(This interview is special, namely because Khalas and I go back to when this blog started. I wanted to review one of the band’s albums when I was first getting this blog going and we have kept in touch ever since. Abed is a funny and heartfelt musician who I am glad to know as a human being. We were going to release this interview sooner, but the recent turmoil in Gaza left us in agreement to wait for the time being. Now is the time to read this wonderful exchange. Khalas is a band for any rock lover, and their love of music shows in everything they do. Enjoy reading.-Derek)
Derek Kortepeter: So you guys have an extremely unique sound, blending classical Arab tonality, rhythm and otherwise with heavy metal riffs, drum beats, and bass lines. What caused you guys to pursue this particular style?
Abed Hathout: We all came from music families and classical Arabic music took a huge part in our childhood. But when you become a teenager you start looking for something else, to rebel, and this is how we got into metal. But eventually with the years you grow up and get back to the roots and it came very natural to us to blend those two genres that we love the most.
DK: How did you guys all meet and form the band?
AH: We all came from the same city, and being a metalhead in our city was not a common thing. So every on the rock scene knew each other and we were friends before even thinking about forming Khalas. We wanted to listen to Arabic metal and couldn’t find any so we decided to create what we wanted to listen to.
DK: What would you say is your song-writing process, and how do you all contribute creatively to the songs?
AH: Mainly me or our former singer Bassam would come with an idea and we would play it to the other guys, and then each one bring a little bit of himself to the song. We never say no to any idea thrown in the air before we try it first, no matter how ridiculous it sounds to some of us. We always play first then we decide if it works or not.
DK: What musical influences impacted you all as musicians?
AH: Each one comes from different place musically. Some of us are more into classical rock, some more into heavy metal and hard rock stuff from Ozzy to Cradle of Filth etc. But we are all influenced by Arabic music, something that we all brought from home.
DK: I know personally as a rock/metal musician things can be difficult in terms of finding an audience, so how has your local music scene responded to your music?
AH: The biggest problem we had is that back in 1998 there was no Arabic rock scene around us whatsoever, so besides forming a band we had to build a scene from scratch. People were not used to going to rock concerts and did not know how to react, so I remember in our early shows people used to sit or stand and watch. But later on dancing and head banging became unseparated part of our shows, not to mention the lake of a proper sound systems and concert venues.
DK: I’m curious, namely because I am an ethnomusicologist that plays the oud, if any of you are classically trained in traditional Near Eastern instruments (darabuka, santur etc.)?
AH: Fadel is a professional darabuka player, and I used to fool around with the oud, but lately I have added quarter tones (semitones) to my guitar. I have been digging more and more in the Arabic maqamat and mixing it in my riffs.
DK: Can you talk about the tour you did with the Israeli band Orphaned Land, like the overall experience?
AH: For us it was a dream that came true, being on a tour bus, waking every morning in a different city. Playing every night for a different crowd for almost a month was not easy but it was a lot of fun, and being able to share that with the great guys of Orphaned Land was a really amazing and enlightening experience.
DK: What would you say the main message is behind your music?
AH: Sex drugs and rock’n’roll, just kidding (laughs) , actually I would say it’s the proof that Arabic grooves and sounds and lyrics can go hand in hand with heavy metal riffs and sound natural. What we actually do is take the western rock, process it through our Middle Eastern filters and through back to west again. And as I said it works perfectly and proves that music is a universal language, and the best proof for that is the reaction of the crowd in our Europe shows where most of them don’t understand the lyrics (since we only sing in Arabic), and yet they dance and enjoy and welcome us with love.
DK: Your album Arabic Rock Orchestra (which I reviewed on my blog) was released some time ago and it is awesome. How has the reaction been to the album?
AH:It was amazing and much better than we expected, and we are getting a great feedback on that album, even from non-Arabic speakers. It’s a great proof that when the groove is right, it works no matter in what language you sing.
DK: What can we expect from Khalas in the future? Any projects on the horizon?
AH: We are writing new material for our next album, and after winning the Metal Hammer’s “Best Global Band” award with Orphaned Land, we are working on a song together and hopefully it would be released soon.
DK: Anything else you would like to say before we close this interview?
AH: Sex, Shisha, and Rock’n’roll. (smiles)
Khalas’s new album can be found at:
Khalas can be found at: