The house, which functions like a rhizome, is the brainchild of Arpiné

Mangassarian, who is known by everyone as Arpi.

“I wanted to create links,” Mangassian says of her motivation in setting up Badguèr (which means ‘image’ or ‘photograph’ in Armenian.) “Keeping to ourselves will be a disservice; we need to engage, we need to open windows, create passages to make people curious [about Burj Hammoud].”

Badguèr is the result of a long journey. “I had this dream; I knew that this area had big potential socially, and regarding its artisanal work. In our culture we used to feel proud of our accomplishments, including cultural ones. We’ve always been creators and I wanted to demonstrate this creative output.”

The realization of Mangassarian’s dream began in 2009, when she was invited to take part in in a special edition of the Agenda Culturel focusing specifically on Burj Hammoud. She began receiving requests to bring artisans to exhibitions and to do live demonstrations. “After a series of exhibitions, I was lucky. My uncle gave me a gift and with that the family could buy and renovate this house.”

Often hiding behind non-descript shop fronts across the Armenian neighborhood are jewelers, hat and bag makers, tailors, shoemakers, ceramicists, medal carvers, blacksmiths, locksmiths, and setters. The area also abounds in repair shops. “If something’s broken, people tend to say: ‘go to Burj Hammoud, they can fix it,’” Houry Ellezian, a friend of

Mangassarian said. “We became famous for fixing things. We never threw anything away, always kept stuff. We were the early recyclers.”

Once a wetland, Burj Hammoud’s history as neighborhood dates back to the 1920s, when it became the stopping point for Armenian refugees who had managed to survive the genocide and escape its Turkish perpetrators. Mangassian’s 92-year old father Noubar was born in Aleppo, after his mother crossed deserts and plains on foot for seven-months until reaching the Syrian border. A fixture at Badguèr, Mangassarian senior showed NOW a painting he made as a young man of Mother Armenia, which is now on display in the restaurant area.

Carole Corm writes in her book Beirut: A guide to the city that “Burj Hammoud would become the refugees’ enduring home with two-, three-and four-story buildings, planned on a linear grid, gradually replacing tents and wooden barracks…Armenian newspapers, social clubs, schools and political parties developed over the span of a generation. Bustling with activity, it is the industrial heart of the capital.”

The tour Mangassarian and Ellezian gave NOW first stopped at the Aprahamian Factory, which was established 60 years ago, supplying local stores and exporting quality leather shoes to Africa and the Gulf. Ellezian had bought shoes for her son’s prom there.

Vahé Mitilian, grandson of Lido Shoes’ founder, showed NOW a room filled with leather swatches, prototypes and tools, where the latest winter production was lined up. “So many pieces have to come together,” Mitilian explained, opening a tinted glass cabinet filled with a range of silver-studded high heels posing next to vertiginous stilettos in leather and artificial materials. “Designing a new shoe is a long process.”

Nearby a few men, each seated at their workstation, engaged in various stages of this undertaking. Mitilian’s uncle Viken popped his head through the door holding an 18cm stiletto: “The shoe will carry the body and the body will carry the rest,” he said.

Next up was a visit to the goldsmith Kevork Kazanjian, who as the teenage son of a diamond setter was sent to do an apprenticeship with well-known Armenian goldsmith Busant Shublakian. Kazanjian now sells his creations to shops in Lebanon, and works for private clients at home and abroad. He displayed some finely crafted pendants with precious stones inset as well as an antique gold ring on his office desk.

Mangassarian vividly recalls how as children she and her brother would marvel at the giant cinema poster on display at Beirut’s Rivoli Cinema, without fail signed ‘Havarian,’ making the two feel proud.

During Lebanese cinema’s golden age, the three Havarian brothers used to paint large, unique posters for theaters all over Lebanon. Yervant Havarian’s eyes lit up when talking about a 40x10m poster he painted in his small workshop for a James Bond movie, which once complete was mounted on the Concorde Centre in Verdun. “It is due to this poster that they had the best box offices sales ever. It hasn’t been topped until today,” he said. “I loved my job and did it with passion and I loved the cinema.” Havarian now primarily paints religious oil paintings for churches.

Mangassarian currently serves as head of architecture and urban planning for the Burj Hammoud’s municipality. In her office is a painting carrying the dedication: “For Arpi, who carries her name well and illuminates the whole of Burj Hammoud.” Arpi means ‘sun’ in Armenian.

