Our Band from Beirut

christine%20jassem.jpgFollowing the successful live performance I did last week, the days just seemed so empty and purposeless, so I signed up for more Mu duty. Luckily, this week at Mu we put on a very special little concert, and had some very interesting guests staying in our building: we were visited by the Middle East’s ONLY improvised/experimental band, the Moukhtabar Ensemble, from Beirut. This was booked before the war broke out, and we had no idea whether it would take place or whether the band would get blown up or what would happen.
To say that they’re “from Beirut” is a little inexact, as at least three of the seven musicians live in Paris. Be that as it may, at least one of those chose to spend the duration of the recent war living in Beirut, so this seems to be a close-knit group, very happy to be united.
The ensemble are: Mazen Kerbaj (trumpet, biscuit tin), Béchir Saadé (clarinets, flutes), Christine Sehnaoui (alto sax) (pictured), Sharif Sehnaoui (guitar), Charbel Haber (guitar), Jassem Hindi (electronics) (pictured) and Raed Yassin (double-bass). They were joined for their two Oslo shows by Sweden’s David Stackenäs (guitars).

You can read biographies of Christine Sehnaoui and Sharif Sehnaoui here.
Mazen Kerbaj has his own website but you should definitely take a look at his blog, which takes the form of comic drawings with accompanying text. The drawings he made during the war are really worth seeing. There are some images I will find hard to forget. And some sentences (“yesterday i slept early… at 2 am and today i woke up early… at 6 am with the melody of the israeli alarm clock”).
Raed Yassin is also behind a comic blog, this one quite satirical, with surreal appearances from Batman. On Day 21 of the war he posted an mp3 of a radio/tapes/electronics piece called “Last Call” that you can download.
Béchir Saadé also blogs, with “past and current thoughts on the Middle East.”
Oslo in September is pleasant, a little cooler than the summer (it’s 18 degrees right now), and the first smells of autumn are on the wind. The sunlight goldens the walls of our building, and we had a very nice time hanging out in our backyard with our guests. Things got more adventurous late last night, after their second show (at Cosmopolite), when I had the opportunity to take to the streets of Oslo with them. One of the Dans for Voksne crew (our co-organisers) led the posse to Spasibar. When we came to a vacant lot on St Olavs Gate where presumably a building once stood, Mazen laughed darkly, “It’s the southern suburbs of Beirut! Except there, it goes on for kilometers.”
Spasibar itself didn’t meet their liking, because of the tightly-packed crowd, and most of them left to go home, although one stayed because he was talking to a Norwegian girl. I had a couple of drinks there and then walked home. I was pottering around, about to go to bed, when the buzzer rang. It was 5.30am and it was Jassem. I let him in. I had last seen him amongst the others, going home en masse, about three hours before! Apparently he had wandered off and had his own bizarre Oslo odyssey with random Norwegians.
Bjarne remarked over coffee this morning that it’s going to be very quiet now. That is, until our next international band arrives…

Barry Kavanagh writes fiction, and has made music, formerly with Dacianos.

Contact him here.