‘Expressions of religion, revolution and freedom’: Carl Gari & Abdullah Miniawy talk
The first fruits of this partnership came on Trilogy Tapes and gave us an introduction to the hazy droning soundscapes of Carl Gari’s production and Abdullah’s masterful lyricism and delivery.
A few years later they were back at it again for Whities (now AD 93) with The Act of Falling From the 8th Floor, a thought-provoking collection of dark ambient atmospheric electronics that centred around the poem in ‘B’aj بعاج,‘: a track that told the story of a protagonist, Abdullah, jumping from the 8th floor of a Cairo building and describing scenes of Egyptian society as he plummets.
This release translated a powerful message about the climate in modern day Egypt, which is the driving force behind Abdullah’s poetic lyrics in their performance at last year’s online edition of Rewire Festival: a live concert shot at Haus Der Kunst in Munich. The collaborators are now readying the release of the performance as a 12″ vinyl under the title Between the Bullet and the Front Sight, Casting Lots, via Molten Moods new sub-label.
As the record is released into the world, Abdullah and Carl Gari members Jonas, Till and Jonas discuss what brought them together in the first place, their style of performance and Abdullah’s experiences as an Egyptian artist.
Abdullah: Why are you interested in Arabic music?
Jonas Yamer: Middle Eastern scales enable sonic beauty that cannot be found in Western music. To me there is a certain spectrum of feelings that can only be evoked through them.
A: Your style of playing bass is very special – tell me more about how your style shaped?
JY: Post-Metal bands like Isis had a huge influence on me. I spent years of exploring the instrument and its sound design possibilities. With the usage of delays, filters and scratching the strings with my fingernails I developed my own way of playing the instrument. Part of that journey is also me embracing dilettantism.
A: Why do you think we are not performing that much?
JY: Our style is hard to grip or categorize. From an artistic point of view you might see this as a great accomplishment. But it also makes it harder to get heard and booked. Perfectly interpreting an existing trend is a faster way to success, it’s basically letting everyone know what you are doing before they even listen to your music. The fact is, humans like to hear, see or taste what they already know, and this defines how music and event industry work.
Nevertheless I think we are on a good way having performed at institutions such as Berlin Atonal, Haus der Kunst or ICA London. The whole pandemic situation brought about some new ways of performing, like doing our Rewire Video appearance, which for me is actually a very strong way of expression.
A: Since 1904 when the vinyl industry started to invade Arabic music field through Odeon Records it has damaged and limited the natural state of an improviser because performers finally followed a recording. As a label owner how do you think vinyl is damaging the music scene? In other words, don’t you think we can expand and connect to more audiences if we stop supporting that shit?
JY: Nowadays the experience of recording music differs very much from the experience of playing a live show. The same applies to the perception of the audience. Going to a concert or listening to an album are two separate things. That’s why fans attend shows and buy records. With all the practices of post-production, “concert” and “record” have become two art forms that co-exist, but don’t make the other obsolete.
Today flatrate offers destroy the value of music. It goes without saying that Spotify etc. should be blamed. But we also expect to have any new release available immediately for our listening pleasure without really paying for it. So the underlying problem is a cultural one that exists since the time of illegal file sharing platforms. To answer your second question: I don’t think that there is reasonable alternative to releasing music for growing a fanbase. Streaming has to change drastically for the better of the artists.
A: Do you know the translation of Al Weshaya?
JY: “I am God, I am the only God.”
Jonas Yamer: Why do you prefer to call yourself a poet rather than a singer?
Abdullah: As you know I’m involved in many artistic fields; from a place where words and letters shape to the delivery in any form. I believe in words and I believe in the power of poetry. Poetry for me is more comprehensive, it is cinema, music and literature at once. When I practice my art I feel a word first, and then it grows like a seed. I believe without words there is no art so I prefer to defend poetry as I’m really good at it, especially for Arabic speaking audience. In the end nicknames are not given easily, you have to do your part and to do it properly.
JY: While creating music: how do meaning and melody interact with each other for you?
A: Meanings motivate melodies. Words change the temperature of a melody. If I don’t feel I can’t sing. Relating a meaning adds accents and vibrations to each phrase, looping a melody creates words and looping words creates a melody.
JY: On your website you say your art is an expression of religion too. Why?