Mangassarian sees her role as an intermediary. “The aim of Badguèr is to make their work known and connect the artisans with people who will appreciate their artisanship.”

Badguèr is window into a world of highly skilled artisans, who gave their families a new life in Lebanon while preserving skills passed down by their fathers and forefathers. It is bound to change the way visitors look at a story infused with trauma, resilience, creativity, and spirit.

Beyond that, it also offers insight into Armenian culture, which to Mangassarian is a component of that rich Lebanese culture in which she firmly believes.

For more information call 01 240 214 or 03 652 235 or consult Badguèr’s Facebook page.  

Image

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

Sweet Success

My first article for a business magazine. And my sweetest thus far. As a result of visiting/interviewing four sweet manufacturers and Lebanese generosity especially when it comes to food, our fridge at some stage contained a whopping 3 kilos of ‘helou’ (sweets).

Eid Mubarak!

http://www.executive-magazine.com/consumer-society/sweet-manufacturers-lebanon/5856

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A ferry full of refugees. And me.

refugee girl

Stumbled across this on my ever so crowded desktop. I wrote it on 27 June 2013 on the ferry I took from Tripoli, Lebanon’s second largest city, situated in the north and Tasuçu, Turkey.

On the way back, I’d be surrounded by Lebanese who had driven from Austria, Switzerland, Germany and even Sweden to Tasuçu from where they took the ferry to Lebanon to visit family during Ramadan. A couple of decades ago, they too had gone to Europe as refugees, during the Civil War (1975-1990).

Standing on the upper deck. Smoking. Looking at the stars above and the lights of Tripoli. Nearby, a group of people, men and women, sitting on mats they rolled out, a couple of pairs of shoes on the side. They’re eating. They’re Syrians, like most of my co-passengers. I’m heading to Mevlana, they’re heading towards safety, new beginnings, the unknown. Like Taha who left his three children and his pregnant wife in Damascus, looking for new opportunities in Mersin, hoping to soon find new work and being able to send for them. His eldest daughter, 19, is studying law. His son is 11, his second daughter 7. He thinks of them and his wife, his pillar, in everything he used to make until recently. He showed me the kitchen and interiors he designed and had made of acrylic imported from Korea or stone from Italy. His business was doing well. One of the bathrooms he showed me only exists in the picture in his mobile phone. The house it was part of has been destroyed. Thinking of the future, a future in Syria is near impossible, he says, whichever side may win. He’s been to Egypt already, trying to make it there. It wasn’t the right place… Over the past months, he’s taught himself some Turkish, in the hope of being able to settle there.

On the passageways outside, people sit, many busy with their mobile phones, ipads and ipods, others silently smoking nargileh.

And I am thinking of the journey ahead to Konya and Rumi. Of Roger. And of what lies ahead for the all that frail elderly couple I saw, the babies, small children… all the people for one night in the same boat with me.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Jon Batiste & his Stay Human Band at Zouk – A Love Riot

Jon Batiste

Seeing the 26 year old, über talented and incredibly versatile master in a huge range of styles, Jonathan Batiste and his Stay Human Band live at the Zouk Mikael International Music Festival live last night was an absolute treat. He has an intoxicating energy, his light and humorous interaction with the audience – he doesn’t keep much distance, rather seeks close interaction, and the set-up at Zouk lent itself perfectly for that kind of interplay – is in stark contrast with his complete control of musical meanderings that traverse a great variety of styles. He effortlessly hops from one track to the next, his equally fantastic band are the perfect partners in crime, playing along jokes and ready to take up any challenging note, beat or riff thrown at them. Jon and his band indulged the audience and gave three encores.

According to his Wikipedia entry, “Jonathan and his band are particularly known for actively engaging with audiences in an effort to create greater accessibility to and appreciation for the art of live music. The band draws its moniker from the belief that the human interaction of a live musical performance can uplift humanity in the midst of the “plug in/tune out” nature of modern day society. Either on tour or during time off, the band can be seen spontaneously playing in non traditional venues and starting impromptu demonstrations through the streets which Jon and the band have termed as “Love Riots”.”

Bringing together the lovely, classically trained Monica Yunus with the Stay Human Band was a bold move but musically, the opera singer had not enough of a raspy, groovy, full-bodied, jazzy and wild voice to match the boys in the band. Still, the festival ought to be commended to take risks and to bring out young rising stars and albeit a challenging economic context, not merely going for commercial crowd-pulling acts.

A night to remember, a man (& band) to follow!

Image taken from http://jonathanbatiste.com

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment