For The Record | Let’s talk experimental with Jean-Marc Montera and Calamita

In Lebanon, the experimental music community emerged in the late 90s by only a few musicians with a story and a sound.
by Chiri Choukeir

9 July 2019 | 16:33

Source: by Annahar

  • by Chiri Choukeir
  • Source: Annahar
  • Last update: 9 July 2019 | 16:33

Jean-Marc Montera setting his guitar up for an impro session. (Annahar Photo)

BEIRUT: An unusual sonic blend of using ashtrays, chains, sticks and households objects to produce new and unheard sounds and compositions was witnessed in Beirut.

Last Saturday, Metro Al-Madina witnessed a performance from the pioneers of experimentation and new sounds as French composer and producer Jean-Marc Montera, and Calamita, a free-rock powerhouse trio of Lebanese musicians Sharif Sehnaoui, Tony Elieh, and the Italian musician/drummer David Zolli, stole the spotlight.

The artists gave Annahar the chance to go deep and understand the essence of experimental music in the act. Montera being one of the most active members of the experimental scene since the early 70s, collaborating with an endless list of musicians and producing his solo composition. He even participated in the foundation of GRIM, the Musical Research and Improvisation Group, which he still manages.

Montera performed using a guitar, pedals, a bow, and a collection of unusual household objects. “It’s like putting something on the strings inside the piano to create different sounds. It started in 1938, everyone started to employing everyday objects, some from the kitchen, to use as musical objects,” he said.

Starting from a garage rock band, Montera has released over 30 albums and worked with major names such as Sonic Youth, Barre Phillips, and Anna S.

As for his album, Montera explained that each album he puts out is different, as experimental music has no one direction and does not flow in a right or wrong spectrum. “I believe in constantly changing things, and the direction of the music depends on the venue and the place. My performance today can in no way be exact to if I try to play the same performance tomorrow, it constantly changes,” he told Annahar.

Sharif Sehnaoui is no stranger to the Beirut experimental scene as he is one of the biggest contributors to the movement as a whole, as he is the Co-founder of Irtijal Musical Festival along with Mazen Kerbaj, an annual international festival that has been ongoing for almost 20 years as the oldest improvised and new music festival in the Arab world.

“It’s a small music scene in Beirut, which also makes it nice. I find that there’s nice proximity between all the different genres and musicians.” Sehnaoui said.

He added: “In the best cases, there’s a lot of communication between the genres and there’s no division between traditional, rock, techno, everyone can end up collaborating or at least attending the other’s shows which is really healthy and nice.”

As for the general term “experimental music genre,” Sehnaoui explained that even though experimental music is not a genre, it encompasses a lot of different genres, yet is generally just referring to an approach that doesn’t reproduce a pre-existing form or genre of music as its always in search of new musical elements and ideas.

In Lebanon, the experimental music community emerged in the late 90s by only a few musicians with a story and a sound. “It wasn’t guaranteed in the beginning that the experimental scene would grow in Lebanon, it took a while to really become and took a while to get an identity. Now you have numerous amazing unclassifiable projects that fit into the experimental scene.” Sehnaoui added.

Calamita, the band created by Sehnaoui, is a fairly new band, as it has been active for three years and is Sehnaoui’s first rock band. 

Finding the link between Oum Koulthoum and rock music, Calamita uses old and legendary Arabic music idols as traces and reference which you cannot clearly locate in their performances. “The idea is not to highlight the reference, the idea is to use it to create something else. I’m happy to point out where it’s actually at work, but the purpose is not to hear the reference clearly.”

Zolli, the drummer of Calamita, was performing for the first time in Lebanon, as he was excited to see the reaction of the audience," which is what he was looking forward to.

Meeting Sehnaoui and Elieh by chance while they were touring in Italy, the collaboration was last minute. “We got to talking about music until Sharif came back to Italy for solo performance, and he brought up the idea of collaborating in Italy. We did one improvised show, but they had an idea to do something rock and different so we played more and more together and we continued playing,” he said.

The band is currently releasing their second album, and Sehnaoui looks forward to bigger plans and projects as he is currently touring with one of his main band, Karkhana, a seven-piece band with musicians from all over the world, and organizing Irtijal’s 20th anniversary.

“My dream is to see new projects and people evolve and grow. You have to keep running, and if you keep running long enough, you eventually get somewhere,” Sehnaoui told Annahar.   

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