Beirut-based producer ETYEN has been a OneBeat Fellow, Red Bull Music Academy participant and an active touring member of the electronic circuit in Europe and the Middle East. This year, he organized the first year of SAWA Music Residency, a Jezzine-based arts incubator for young Lebanese musicians. We spoke to ETYEN about his new project and what’s next for the ascendent beatmaker.

For those who don’t know, what’s the independent music scene like in Beirut?

10 years ago, there were only a handful of artists pushing the boundaries of popular Arabic music, but now that’s changed. Today, the underground scene is filled with musicians experimenting with all sorts of sounds from the West and East. More young bands are fusing electronic, indie and oriental sounds and independent music venues have sprung up. This movement towards alternative music was pioneered by artists such as Zeid Hamdan (SAWA Collaborating Artist), acclaimed for starting the first Arabic trip hop band [Soap Kills] in the early 2000s with vocalist Yasmin Hamdan.

Soap Kills feat. Zeid Hamdan, Lebanese electronic pioneer and Sawa collaborator

What made you decide to start SAWA? And why bring the residency to Jezzine?

After participating in OneBeat 2015, I came back to Beirut with a newfound knowledge and outlook on the role of music in society and my life. The experience made me realize that music means so much more when shared with others. It’s also an incredibly powerful tool for bringing people together regardless of their socio-economic or cultural backgrounds.

Starting a project like this felt crucial to Lebanon, especially given the divide within our country’s recent social and political history.

I wanted to host the residency in a remote location far from the noise and distractions of the city. I visited many mountainous villages and finally came across the Jezzine HUB, an old traditional stone building and meeting point for all sorts of workshops and activities.

Sawa Music Residency July 2017, in Jezzine (outside Beirut), Lebanon

Can you tell us a little about the choosing collaborating artists and activities for SAWA?

Violinist Inger Hannisdal’s free improvisation workshop in the first week pushed the musicians into being comfortable with each other and trying different methods of performance. Zeid Hamdan’s workshops in the second week played a crucial role in refining arrangements of songs, and becoming aware of the gaps and or lack thereof in the compositions.

Our first musical activity was a found sound game, where each ensemble had to create a composition without using any musical instruments. The guitarist was no longer thinking as a guitarist. This allowed fellows think outside the box.
ETYEN’s track ‘Mammoth’ recorded in 2016 for RBMA

What’s one lesson you learned from working with OneBeat and other global projects, that you wanted to bring into the structure of your own artist residency?

The most important thing I learned is that there is no place for egos. When bringing together musicians with different approaches it’s important to stop looking individually and start looking at the group collectively. Finding ways to complete each other rather than outshining each other. The goal of SAWA isn’t for individual artists to come work on themselves by themselves. It is for each musicians to develop through group work.

Samer Chami (a.k.a. ETYEN) in 2017

Now the residency has finished. What’s next for you and SAWA?

The [SAWA] fellows became a family and they’re already working towards future collaborations. There’s also a reunion concert planned for September, that will bring them all back together.

Personally, I’ve learned so much from this residency and the fellows themselves, I feel more inspired than ever to work on myself as an artist along with further editions of the program. With a successful end to the first year, I feel galvanized find a way to provide a similar experience to more musicians.

[SAWA] is an important initiative that must carry on, and of course I’ll strive to work on any shortcomings to improve it going forward.