Lebanese hip-hop pioneer rapping for free speech

BEIRUT: “I’m not here to entertain you,” says Rayess Bek. “Neither am I going to start a revolution … I’m just fighting for freedom of speech.”

Formerly one-half the hip- hop duo Aks’ser, known to his mum as “Wael Kodeih,” Rayess Bek raps in Lebanese Arabic and French and is regarded to be an Arabic hip-hop trailblazer.

A Paris resident these days, the trailblazer was back in Beirut where he performed a number of shows around last week’s Laique Pride protestations. This four-day-long series of shows was also the occasion for the launch of his newest CD. “Khartech 3a Zamann/ l’Homme de gauche” (“Scribbling out the Past” and “The Leftist”) is a collection of songs divided into two parts – one in French and one in Arabic.

He may be living in Paris, but Rayess Bek’s roots are in Lebanon. Like many who have studied and worked overseas, the rapper says his constant state of transition sometimes makes him feel a little schizophrenic.

His lyrics are expressive of Lebanon’s politics, wars, confusion and identity. Local audiences sometimes consider these lyrics harsh and they’ve long felt the weight of the censor.

The tunes are aimed the younger generation, one that, in Rayess Bek’s view, often finds itself drowned by disillusionment, blinded by consumerism and searching for some clarity.

Rayess Bek says that his aim is not to change people’s views but simply to express the frustrations that people would like to express, but which, more often than not, they are unable or unwilling to voice. “I don’t write about fiction,” he continues. “I write about boundaries.”

He means political boundaries – not just physical barriers like walls and borders, but moral, social and cultural ones.

“These are the boundaries that remain engrained in our minds, like the Green Line, like the line between the occidental and oriental,” he said. These, he continues, are the ones that affect the social spaces that we inevitably have to share.

“I’m more of a journalist than an artist,” the rapper adds, “but not in the objective sense. That doesn’t exist.”

He feels Lebanon is blinded by consumerism, consumed by its appetite for fashion, fancy phones and classy cars. But Rayess Bek believes this to be a country full of people whose powerlessness stems from their being oblivious to how powerful they are.

“People have the power to buy expensive phones, the intelligence to earn good money, the talent to speak many languages, the freedom to choose, the power to speak. Yet they simply live to consume. What kind of a life is this? And people tell me my lyrics are depressing,” he laughs. “I am a consumer, but at least I am a conscious consumer.”

At once thoughtful and lyrical, Rayess Bek’s lyrics are, for some, inspiring. Falling during the Laique Pride events, Rayess Bek’s shows have been about acceptance as much as freedom of speech.

“Tolerance is not enough,” he says. “In fact I hate this word. If I tolerate someone, it creates some sort of hierarchy. Acceptance and understanding is what we need.”

Lebanon might be the place to articulate such politically-engaged music in Arabic. Beirut’s purportedly liberal streets may be the space to express oneself safely. But does the work have the power to wake up those indoctrinated by consumerism?

“I’m not into politics,” he says. “I’m a citizen. There are enough problems in the world. Let’s not fight with one another.”

Rayess Bek has a London show in Momo on May 25. Rayess Bek and his Orchestra will return to Beirut on June 6.



Read more: http://www.dailystar.com.lb/Culture/Arts/May/01/Lebanese-hip-hop-pioneer-rapping-for-free-speech.ashx#ixzz1tA6lbyUX