Thursday, June 7, 2012

Exclusive Interview with Local Trip-Hop Duo Soma Verse!

Soma Verse is a local trip-hop/electronica duo comprised of  Riad Al-Qabandi and Noora Kassem. I have worked with both of them in different capacities; with Riad, a talented producer and composer, I did about 5 recording sessions; he's a real professional in the studio with a great vision.

With Noora, I performed alongside her at Nawaf Al-Gheraibah's Bija Concert. In that link you can see her take the spotlight and shine ... she has perhaps the most powerful voice in Kuwait.

Both are also very good freinds of mine... and to this I decided a full interview with them would be awesome to showcase their talent with the Kuwaiti music community. So here's the interview after the jump:

Speakin' the Blues (StB): So first things first; what is Soma Verse and who is who?

Soma Verse is an alternative Trip-Hop & Electronica duo in which its members, Noora Kassem and Riad Al-Qabandi, strive to bring together their different and eclectic musical influences into a unique and emotive sound that is largely underrepresented in this region. Noora is a self taught vocalist and lyricist who grew up listening to blues and soul, and maintains a growing interest in blending that sound with more experimental electronic music. Riad has been working for the past 12 years as a professional TV and Film music composer, as well as a producer for various local bands, and handles the keyboards and sound engineering for Soma Verse.

StB: That's a winning combination right there! How did you guys start doing this?

Noora: It was a friendship first, before it became a band. We met through a mutual producer friend who introduced me to Riad so that I could sing backup vocals to one of his tracks. From there, a friendship quickly just kicked up. And then we realized we had ample room to share a musical project, to do something different and authentic to both our musical styles.

Riad: Noora came into this session, and I was just blown away by this 17 year old’s incredible voice and how comfortable she was in front of the mic. Later, she started emailing me tons of lyrics she wrote, and that inspired me to put music to them. Our first band, Dispersia, was formed from that collaboration, and lasted a few years, but was mainly just us writing and sharing our music with friends and family.

Noora: As time moved on, it became difficult to continue our band because I moved to the states for college, but Riad and I still managed to stay in touch regularly through email, and exchanged ideas for melodies and lyrics. After a break of a few years, we found ourselves in the same country again, and thought it was the right time to work together again, and Soma Verse was born.

StB: From who do you draw your musical inspirations?

Riad: For me its been all things electronic! The early Trip-Hop movement was a big influence in my sound. Bands like Massive Attack, Portishead, early Bjork, stuff that blended a strong sense of melody with interesting and new elecronicsoundscapes. I’m also influenced by orchestral music, and especially film scores.

Noora: it depends on what age you’re talking about. My father was a Bach and John Lee Hooker addict, as well as Pink Floyd. Those three musical greats would have to be my beginnings. Piano lessons kept me in touch with classical music throughout, but I also slowly fell deeply in love with blues, soul and jazz: from Waters to Holiday, Coltrane to Getz. As I grew older, select 90s Rnb, Rap, hip hop and trip hop found their way into my heart too.

StB: Onviously Noora and I share a lot of musical tastes! Tell us about the songwriting and recording process... 

Riad: It seems to come in waves, sometimes I’ll just come up with a bunch of musical arrangements and ideas in the studio, maybe a melody idea that I hum along, or mumble actually, I’m the king of the mumble vocal! Then Noora will take that and develop a lyric and melody. Other times it starts when Noora comes in with an idea for a melody or lyrical flow, and gets in the vocal booth, while I play along on the piano. The arrangement process is usually a back-and-forth in the studio, and we’re both very involved in the sound if the final product.

Noora: Riad is King! Oo bas lol.We write things in a non-sequential way. It usually starts with either a lyrical idea based on a concept or an emotion, or a melody line; the melody line could be a vocal which popped up in my head, or a full on composition in Riad’s head which he translated into an arrangement of sounds. We then get together and sing it/play it out, and in that exchange, a song comes into shape.

StB: What message are you trying to convey?

Noora: Each of us has a mixed history, a sort of mixed background that isn’t always linear I guess – music is our space to vent about that, music makes sense of it for me.

Riad: I don’t know if it’s really a message, but for me it’s a desire to convey an emotion and feeling through music, and really get the listener to feel what we were feeling when we wrote a song, to take them on the journey we were experiencing, through sound manipulation and melody.

StB: How do you promote / sell your music? Has the internet helped get your music out?

Riad: The Internet has been essential in introducing our music to a broader audience, and we’re always trying to find better ways to reach people. I think in this part of the world especially, it’s so hard to share your creative output, and the Internet makes it possible. We’re not selling our tracks yet, we’ve posted a couple on Soundcloud, but we’re going hold off the hard promotion until we are closer to finishing our album.

StB: What do you think about the Kuwaiti music scene and how does that affect your music?

Noora: The music scene in Kuwait is sort of like the social scene in the country, it comes in pockets and is usually underground, sometimes not communicative with its separate parts enough, but definitely imbued with so much hidden talent. The talent has come more into the light lately with several festivals and concerts, and that’s been just amazing! Soma Verse’s music hasn’t really been affected by the local scene yet, since we’ve been quite hermit-like; but we hope to be more involved in Kuwait’s music scene now and in the future.

Riad: Like many musicians here probably feel, I find it often frustrating not to have the venues and outlets to perform our music, or the support required to develop local talent. But there have been some really encouraging changes going on, with a few people taking an admirable initiative in getting the ball rolling. Whether it’s through organizing private events, or through blogs like this one, that bring to focus what’s going on in the scene, and just promoting a love and appreciation for local and original music of varying genres!

StB: Any future plans?

Riad: Right now it’s just about working on our material and trying to finish our album. We also have plans to shoot our first video very soon, which is something we’re really excited about!

Noora: We cant wait to share the new stuff we’re working on. I’m really proud of how our sound is maturing and feel excited about having more people hear it.

StB: Thanks for taking the time to give us this awesome interview!!!

I urge everyone to visit Soma Verse's Facebook and Soundcloud pages; I hope they get their album out soon!

Visit Soma Verse on:


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