Saturday, December 31, 2011

Raafat Majzoub's Book Reviewed in Kalimat Magazine

Original Post may be found in Issue 04 (Winter 2012) of Kalimat Magazine

Book Review of Raafat Majzoub's Book Fetish Systems

It was the writer Italo Calvino that suggested a writing that—rather than pointing at or recreating an object or character—envelops, surrounds like a fine mist. This
suggests their existence rather than attempts to simply recre- ate them, allowing the reader a measure of engagement and creation with the text. The writing in Fetish Systems, a new written work by multi-talented Lebanese author Raafat Majzoub, warrants this comparison. His bio alone which adorns this slim volume is merely suggestive: “he is trained as an architect, yet refuses the title – he is currently working on several construction projects, a few books, something that might be a painting, a table and would like this bio to end with an et cetera.”

“To live in Beirut, is to know that one must accept circumstance. We have become numb—all of us—numb—in a state of trance, where ‘elastic’ would describe our functional execution of our everyday...”

The work begins with curious jump-starts into a loosely shaped narrative that can be described as extremely subjective. There is no clear and formal introduction of characters or plot, but rather the text quickly makes it clear to the reader that this is more akin to the highly personal literary experiments of the past century than anything else. The language resembles somewhat the erotic poetic sketches of Georges Bataille, although more cohesive, more drawn out, but similar enough in near- destructive exploratory eroticism to draw the comparison. The fragmented flow of the narrative often times resembles poetry, with alliterative flurries of words provide rough outlines of occurrences that bring to mind a defective photography which only hints at shapes, colours and movement, with the Majzoub’s Beirut always vaguely in the background.

“It has become instinct to absorb, shock, absorb, trau- ma, react, trauma, shock, absorb shock. It is something, a trait that we contain—for so—we all are nothing...We claim that we have lost our identity, we claim the right to construct a holistic monotone remedy to unite us—to homogenize us.”

This work is certainly not for the casual reader; there is no quick drawing-up and resolution of characters and plot. Rather, this work has something intensely therapeutic, describ- ing personal relationships with mysterious “others” and places in intimate detail in a way that is, once again, acutely subjec- tive. One gets the impression that even the most innocent of exchanges between the narrator and a lover will show up on the page as darkly dissatisfied, anxious graspings for understanding and rejection of understanding, spiralling outward and inward simultaneously. Majzoub’s language, word choice, and cadence is curiously playful, vacillating within single sentences between the vulgar and the academic, sometimes with seeming deliberate focus on the rhythm and the sound of the passage rather than the written meaning, making it somehow visceral and physical and something that attempts to refuses rational deliberation.

“We are only afraid of our naked bodies in the mirror. We define our curves from our audience’s point of view, from their eyes, from between their eyelashes—so we struggle to title us, to make it easier for them to comprehend, easier for us to make them believe—for our actions and words—not the same.”

The success of Majzoub’s experiment is difficult to gauge. Yet as a text, the sustained formal and subjective effort makes this author one to keep an eye on in the coming years.


Saturday, December 17, 2011

List of Top 20 (alternative) Arabic Songs for 2011 at Stanford University

The Season Finale of my radio show Hi, Keefak, Ca Va? counted down the Top 20 Arabic songs according to an unofficial poll by/with students at Stanford University.  To hear the songs (listed below) and commentary about each, feel free to download the Podcast in 2 Parts at

You can also Listen to Part 1 at and Part 2 at

Playlist for Hi, Keefak, Ça Va?
Thursday, 15 December 2011  4pm - 6pmDJ: Ramzi S.

FayrouzEl Bint El ChalabiyaAlbum ReviewEh, Fi Amal (Yes, There Is Hope)
JadalBye Bye AziziArabic Rocks
Offendum, OmarThe Arab Speaks Of RiversAlbum ReviewSyrianamericana
Cosher Ink, Llc
Le Trio JoubranL'art d'aimer (shajan)À l'ombre des mots (feat. Mahmoud Darwich) [Avec la voix de Mahmoud Darwich]
Atlas, NatachaTaalet (Zab Spencer Remix)Album ReviewMounqaliba Rising: The Remixes
Six Degrees Records

Saleh, TaniaWehde (Unity)Album ReviewWehde
Forward Music
Ziad El AhmadieOrganised ChaosChaos
Forward Music
Aya MitwaliOmrak MarakebUnknown

The NarcicystHamdulillah(Feat. Shadia Mansour)P.H.A.T.W.A
Farroukh, TouficOnly LonelyTootya
Forward Music
Rayess Bek OrchestraSchizophreniaHip Hop Republic
Forward Music
Khaled Mouzanar & MouzanarHashishet AlbiEt maintenant on va ou (Original motion picture soundtrack)
Zeid and the WingsAasfehZeid and the Wings
Lebanese Underground
Rousan, Yazan And AutostradMirsal (Searchlight)Album ReviewAutostrad
Planet Records

Kassis, TaniaChou Ma Sar (What Happened?)Album ReviewOriental Colors
Magnum Records International
Banna, RimSarahAlbum ReviewAl-Rawa'i (Greatest Hits)
Sophia MarikhTahwakKelmet Hobb
Melody Arabia

