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Archive for December, 2013

Palestinian rock/metal band Khalas’s “Arabic Rock Orchestra” review

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Anyone that has read this blog knows my passion for rock and metal music, and additionally my interest in how this music is interpreted by bands from the Middle East and North Africa. I have posted about Khalas a few times before, sometimes to introduce them for pure aesthetic appeal and also for fundraising. They have been working on, and raising money for, their newest album Arabic Rock Orchestra for a great deal of time. After many hours invested, the band finished the album and sent it to me (all the way from their native Palestine) as they promised a long time ago. It arrived this week, much to my joy as I had been a fan for some time.

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The style of Khalas is rather interesting to an individual such as myself (i.e. an ethnomusicologist). The band is able to blend classical Arab genres and approaches (such as the taqasim and various maqamat) and instruments (like the oud and darabukka), whilst simultaneously utilizing heavy metal and hard rock instruments and stylistic approaches. The band themselves state:

“Khalas originated from the new Arabic and Oriental scene that is currently emerging in the Middle East. The Palestinian band inoculates sensual Arabic beats and lyrics with aggressive metal riffs. bread on various musical moods, such as AC/DC, Black Sabbath, etc… and stars from the Arab World: Muhammad Abdelwahab, Om Kolthum and Asmahan. The band composes original sounds while getting strong inspiration from the classical Arabic repertoire. All of which ruthlessly embedded with Rock and Metal arrangements.”

Every member of the group is a superb musician, and as evidenced by Arabic Rock Orchestra, clearly has a strong understanding of what playing as a band means. They never overpower each other, instead playing as one powerful machine that opens the mind of the listener to new sonic possibilities.

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Khalas really are pioneers, as the rock and metal scene in the Middle East is still growing (and in certain places, very controversial), and they are in many ways an example to their contemporaries. The ethnic identity of the band is present at every crunching guitar riff and crushing bass drum hit on Arabic Rock Orchestra. The sound of Khalas is truly unique, as they are able to blend their culture’s music with heavy metal in a way that rock fans around the world can pump their fist to.

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The album from start to finish, bluntly, kicks ass. It is the type of CD you blast in the car to let people know that you are a metal fan and they just have to deal with it. Every single song is filled with the utmost passion for music and for life, and you know that you are truly experiencing something unique with Arabic Rock Orchestra.

Additionally, Khalas use their music for peace, standing with Israeli musicians (this can be seen on the MTVU program Rebel Music) to bring change to their region and stop the bloodshed. The fact that they make such incredible music, and also have such an incredible message, makes Khalas a band you must listen to.

This review began with the start of my blog. I wanted to review an album by Khalas, and they were working on this album at the time. That was in July of 2012. I cannot tell you how grateful I am that the guys were able to find the funds to crank Arabic Rock Orchestra out. This music is amazing, and you would be wise to pick up a copy for yourself.

Khalas’s new album can be found at:

https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/arabic-rock-orchestra/id738659867

Khalas can be found at:

https://www.facebook.com/Khalasband

http://www.youtube.com/khalasband

https://myspace.com/khalasband

http://www.khalas.net/

https://twitter.com/khalasband

 

 

 

 

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Mainstream Music and the Death of Creativity

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                As someone who is a part of this community of music, I am often confronted with questions of my own conscience. I always have to ask myself if I am doing enough to propagate real music, music that is an authentic artistic expression. At the very least, music that objectively demonstrates effort, whether or not I find it aesthetically pleasing. More and more, I am finding the world I live in, namely a western society, becoming complacent in the music that is consumed by the masses. More importantly, the music that my generation and younger are responsible for supporting, both financially and verbally.  Fads come and go, and music itself is not dead (in fact, in all corners of the world it is quite alive), but the consumer market displays disturbing musical trends on a daily basis. The media then forces these trends on us, telling us that we will be in the wrong to oppose it. The Billboard Top 40 is loaded with artists that essentially copy each other, and yet they continue to rake in billions of dollars. Satirists and music journalists routinely make fun of the Justin Bieber/Kanye West/Taylor Swift paradigm (yes, I called them a paradigm), and yet in a sense through their constant wave of insult articles/TV segments keep these people popular. These individuals (among far too many more that dominate the airwaves) and their PR staff/record labels/managers shove their mass-produced/fast-food/emotionally-devoid/philosophically lacking/poorly structured bullshit down our throats, and millions upon millions accept it (and subsequently like the social media pages and buy the music on iTunes/Amazon or what have you).

