Friday, February 5, 2010

"Motherland Tour Recap 2010"

During the month of January I had the pleasure of performing at seven different venues in four major cities across the Middle East - Beirut, Amman, Doha, & Dubai to be exact ... 

I was an Arab on the move!!!



The three members of The Human Writes Project (Mark Gonzales, Nizar Wattad aka Ragtop & myself) were invited to participate in the 3rd annual CASAR Conference at the American University of Beirut (Jan 6 - 9). Since our presentation of Brooklyn Beats to Beirut Streets at the same conference back in January of 2008 was such a success, we decided to follow it up by showcasing more of our actual poems / songs in a new piece entitled Mid-East | LA. Choosing several works that were relevant to this year's theme - Connections & Ruptures: American & The Middle East - we printed out a lyrics sheet for audience members to follow along & reference during the Q & A session that followed.

Unfortunately Mark missed his flight due to circumstances beyond his control, so Nizzy & I scrambled to edit our set last minute in order to make up for his absence. While we would have loved for him to be present, we had plenty of experience performing together so the show went on without a glitch ... Folks in attendance included AUB students, faculty, two deans, the provost, professors from around the world, local Lebanese hip-hoppers, ambassadors, club promoters, family, & close friends - hitting us with questions that ranged from "when did you start rapping?" to "where do you see Arab hip-hop going in the future?" ... I am proud to say that it was one of the most anticipated & subsequently well-attended presentations at the conference.


A few nights later, as a follow-up to the academic performance, we teamed up with DJ Lethal Skillz & the good folks of Immortal Entertainment to put together an evening of beats / rhymes at a club venue called THE BASEMENT - featuring all of the best in local lyrical talent (Malikah, RGB, Zoog, Chino, Ramsees, i-Voice) ... Also on stage that night, the legendary DJ / Photographer duo MOCHILLA - B+ & Eric Coleman - from Los Angeles, as well as Ragtop, Mark Gonzales (who was finally able to get on a plane), & of course yours sinSyrianly ... It was a night to remember, with each part of the line-up holding their own on stage & representing for Hip-Hop!

Earlier that day I also did my first arabic interview with the US-based satellite-TV station - Alhurra ... Now I'll be honest, I did cringe at the thought of being on that channel at first (& still do to some extent) given their blatant news bias during the Bush-era - but after what I felt were honest discussions with friends & various producers of the specific program I was to appear on (Al Yawm), in which I was assured they had recently taken a more realistic & unbiased approach to their content, I went ahead & did it ... The result was a brief discussion on "everything Offendum" one can possibly fit into an 8 minute segment.

Prior to leaving Beirut I also made sure to shoot the final scenes of my upcoming music video with good friend Laith Majali ... Since the song is one of the bi-lingual cuts on my record that directly highlights the difficulties of being torn between the East / West, we felt it was necessary to shoot half in the US (Los Angeles) & half back home in the Middle East. Beirut offered the perfect backdrop with its picturesque mountain / beach landscape & gritty urban feel ... Not to mention the fact that I have many a fond memory in that beautiful city, as a number of my family members & close friends live there. In fact, some of the scenes were even shot on the balcony of my mama's apartment!



Ragtop, Mark Gonzales, & I were then flown to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan to perform at two events in Amman. The night we arrived, we hit the local Safeway to stock up & were pleased to find an assortment of Masafi products to choose from ... Unfortunately, the abbreviation for "assorted" in Jordan is the first three letters of the word - which confused the hell out of Mark & I as we passed by the juice aisle...


The morning after our arrival, we headed for Play 99.6 to promote our upcoming shows. It was the very first station in the Middle East to show us love (back in '06), so it was nice to reconnect with some of the same folks at the station & do another interview with Amman's finest English radio-personality - the one & only Lee McGrath.

Later that day, we met up with friends on Al-Rainbow Street to have lunch at the famed Kafeteria Al-Quds - serving up the best falafel sandwiches in the whole Kingdom ...


Our first event in Amman was at the Royal Film Commission - a financially & administratively autonomous Jordanian government organization established with a vision to develop an internationally competitive Jordanian film industry ... We were invited to present our Brooklyn Beats to Beirut Streets performance-lecture, while Nizar ran some screenwriting workshops during the day.

Thanks to the hard work of our good friend & RFC employee Carla Dabis, the event was a huge success ... The setting was intimate, there was a non-smoking policy (which was a big deal for me in Amman as it is arguably the smokiest city in the Middle East), & we were able to fill up the main room with 75 eager listeners who engaged in a wonderful discussion with us afterwards.


