Arab Legends in an electronic guise

Samer Saem Eldahr  aka Hello, Psychaleppo © Natacha Elmir

Samer Saem Eldahr aka Hello, Psychaleppo © Natacha Elmir

Aleppo is his home, Beirut the city that encouraged him to become a better person. One and a half year ago, the 24 year old Samer Saem Eldahr fled to the Lebanese capital where he converted his small apartment to a recording studio. For his new album Gool l’ah he electronically revamped Arabic music legends like Abdel Halim Hafez and Oum Kalthoum as a tribute. Hello, Psychaleppo!, as his music project is called, is absolutely an asset to the Arabic underground scene.

The situation in Syria forced you to flee. Do you feel at home in Beirut?

“It’s one of the greatest cities in the world, but I don’t feel at home here. I might run into lots of people on any given day, but the moment I return home I have the feeling I didn’t meet anyone that day. That I’m lonely and feel like a stranger isn’t the fault of the people around me. The Lebanese never gave me the feeling I’m not welcome. It’s just that it’s a complicated process, to have to flee to another country and have to find your way around there. It’s hard not to be able to be home.”

How would you describe Beirut?

“Like a beautiful woman who keeps forgetting how beautiful she really is. Although I don’t feel at home here, I do enjoy the beauty of this modern city. I start to feel more and more comfortable because of its rich arts and music scene.”

Did the city change you?

“Beirut has encouraged me to become a better person. When I first came here, I was confronted by new challenges and unexpected, unknown obstacles. Self-reflection played an important part in this, because I had to endure it all. I constantly challenge myself to deliver good quality in every respect. It’s an obsession. Through each work of art I make I get to understand myself better.”

Gool l’ah is, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful works of art of this year. How was it received?

“Thank you! Although I believe I did a good job, I didn’t expect the reactions to be so overwhelming. I feel this album will positively impact my career.”

Poster van Abdel Halim Hafez (onderdeel van het ‘Musical Artworks Project’). De Egyptische kunstenaar Kareem Goouda visualiseerde het nummer 'Tobayabooya'

Poster of Abdel Halim Hafez from the ‘Musical Artworks Project’. The Egyptian visual artist Kareem Goouda visualizes the track ‘Tobayabooya’.

The album’s fusion of electronic and Arabic music turned out to be a briljant success, but does the Arab world allow for such a mix?

“Absolutely. I believe good music can create its own space. In addition, contemporary music in the Arab world is becoming richer all the time. Interesting stuff is happening in the underground scene, so we can look forward to a prospering future.”

Do you feel electronic music will help to close the gap between the Arab world and the West?

“Absolutely.”

But you don’t focus on that?

“No, not really. Of course it’s fantastic if people get acquainted with the Arabian heritage, but I’m more concerned with my own generation. Many young people love our music legends, but they fail to properly see their value. Abdel Halim Hafez en Oum Kalthoum’s music is pure gold and absolutely timeless. I enormously appreciate them for what they left behind and felt a certain responsibility to enrich the life of my generation.”

That sounds rather passionate.

“I just wanted to make a record that would get people dancing, but I went about it in a serious way. I wanted to make the Arabic heritage more accessible. Today, we have enough tools to process old music. By mixing the old with modern styles like trip hop, dubstep and drum & bass I hope the young people will appreciate Tarab more, and the genre will be more visible.”

Finally; in the track ‘Sufi Hop’ you are rapping a poem by the legendary Sufi mystic and poet Mansur al-Hallaj. Do you feel connected to the mystical branch of Islam?

“Sufism is a kind of knowledge to nourish your soul with. I like to consume this knowledge because it is so pure. It is of great value. The poem relates the personality of al-Hallaj and the love he’s got inside. Sufis have always fascinated me.”

Gool l’ah can be downloaded for free here:

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