                I am inclined to blame more than anyone else the media. It is the media that, on a nearly daily basis, promotes these artists. They may say “oh, we’re just reporting the current trends.” I ask though, who is creating these trends? Only a small percentage of acts spread like wildfire via actions of the people (i.e. Youtube), and even then, such acts require corporate promotion to sustain a lucrative career. Whether we realize it or not, in many ways the powers that be (i.e. record labels, corporations, media outlets etc. etc.) control what is popular. Unfortunately, through implicit and explicit messages through advertising and a cooperation between the media (print/internet/television) and corporate powers (especially record labels), we are told what music will be the future. By god, we don’t want to be left out of the future do we?????

                Even when artists come along that do inspire and shine a light into the cesspit that is the current music industry, they are often shoved aside (and if they aren’t, they may be frauds themselves). For instance, Lorde is touted as the antithesis to everything that her generation of musicians stand for (wealth, fame blah blah blah), and yet she is now (incrementally) personifying everything her song “Royals” says she’s against. In fact, if you are against something, you shouldn’t necessarily have to say it; it should be manifested in your actions.

                 If you watch the GRAMMY’s, you will notice the focus on the categories. Pretty much every one of these nomination categories demonstrates the plagiarism mentality, with every nominee essentially remixing the same concepts and sounds. There is rarely uniqueness, and when there is, it is greatly short-lived. The irony of all this is that there are far more categories of nominees that go unnoticed until a quick scrolling text at the show’s conclusion (if they are “lucky” enough to make that). In fact; most of the awards consist of performances from these mass-produced puppets of the industry, often taking up most of the show. Someone may protest “but Derek! It’s a celebration, of course there will be performances!” Duly noted, however, performances from whom? The charts toppers. But why are they charts toppers? Occasionally skill and hard work is the reason, but so often it is not (additionally, which charts are we looking at? Every system’s data produces different results). Most of the time people are on stage at the GRAMMYs taking credit for songs that they didn’t write, with choreography and staging they probably doubtfully created, promoting themselves and their fraudulent star power whilst spitting in the face of so many artists (nominated or not). The world is full of upper echelon musical talent, yet so many of these individuals die unnoticed with broken dreams. The world never got to hear their music, and why? Some asshole executives made the decision to produce and endlessly promote another fucking Miley Cyrus record, and oh look; Miley is now on 20/20 with Barbara Walters as one of the most fascinating people of the year!

I sound angry here, and guess what, I am. So often it is my own generation of 20-somethings (or younger) buying this crap. My generation is throwing cash at fast food junk music that sounds the same, a music that is a variation on a theme. Who loses out here? The musicians and composers who toil to make music that sounds like them, not someone else. The individuals who gig every day of the week, only to make a measly paycheck that can’t even pay the electric bill. They may have been trained at a fine music conservatory and are world-class musicians, yet society passes them by. Society has now become conditioned to consume this poison, this worthless crap called, in no uncertain terms, music. The glimmers of hope are so few and far between, and that fact should piss you off. Mainstream music is not, by default, an enemy. I’m not a hipster or one of those individuals who is against anything and everything that society is. However, when I see the community I belong to suffering because of the actions of its other members, and society in a large proportion accepting it, I am not going to shut up. I’m foaming at the mouth, and I want this shit stopped. You’ve got to help me. Boycott this crap, vocalize your rage. Make sure music that is true artistic expression (whether in the mainstream or the underground) is heard. Write petitions, stop the madness. I’m done, we are all done. I’m not going to have my children grow up in a world that Miles Davis, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Jimi Hendrix, John Bonham and Ravi Shankar are unknown to their generation or are considered to be for the old folks. Fuck that, we need to bring musicians of their caliber to the forefront. I refuse to let the bar continue to drop. We see it everyday, the progressive acceptance of worthless entertainment (“Here Comes Honey Boo-Boo” I’m looking straight at you). This entertainment is not an expression of anything but the brainwashing of society and a smiling executive cashing in on his billions. This is a dystopian world of art, and I fear so many do not even realize it. I want music to progress, but if progress looks like One Direction, I’m abandoning ship.

Will you stand with me? I can’t do this alone, because words are meaningless without action.