The following evening we were slated to perform at Immortal Entertainment's debut event in their hometown of Amman - held in one of the premiere nightclubs in the city, a cool two-story venue called FLOW... Once again, Mochilla spun an unforgettable opening set, followed by performances from Mark Gonzales, Ragtop, Malikah, & myself ... DJ Lethal Skillz & Coleman held it down for us on the one's & two's & kept hundreds of Jordanian folk happy well into the next morning.

This video by Laith Majali shows clips from both Immortal Entertainment events in Beirut & Amman - nice job DBM...

When I sent the clip to Arab-American Comedian Dean Obediallah, he said it reminded him of a beer commercial =)


While I truly had a blast in Amman, the combination of smokey cafes, recycled airplane air, & constant temperature fluctuations finally caught up to me on my last day there ... 

Thankfully there was a pharmacy at Queen Alia Airport!



Our next stop was Qatar, where I performed back in November of '09 during the DTFF, & was happy to be back so soon as I have many a good friend in Doha ... Thanks to Aalaa - a fellow ISA Falcon - me & the boys were invited to perform Brooklyn Beats to Beirut Streets at Education City. We helped Mark Gonzales facilitate a writing workshop for some students / faculty during the early afternoon, & presented the performance-lecture in the evening at Carnegie Melon Universitiy's Majlis (seating area).

Since the good folks at the DTFF had not been able to properly film my concert during last year's festival, they offered to document this show & conduct a short interview. The result is a clip that gives viewers a sense of what this ground-breaking performance is really like ...

It also clearly illustrates what a stressed-out / pre-show Ragtop, diva-esque / clogged-nasal Offendum, & workshop-conducting / motivational-speaking Mark G look like ;)

Special thanks to Ahmed Shihab-Eldin & the DTFF crew for producing this clip!



Our final destination was the United Arab Emirates' most populous city of Dubai, where we were booked to perform at a cool little venue in Le Meridien Airport Village called ALPHA. My buddy DJ Solo (aka Wriggly Scott) had agreed to back us up at the show, so we rushed to his place soon after we arrived to work on our set for the evening. In the process we also copped a few beats from him, for collaborations that will appear on his next record due to be released later this year.

The show at ALPHA was a success, with many familiar faces in the crowd to help welcome Ragtop & Mark Gonzales on their first Dubai visit. I was still suffering from a severe (Amman-induced) chest cold, but was thankfully able to push through the set without any awkward mid-verse coughs. 

Special thanks to The Baraka Group for putting yet another wonderful event together!


The Human Writes Project's last performance on this Middle East tour was at SHELTER, where I had my first Dubai show back in October of '09. It was an evening of spoken word coordinated by Hind Shoufani of The Poeticians, & featured a number of local poets & writers. Given that Dubai is such an ethnically diverse city, our global perspective was welcomed with eager ears & open minds. It was the perfect capstone to our tour, as I said good-bye to the fellas later that evening & prepared to spend the rest of the week in the UAE with family & friends.



I've had relatives &  friends living in Abu-Dhabi for many years now, but never got to see it on my trips to the UAE as I usually spent most of my time in Dubai while I was there. So my sister, niece & I made the 80 mile drive down one day to visit our uncle, aunt, & cousins.

On the way back, I asked that we stop by the Sheikh Zayed Mosque, named after the founder & first President of the United Arab Emirates who is buried on the premises. It is the eighth largest mosque in the world, & the design was inspired by Arab, Mughal & Moorish architecture.

The mosque is large enough to accommodate 40,000 worshippers, & contains both the world's largest carpet (60,570 sq ft) & world's largest chandelier (49' high x 33' diameter). With no expense spared in its $545 million dollar budget, it is an awe-inspiring edifice that attracts thousands of Muslim & non-Muslim visitors annually.



Just before heading back to the US, I had the good fortune of doing an(other) interview/studio-performance on Dubai One's hit show TWENTY SOMETHING. I was asked about my upcoming album, recent tours, & opinions as an artist who has sought to bridge the gap between "East & West" through music. The brief interview was followed by a live performance of my translation / rendition of Nizar Qabbani's "Qariat il-Finjan"... 

Click on the following link to check out the full episode:

Props to Yara, Rema, Marwan, Annah, & the whole crew for making it come together so nicely!

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Needless to say it was a very productive trip from start to finish - al7amdulillah ... I am certainly looking forward to the next Motherland Tour & hope to stop in more cities along the way if time permits.

3iiish Middle East!!!