July 02--BEIRUT -- Red lights sweep across the stage, illuminating the three young men's faces with a demonic glow. Tarik Khuluki coaxes a tuneful howl from his guitar, his long black hair whipping back and forth. Khaled Omran attacks his bass as though it's just insulted his mother, his melodic voice assuming a raw edge as Dani Shukri's driving drum beats resonate throughout the intimate confines of Metro al-Madina.Hamra's versatile underground venue hosted the launch of "180 Degrees," last Wednesday evening. The debut album of Syrian trio Tanjaret Daghet (pressure cooker) explores the many sources of pressure on the lost generation -- the one that came of age not in Europe during World War I, but globally today.
Omran, Khuluki, and Shukri embody a wide range of influences. An overriding rock vibe, from psychedelic to progressive, is augmented by elements of electronic, jazz and punk, with a slight oriental twist. These ingredients are pressurized into a grungy, rebellious sound that leave men's heads nodding and women's hips quaking.
The trio has an energetic, spontaneous stage presence but the nine tracks on their debut album -- produced by Lebanese guitarist Raed El Khazen -- are altogether more measured, subtle and melodic.
Tracks like "Under Pressure," "I Swear to Your Life" and "Don't be Afraid" are pure rock -- with overtones of riff-oriented U.S. band "Queens of the Stone Age." This runaway energy is punctuated by such introspective, subdued numbers as "Alternative." The first minute plays out in near silence, before Omran's soft, mournful tones trickle forth delicate as a lullaby, accompanied by gentle strumming.
"Farmers' Dining Tables" is a nostalgic, understated number, characterized by distant whistling, as though the vocalist is struggling to recall a half-remembered childhood folksong. Other tunes betray the band's early jazz influences, while "Where is the Pressure" returns to their instrumental roots, a whirling cacophony of percussion, electric guitar licks and feedback.
Tanjaret Daghet has lived in Lebanon for about a year. The ensemble first formed in 2008 as a four-member crew of instrumentalists, playing fusion, jazz and improvized tunes. Its current incarnation dates from 2011, when the focus switched "180 degrees," as Omran puts it. The group decided they needed to incorporate vocals into their sound to really communicate their message.
"We need songs, not just music," Omran explains. "Okay, we can speak through the music, but we need lyrics."
Although the vocals are in Arabic, they explain, the group's message is international and as such their liner notes include full English translations of every track. While the lyrics lose something in the process -- the rhyming Arabic words are concise and emphatic, while their English versions meander somewhat -- the translations obviously speak to a wider audience.
"The whole concept of the album," explains Shukri, "and for the band, is we're talking about a whole generation, in the Arab world or outside the Arab world, which is passing through the same things -- the same pressure.
"It's a message to all these people who didn't have the chance to express the things that they want in their own way. ... Some of the songs are angry, really angry about the situation. Some of them are optimistic, but it's all talking about the same pressure that all of us are under."
Known for his blend of Western and Middle Eastern musical styles, Khazen explains that he listened to the band rehearsing next door to his studio for some time before he approached them about working as their producer.
"I was watching 'Europe's Lost Generation' on CNN," he says, "and they're talking about the same age bracket, people from 20 [who have] finished up their studies to 25, 26," he says.
"Watching that report, seeing the percentages of unemployment, seeing the desperation in countries like Spain, Portugal, Greece, France, England -- I think these topics apply to a time we're living in in general: social pressure, cultural pressure, [the] pressure of stigma, economic pressure, sexual oppression.
"This is what really interested me as a producer," he continues. Amid "all the problems that are happening in Syria, it is very easy for them to become political and it is very easy for them to forget the bigger picture and focus on destruction, or the war, or uprising, or 'anti' or 'with,' or this or that. ... It was interesting to see that they still have the perspective to talk about what I think are the real issues behind what is apparently happening."
"180 Degrees" represents a slice of the varied underground music scene in Syria, which attracted ever-growing attention before the onset of the war in 2011. Beautifully produced, it is worth investing in a physical copy rather than downloading the tracks online, if only for the artwork.
A series of artwork by Syrian painter Mohammad Omran adorn the cardboard casing inside and out. Rather than printing the lyrics in a booklet, the group has decided to display the Arabic and English lyrics to each track on an individual card, the rear adorned with the artist's distinctive sketchy figures. It's the perfect complement to the band's raw sound.
Tanjaret Daghet's debut album, "180 Degrees," produced by Raed El Khazen, is available from selected outlets in Beirut and can also be downloaded online. For more information visit www.facebook.com/
(c)2013 The Daily Star (Beirut, Lebanon)
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