Wlad hara ft AbeerSawt El SamtSabreena Da Witch
Khcheich, RimaFalak (Orbit)Album ReviewFalak (Orbit)
Jazz In Motion Distributed Exclusively By Challenge Records International
Mashrou' LeilaEl Hal RomancyAlbum ReviewEl Hal Romancy
Mashrou' Leila

My Season Finale Podcast Counts Down Top 20 Arabic Songs 2011

THIS WEEK (Season 2 Episode 11/ Dec 15, 2011): The Final Episode of my radio show Hi, Keefak, Ca Va? counts down the Top 20 (alternative) Arabic songs of 2011 according to an unofficial tally by/of Stanford University students. Download at


Listen to Part 1 at


Listen to Part 2 at

Lebanese Film Titled 'Beirut Hotel' Banned in Lebanon

Beirut Hotel, the third long feature film by Lebanese director Danielle Arbid, is a 2011 Lebanese film. It has just been banned in lebanon. The film premiered during the 2011 Locarno International Film Festival.

One evening, a married young singer Zoha meets the French lawyer Mathieu in a night club in Beirut. Mathieu will become suspected of spying, while Zoha is trying to flee from her husband. Despite these problems, the two will witness a love story for few days mixed with violence and fear.

Darine Hamze as Zoha
Rodney El Haddad as Hicham
Charles Berling as Mathieu
Karl Sarafidis as Rabih
Fadi Abi Samra as Abbas

Nominations: Golden Leopard during the 2011 Locarno Film Festival

Here is a note from the Director about the ban:


To support Director Danuielle Arbid go to this Facebook page:

Here is an article from The Daily Star about the movie and its ban in Lebanon:

Welcome back to spy central

December 17, 2011
By Jim Quilty
The Daily Star

DUBAI: Beirut’s reputation as a hub of international intrigue – a place populated by crafty spies, brutal intelligence agents and hapless journalists – has had a strong echo in the film made in, and about, Lebanon.

These genre pictures reached their apogee after the outbreak of Lebanon’s 1975-1990 Civil War, which inspired a whole range of thrillers to place foreign agents within Beirut’s confusing conflict – a-la Tony Scott’s 2001 blockbuster “Spy Game.”

Yet filmmakers, some of them Lebanese, depicted Lebanon as spy central long before 1975. Witness Mohammad Salman’s “The Black Jaguar.” With its muscle cars, smart suits, swinging, sex-drenched lifestyle and Stratocaster-driven theme music, this 1965 Lebanese feature looks like a James Bond rip off. This all makes it both awful and awfully fun to watch.

Echoes of the 60s-era Beirut spy thriller are evident in “Beirut Hotel,” the 2011 feature by Lebanese writer-director Danielle Arbid, which just screened as part of the feature film competition of the Dubai International Film Festival.

The film centres on the story of Zoha (Darine Hamze) a torch-song singer who – backed by Marc Codsi and soundtrack composer Zeid Hamdan – performs reworked Arabic-language classics in one of Beirut’s 5-star hotels. She’s estranged from her thuggish husband Hicham (Rodney El Haddad) who cheated on her after a few years of marriage.

One evening Zoha encounters a mysterious Frenchman, Mathieu (Charles Berling). She is both attracted to Mathieu and repelled by him but, as you might expect, they end up in each other’s arms soon enough and – once it’s been established that he’s divorcing his wife – enjoy healthy sex.

It turns out Mathieu’s a lawyer who’s nowadays in the employ of a French oil company negotiating a contract in Syria. A couple of years before, he worked for the French government, to rescue the son of a diplomat who’d been arrested with a cache of heroin in hand.

This assignment drew him into the Lebanese demi-monde, assisted by Abbas (Fadi Abi Samra). A member of a large drug-smuggling family from Lebanon’s rural Bekaa, Abbas is comfortable navigating the marchlands between legality and illegality.

Abbas wants to renew his business relationship with Mathieu. He says he knows a guy who was the friend of the suicide bomber who assassinated former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. He wants to sell this information to the French government in return for a visa to France. He isn’t a traitor, he insists, but finds himself being threatened by unspecified seedy elements, who accuse him of being a spy for Israel.

Mathieu insists he has no intimate connections with French intelligence, but he does speak to someone at the French embassy on Abbas’ behalf.

In no time at all Mathieu is carrying a double tail – being followed both by Hicham and by a pair of harmless-looking guys who turn out to be agents of Lebanon’s security apparatus (at times they seem to be from General Security, at others the Internal Security Forces).

In an inspired comic moment, one of these fellows pulls out his pistol to save Zoha from a Lebanese jagal (Karim Saleh), as Lebanese rakes are called, then orders him to do up his shirt buttons for good measure.

From this point forward Mathieu and Zoha’s romance, the real center of the film, is thrown into uncertainty as he is at various stages threatened by Hicham, Lebanese security agents and Abbas himself.

A co-production of Lebanon’s Orjouane Productions and the Franco-German television network Arte, among others, “Beirut Hotel” had its world premiere in the competition of the Locarno Film Festival earlier this year.