A: When I started presenting my work online, then professionally, I added the following phrase – expressions of religion, revolution and freedom – to describe my universe. Until today these three are following me, and if you scrutinise social life around us and globally, we are an echo of religion until today (example) monogamy is marriage (example) If we are around a table we are waiting to eat together (example) Jealousy is religion (example) hate is religion and (example) race separation is religion (example), the passion for astrology and star signs in modern society is a way to not break up with the invisible… and the list goes on.
My aim is to break all these patterns to find a new language inspired from the unnamable or the void to give a new meaning to the reality we live in. The fight against religion and any sort of religion comes from religion itself. It is an expired constitution that we must and it is our duty to look further than that. I’m searching for divinity inside us, humans as gods and a world without weapons or without being led by the paranoid worldwide presidential model.
JY: How would you summarize your experience as an Egyptian artist and entity in Europe? What is the current state of Egypt?
A: I believe in my talent and I’m glad to build an audience in Europe that is difficult and the competition is next level. I fight every day to think in my mother tongue and I try not to color myself with the surroundings or the daily trends. I did well. My style is known now and people can easily recognize what I’m doing. I can be proud. I didn’t change from classical Arabic to French or English, or change the topics that I write about. Everything has evolved and inspired by the new environment but I feel it more than ever.
It took me a long time to understand the coding and the common language in Europe on a human or an artistic level, it is always surprising to live in a new place and to understand how people eat, drink and laugh. I adapted quickly after all and I can be louder and insist on my vision today. The current state of Egypt is quiet, all the heroes of before became criminals. Some people are in exile who are stuck in this capsule of time between 2011 to 2014 but the land is stronger than any idea and we are passengers in this life. A president, a farmer or an artist all are just ideas but the land is more than that. It is beating.
JY: Tell me one thing I don’t know about you yet!
A: I’m an open book.
C (JF): In your side job as a guitar teacher you spend a lot of time showing people how to play their favourite songs. Most of that is mainstream music, right? Do you think analyzing and playing so much pop melodies affects your own musical taste and style?
C (TF): Maybe a bit. I enjoy vocals much more than I used to do. I also like the contemporary way of manipulating vocals. Making snippets out of vocal, auto tune etc. Also the melodies are often very nice – but in general, the style in mainstream pop nowadays is for me often too ‘nice’, too pleasing. It doesn’t take enough risks (with some exceptions like Billie Eilish for example).
It also happens to me, that I admire the melodies/ the arrangement of pop songs, but I can’t enjoy it, because of their style. One could say: music is style over substance. If the style doesn’t fit, the synth has got a cheesy sound, the drum sound doesn’t hit me etc then I don’t like the music even if the melody and the rhythm are perfect.
I guess its all about your favourite emotions also, I prefer dark sounds, like the sounds of menace or even hopelessness, so I guess these emotions are kind of underrepresented nowadays.
That’s what I love so much about working with the guys and Abdullah. We “feel” the music in a very similar fashion, we prefer to explore the tragic parts of life than, let’s say, the optimistic parts of it.
C (JF): During the last two years of the pandemic it seems that you were increasingly diving into the world of fantasy video games. What is your favourite computer game soundtrack and do you think we should record a sample pack from it for our next jam session in the Bavarian forest?
C (TF): I love the soundtrack of the Stranger Things Mobile Game, Part I. It’s also one of the best mobile games I played.
Sample Pack sounds like a lot of work, so I don’t know really, you have to cut out the sounds, maybe just from YouTube videos, the sound quality is maybe below average, but maybe that’s what makes it cool – so yeah, why not, let’s do it…
C (TF): When making beats what do you try to achieve? Is there a certain aesthetic framework which guides you? Do you try to avoid certain music styles? Are you able to make a straight four on four beat?
C (JF): The last track I made was actually with a straight 4/4 beat and it was fun. But I admit it was the first one for ages. I guess I tend to avoid clearly using typical common rhythms. But also in some very unusual drum patterns I think you can still somehow hear a standard 2-step beat for example underneath. Even if it’s not actually there or basic parts are missing the brain can add them to complete a memorized form.
Breaking the precision of the mechanical grid can quickly sound a bit sloppy but it can also add some life to the sound of computers.
C (TF): You said to me once that you don’t like vocals, what made you make an exception with Abdullah ?
C (JF): I’m very picky when it comes to vocal melodies and singing. In fact, most of the music I listen to is largely instrumental. Abdullah’s voice always felt more like an instrument to me. I think it’s the ways he always manages to sneak between our layers of sound without effort.
Between the Bullet and the Front Sight, Casting Lots is out now on Molten Moods.