What about Adonis?

The Lebanese musicians open up about art, technology and friendship in Beirut’s music scene.

Lebanese rock-pop band, Adonis. Nicola Hakim, Anthony Khoury, Fabio Khoury and Joey Abou Jawdeh. Photo by Zeina Malouf

By Jawanna Sawalha

A soft male voice worms its way to my ears as I walk towards a glass door. It’s the kind of voice that is unforgettable: distinct and extraordinary. It could belong to none other than Anthony Khoury. His name is familiar to many, and those who haven’t heard it will probably be familiar with the name of his band, Adonis.

When I arrive at café Urbanista in Beirut the glass door swings open and the waiter greets me with a smile. I look around and see Anthony sitting in an armchair with his silver MacBook on his lap, another man leaning on the armrest, both engaged in a sign conversation with a group sitting on the opposite side of the café.

“Sorry, we were just trying to tell this guy over there that his new haircut looks horrible on him,” Anthony says after I introduce myself. He carefully places his laptop on the table, and I settle into the chair opposite. “It’s cool, he’s a good friend.”

Khoury is the lead singer and, with the band’s guitarist Joey Abu Jawdeh, co-founder of Lebanese band Adonis. Both men are architects, and decided to quit their day jobs a couple of years back and start up their own design studio. They made the choice after working in an office for some time, and wanted more freedom to combine their practice as architects with their vocation as musicians.

“We opened the studio just for the sake of having more control over our time,” Anthony explained. “Now we have the luxury to forget about music for a month or two and focus exclusively on work, and then decide to stop taking projects for a couple of months and concentrate only on making music.”

Joey and Anthony met at university, when one day Anthony heard Joey humming a tune in Arabic that was familiar. Realizing they both shared the same passion for traditional Arabic music the pair became close friends, and soon after decided to start Adonis, inviting Nicola on drums and percussion, and Anthony’s brother, Fabio, on bass guitar.

In 2011 Adonis released their debut album, ‘Daw L Baladiyyi’. An album of stories, romance, and adventures with melodies that are easy on the ears, it’s given a distinct character by Anthony’s voice that takes the listener on a journey.

“We recently realized that a lot of the people that listen to our music are from the generation of our moms and dads,” Anthony said, “In our music there are a lot of detailed references to Beirut and to the particularities of living in this city. I guess it sparks a certain patriotism, and it’s bound to connect with older people.”

One day when I was back in Amman I decided to blast my bathroom with ‘Stouh Adonis’ while showering, and the song was on repeat until I got out. Later that night, my “classical music-loving” dad asked me about the song I was playing in the shower. Anthony knew what he was talking about.

Recently Adonis released their new music video for “Bent El Hawa”, a song about a man who falls in love with a prostitute before losing her in a street fighting incident in Tripoli. “Bent El Hawa” is actually a cover of Edith Piaf’s famous 1955 song “L’Accordeoniste”, but with a different narrative. Piaf’s song was narrated by a “fille de joie” who falls in love with a musician at a bar she works in. Maybe Adonis wanted to be the musicians in that bar, maybe they simply wanted to revisit Piaf’s version from the perspective of the musician. “The director focused on the cinematic aspect of the story we’re telling,” Anthony said. “We built a puppet house for the video where we brought all of the song’s settings and characters to life”

Adonis and six other friends worked for 10 days on building the set for the video, which is one of the most creative out there; the action appears in the clip at the exact moment where it’s narrated in the song. According to Anthony this move comes as a caricature of some pop music videos that illustrate the song word by word.

In the Arab region, the connotation of the word ‘Artist’ is very different than in foreign languages.

“Neither the song nor the video were planned, we worked it all out in a couple of weeks, and had absolutely no funds to back the project,” Anthony explained. “The director, Martine Daher, knowing that we are architects, suggested that we build the puppet house and create all the settings and characters ourselves.”

A sense of nostalgia overwhelmed Anthony and Joey as they executed the set: they felt like they were back in architecture school, working on designs and models from sunrise up until sundown and pulling all-nighters.

From clockwise: 1. #zouk #festival. 2. Anthony ‘s sketch for the poster of a 2012 concert in Byblos. 3. Deep sleep after an 6-hour shoot for a television performance on Dubai One, 2012. 4. Downtown Beirut, august 2013

Nevertheless, becoming Adonis took a lot of fighting and courage, since being a musician in this part of the world is not a profession that many endorse. “In the Arab region, you get a lot of frowns from your parents and society in general when you wish to go into arts and music,” Anthony said. “The connotation of the word “artist” in Arabic is drastically different than in foreign languages.”

It took these talented guys a long time to find a suitable producer for the kind of music they make — “one of the hardest obstacles we’ve faced,” Anthony claimed. “Many production houses today are more into the sex business than they are into music. Except for a few exceptions, the Arabic song is being left to rot in a stagnant, repetitive and ultra-packaged carcass”.

Anthony believes that being a musician goes beyond the process of interpretation, and certainly beyond the shallow accessories of the industry that are relentlessly flashed on our TV screen, such as jewellery and expensive cars. He says what makes a musician is first of all thinking, understanding and then making music, money being only a “side effect”.

“We like to think that the kind of music we make does have the potential to spread beyond our niche; we have the songs, we just needed the production” he added. “it’s just about having better playback and recording equipment, in music, art and technology cannot exist without one another.”

If you didn’t catch Adonis live in concert yet don’t worry. This fall they are planning on hitting a few cities around the Middle East, and a few further, with new songs and new material, which I’m extremely excited to hear. The band is very active via social media, especially on Instagram.

Be sure to follow them through social media to remain updated on their latest works and releases. Also be sure to visit their fascinating/innovative site, which is refreshing in design and very entertaining to browse through. I leave you to Adonis.

– Listen to Adonis on SoundCloud (here)
 — Follow Adonis through his Official Facebook page (here)
 — Subscribe to Adonis Youtube channel (here)
 — Subscribe to Adonis Youtube channel (here)
 — Follow My.Kali on Facebook (here)

Originally published at mykalimag.com on August 3, 2014.

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