Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Response to's Article on Blues in Beirut

Yesterday, Mario Jamal wrote an article on called 'The Thrill Is Gone: Thoughts on a Blues Malaise in Beirut'. 

As a self-professed bluesman, who has performed in Beirut, Kuwait, and Dubai, I have to add my 2 cents in.


You seem to particularly know some blues music, but neither BB King, Bobby 'Blue' Bland nor Albert King are considered "Chicago Blues", and early delta blues players are more considered to be Robert Johnson, Son House, Blind Lemon Jefferson etc. RL Burnside was only a youngster when these bluesmen were at their prime. 

The White Stripes (through Jack White) and the Black Keys are not part of a blues-rock revival (if such a revival really exists). We know Jack White has shown interest in the early blues, even performing 'Death Letter Blues' by Son House live. But his overall music, including the Black Keys, have little to no commonality with early delta blues.

With that out of the way, let's move on to the Beirut scene:

During the 5 years I spent in Lebanon during my AUB years between 2000-2005, I performed in my own blues band, regularly I may add, back when Monot St. was active, and we played several music festivals in Hamra and Hadath, etc. Check more out [here] and [here].

At the time, only The Wanton Bishops were not in the blues scene. The rest you already mentioned. By the time I left, Shady Nashef & Band were unfortunately becoming a covers only band (not just blues), even though all on his team are amazing musicians. 

When I recently heard that the Real Deal Blues Band still plays till today, and that Quadrangle still stands, I think you then realize what the problem is.

The blues is a much highly regarded genre in Lebanon. Not only are the Lebanese more generally knowledgeable about blues and jazz compared to other places in the region, but they are also active band supporters and live music enthusiasts.

We fantasize about the history and imagery of what blues music is; and indeed in that sense the blues is evident in Beirut and Lebanon; isn't there poverty, destitution, and even more worse things going on?

The answer is simple; it's not popular ENOUGH to generate enough money for musicians to make a living, nor for the establishment to generate enough revenue to pay the band or to cover their costs.

I give you an example from my experience:

From 2003-2005 my band Evergreen Blues Band, was performing weekly at Roadhouse Blues pub in Monot. We were getting $100 a week FOR THE WHOLE BAND. 

How do you expect a 4 piece group to survive this? Granted we were college kids and we didn't care. But for someone older, with a family and responsibilities, this is ridiculous. 

So what did musicians have to do? They adapt. 

Either they perform other kinds of music, be a party / wedding / TV band, or end up taking regular jobs. I perform a lot of blues music today. but it's not enough to sustain me and my family (I have a daughter now).

That alone is enough cause for the blues; however just as Jazz is now the least popular genre in the US, where it was created, we have to always add the economic factor into it.

As much as I talk and discuss and preach about the blues, for 15 years now, I always have to remove my romantic fantasies and must embrace reality. 

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