There is a strong element of genre in “Beirut Hotel” and, on balance, it’s more gripping than boring. The film doesn’t simply reproduce the genre formula, however, but unhinges it even as it works within its conventions. There is some precedent for this in Arbid’s previous works.

“In the Battlefields,” her debut feature, tells a story from Lebanon’s testosterone-driven civil war from an adolescent female perspective. Similarly, “Beirut Hotel” can be read as a contemporary update of the political thriller.

Arbid’s new film is more interested in its self-possessed female lead than it is in manly spies. Indeed, the foreigner who’s accused of being a spy isn’t a spy at all. Instead, the film works with the tropes of spy movie and film noire to mythologize Lebanon’s contemporary political realities.

Arguably, it’s a mark of Arbid’s success that Lebanon’s censor last week decided to ban “Beirut Hotel,” whose theatrical release was scheduled for next month. Arte is slotted to air the film on January 20, 2012, with, by producer Sabine Sidawi’s estimates, an audience of some 1.5 million viewers.

Based on Sidawi’s press release, General Security’s censorship committee argued that “The film’s depiction of the political situation would endanger Lebanon’s security” and that all sequences mentioning the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri should be removed.

For the record, in a tweet dated “12/15/11 8:27 p.m,” MP Saad Hariri, the son of the assassinated former prime minister and the present leader of his Future Movement, wrote that “I have nothing to do with [“Beirut Hotel”] being censored, and I believe its a crime against freedom what they did.

In an interview after the film’s Middle East premiere, Arbid stresses that her film was neither documentary nor reportage and that, as such, it contains no revelatory information about Rafik Hariri’s assassination.

“I wanted to make a genre film,” she says, a film that works with Lebanese realities. “It’s a paranoid film, a film about suspense and betrayal.”

The writer-director says that Lebanon’s censor wanted to delete parts of her film, a demand that she resists as a matter of principle.

“I refuse to allow my film to be cut after shooting,” she says. “This idea, which has become normal in Lebanon, doesn’t exist elsewhere in the world. Either you rate the film [PG, R, PG-18, etc] or ... you ban it. You don’t cut it.

“They aren’t producers, the people in General Security. They don’t give us money [and so have no rights] to the final cut.”

Arbid’s previous work has also run into problems with the censor. While her 2004 feature film debut “In the Battlefields” was rated PG-18, authorities demanded she excise several parts of “A Lost Man” (2007), her second feature, which consequently has never had a theatrical release in Lebanon.

“They wanted to cut and I didn’t accept,” Arbid says. “‘Okay we’ll cut this and this and this,’ they said, ‘so it can be released.’ They wanted to cut the sex scenes. I didn’t do anything about ‘A Lost Man’ because there were a few scenes that were heavy for the Middle East. So I said to myself, ‘This is a moral battle.’

“But for ‘Beirut Hotel,’ this isn’t a moral battle. It’s a battle of principle. There is nothing offensive in it. We don’t accuse anybody [of anything]. We don’t insult anybody. We don’t work for anybody. We don’t speak about religion. There are a few sensual scenes. If they want to rate them, okay, rate them. But cutting? No.”

“It’s important to note that the film is programmed to be broadcast on Arte at 8.30 p.m.,” says Sidawi. “That’s prime time. If there’s something in it that’s shocking for viewers, they wouldn’t slot it at 8.30.”

“The film is going to be screened theatrically in ten other countries in Europe, Turkey and Latin America,” Arbid continues. “There is a Middle East distributor too, though we don’t yet know where it’ll be sold.”

“Ten times they asked [Arbid] to come back to speak about the film,” Sadawi says. “Several times they said, ‘This is a very dangerous film.’ They think it may push people to do something like 7 May [2008].”

“The problem is that they’re not realising the difference between a film and reality,” Arbid continues. ... None of them have studied art. I want to talk to people who know cinema. I don’t want to talk to a guy who says, ‘Ah you said something about Hariri!’ Yes let’s take any newspaper today and see how many times the word ‘Hariri’ comes up.

“They have the right in Lebanon to put you as a laboratory rat and to serve you their bull**it. Any guy can go on television and say ‘I hate the other guy’ or ‘You should hate your neighbour’ because he’s different, because he’s from another religion, because he’s from the 8 March or 14 March.

“The way they express their hatred of people, this is allowed. You, the Lebanese people, should accept what they say. We should hear them on television and on radio and read them and give them two hours of your life every day to their bull**it.

“But when you make something of it, when you use it as material for art, they go crazy. If you [reflect] what they say back upon them like a mirror, they say, ‘How can you do this? You’re just the subject. You have to shut up and listen to us.”

“The problem is that the whole of General Security, they know more than the director,” Sidawi says. “They are more intelligent, more artistic. This is why they help the director make a better movie ... They treat us like dogs.”

Ramzi Salti's Talk: Healing through Lebanese Music (EPIC Fellows, Stanford Global Studies, September 2020)

Watch full talk at This audio-visual talk by Stanford Lecturer + Arabology program host Dr. Ramzi Salti was pre...