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Love & Revenge aims to reshape the Arab world

You take film classics like Dracula and Star Wars, track down their Arabic remakes, and edit these fragments on a live soundtrack that fuses Arabic pop history with electronic music of today. This, in short, is the recipe of the dynamic collaboration between musician Rayes Bek and video artist Randa Mirza, better known as Love & Revenge. With their compelling show, the duo - origin Lebanon, hometown Paris - was set to travel to 73rd edition of the Holland Festival. Covid-19 threw a spanner in the festival's works, however, and so Love & Revenge will not be in Amsterdam next week, but at the virtual HF stage. There, the group presents the video Tarmentini: an unmissable impression of Glory & Tears, their audiovisual live project.

Heritage in the mix

If you take a moment to delve into Love & Revenge, two aspects immediately stand out. First, as their naming makes very clear, Mirza and Bek love opposites. Apparent contradictions, as it turns out, because the group - which also counts oed player Mehdi Haddab and keyboardist Julien Perraudeau among its live members - is, secondly, precisely committed to bringing together. 'Fusion' may have a somewhat dated undertone as a term, but for Love & Revenge it is entirely essential in 2020. 'We absolutely do not see culture as something monolithic; we (re)mix from many cultures to create our own, new culture.'

Glory & Tears was born out of necessity. The institutionalised archiving of popular culture is anything but natural in the Arab world. 'Deadly sin', according to Bek and Mirza, who therefore made it their mission to mine forgotten culture - from Lebanon and Saudi Arabia to Mauritania. A laborious quest that, in the absence of audiovisual archives, at least eliminates issues around usage rights immediately. 'A stroke of luck.' The same applies, incidentally, to Tarmentini, the music video that sees the light of day on 16 June. When measures around covid-19 began to thwart Love & Revenge's Holland Festival debut, Mirza and Bek - quarantined - dove into their own archives.

Tarmentini and Martini

The result is Tarmentini, an AV dish with three main ingredients. First, there is the underlying song that was mostly heard on national radio in the 1980s, during the Lebanese Civil War. The composer, singer and title are unknown to this day, but the constant 'tarmentini, tarmentini, tarmentini' in the lyrics hints at the deadly weapons deployed by the British. The lyrics describe an impossible love, and the aggrieved male protagonist threatens to kill himself. The murder weapon: 'tarmentini by a glass of martini'. Because of the war, the song was never officially released, but a recording survived - and found its way into Love & Revenge. Second is the visual element: the equally ominous and humorous dracula film Anyâb (directed by Mohamad Chebl, Egypt, 1981), mixed by Mirza with footage from their most recent live show and edited to Bek's musical arrangement. That arrangement, thirdly, is founded on contemporary beat midway between Omar Souleyman's swaying dance and more vocal, melancholic electropop.

The audio and video sources Love & Revenge taps for a translation like Tarmentini are often difficult to access and complex, both for Western and Eastern eyes and ears. Crucial, therefore, is the 'contemporary bridge' Bek and Mirza create through electronic music and the inventive, quick cut and paste of footage. 'To be perfectly honest: the original material is aesthetically quite boring if you're not a specialist or a nerd,' they laugh. 'That immediately makes it a great challenge to build a walkable bridge to the now. Our generation, anywhere, listens to electronic music,' the group explains. 'So this direction seems only logical to us. Whether you are at home in the Arab world or not, you discover a new sound, a new face.'

Own and contemporary

What that face looks like? On reflection, 'new' is not the right description after all, Bek and Mirza say, especially if you pay close attention to the liberal theme of the original audio and video. 'Basically, we're saying: look again! This is the music that sounded on Arab radio a few years ago; these images were once shown on Arab television. Glory & Tears tries to break stereotypes. The Arab world is so big, so diverse. Until the 1980s, our art and culture were dominated by women, and despite the rise of radicalism, they still play a huge role. And take a look at today's Beirut: sex and drugs are the order of the day; the nightlife and LGBT+ community are fantastic..."

Love & Revenge gives its own and contemporary impression of the world that produced it, but also quite deliberately holds a mirror up to that same world. The reflection? 'It looks funky and sexy. Well... we make it look funky and sexy.'

Good to know Good to know

Tarmentini will premiere at the (virtual) Holland Festival on 16 June 2020. Find more information here.

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Wijbrand Schaap

Cultural journalist since 1996. Worked as theatre critic, columnist and reporter for Algemeen Dagblad, Utrechts Nieuwsblad, Rotterdams Dagblad, Parool and regional newspapers through Associated Press Services. Interviews for TheaterMaker, Theatererkrant Magazine, Ons Erfdeel, Boekman. Podcast maker, likes to experiment with new media. Culture Press is called the brainchild I gave birth to in 2009. Life partner of Suzanne Brink roommate of Edje, Fonzie and Rufus. Search and find me on Mastodon.View Author posts

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