RR

Looking Into The Pressure Pot: a Conversation with Tanjaret Daghet

Left to Right: Dani Shukri, Khaled Omran, Tarek Khuluki // TANJARET DAGHET // photo credit: Moussa Shabandar

Local bands in Lebanon have recently hit mainstream success, playing a spectrum of popular music in rock, alternative, and even metal. Live gigs by local bands have punctured the routine Beirut nightlife of clubbing, pubbing, eating out, and visiting pedestrian areas. One of these bands, Tanjaret Daghet, has played across many stages and on playlists of many Lebanese, Syrian, Egyptian, and other fans of the region since 2010. The band’s success has led to several interviews over the past six years. But to the members’ dismay, the attention seemed to be stirred up by their identity as Syrians whose fame rose after their departure from Damascus, as the war in Syria raged.
.

As a fan of TD, I wanted to hear their thoughts on the success they achieved regionally, and if they think they can attain more of it on a global scale. And I wanted this interview to be different. I thought the best way to hear their story was to let the band members – Dani Shukri (drummer and backup vocals), Tarek Khuluki (backup singer, rhythm/lead guitarist and keyboardist), and Khaled Omran (lead vocals and bass) – lead the conversation. They started out with how they met. And then led me through the narrative that they would like told about them.
.

DS: We all met in Damascus. I met Khaled when I was preparing to be in the Higher Institute of Music in Damascus, while he was already a senior student. We’d heard about each other through friends.
.

TK: I used to go drink beer behind that building. That was a great building.
.

DS: Yeah, it was a great building. You had some cool teachers and some rigid ones, but the best thing about that place was...
.

KO: …the students.
.

DS: You can’t find people like that in Lebanon. I went to the Lebanese conservatory and I have friends there, but it’s not as friendly an environment as in Damascus. I didn’t graduate, but I’ve met a lot of people and I started working through these people, not through studying.
.

Dani and Khaled worked together during their time at the Higher Institute in a number of distinguished Syrian bands, including Fatet Labet, performing for free across Syria. They summarized the music they played as an Oriental World Music Fusion. Tarek stressed on key factors that plays into their band’s spirit: cohesion and respect between the band members and maintaining an open line of communication.
.

TK: As a band, we want something that lends us our right to say whatever we want without it being conceived as an act of rebellion. It’s just for us to show what we can do without anyone setting limits on us. That would be so great, but for a lot of people, they look at us and think, ‘Yeah, this is a great band and they have great chemistry.’ They don’t know that this chemistry is actually our mutual understanding.
.

Khaled seldom speaks and is soft-spoken otherwise. He becomes animated when reenacting musical dictation and beat-keeping to demonstrate how his elite music instructors in Damascus enforced musical practice. I am left to wonder if it took a strict academic Russian education to break them into something more experimental.
.

KO: It was Russian studies. It was [while tapping feet in harmony]: one, two, three, four. You have to play, [sings an equally monotone rhythm] dun-dun DAH! And if you don’t play the DAH at the right time, then you have to practice for another ten hours. Actually, we need to practice ten hours a day as a band. But at the same time, I prefer to practice two or four hours playing around…to try different and fun things. Who knows what could happen? The thing about music is that it’s not about how it is written and performed. When I studied in the Higher Institute, I was always playing notes. Now, part of our method is to avoid just doing what is on paper or given by an instructor who says this is the right way to do this simply because you have to, and if you don’t then you are nothing. Everything in any kind of art, or in any job, like a doctor’s, should be done from the heart.
.

Outside of the Institute, they frequented the same homes, parties and musical venues. Since then, Dani has played a surprising set of genres as drummer and, apparently, singer. When he told me that he sang in a death metal band as it was a “growing” scene, I thought, What a way to break into any music scene in Damascus. Tarek added that Dani was in fact quite young, and the sight of him growling didn’t click with his quiet and calm disposition.
.

TK: I was shocked at how musically active Dani was with his friends. I was attempting to find the right mix as a guitar player, even through small ideas I exchanged with Dani. I rarely had the chance to play with him, because at that time he was so popular and had a huge lineup. Things changed when we moved to Beirut. Even before that, things began to change for Dani, me, and Khaled. We realized we wanted to have something more specific.
.

Tarek formed bands of his own in Damascus, including two cover bands called Exotic Reality and Unrated. Eventually, he took a break from that to seek his own sound after covering other artists. When Khaled approached Tarek, they decided on a new career path together.
.

TK: I remember Khaled came to a party that Dani put together... He said, ‘You might be a good guitar player, so let’s try something out. I have this studio in a place called Barzi…
.

I am excited to hear this, seeing as this is the story of the first four-piece formation of TD, including Nareg Abajian on keyboards, who Dani, Khaled, and Tarek have described as a “genius.” I sought to find out more about this time in their band’s history.
.

TK: Khaled’s studio in Barzi was a small rented house in a basement that’s not even soundproof. You could find cockroaches [gestures lying dead on their backs]. So we had those times…It was the first real moment for Tanjaret Daghet. I remember that day vividly, when we were preparing for a gig in a place called Suwayda, it was for the Arabic Cultural Center. That was our first gig as Tanjaret Daghet. We went there and we just had a few ideas, and the rest of the musical input was improvised with Nareg.
.

KO: Back then, Tanjaret Daghet was based on improvisation, funk, and a bit of fusion jazz. Eventually the drummer at the time had to return to Germany. There was also a trumpet player that left. I met Dani at the Institute, so we, with Nareg, formed an acoustic band with piano, double bass, and drums. We performed more instrumentals, and eventually we made a transition into electric instruments.
.

In 2010, a TD performance in the French Cultural Center in Damascus set the band off to one of the most memorable concerts of 2011, just months before they left Damascus. Tarek referred to the concert as a “rebirth,” and highlighted that it shed light on what he feels he has to own up to as a musician.
.

DS: While we were jamming around musical ideas for 180°, we played a concert at the French Cultural Center in Damascus… it was a cover gig with a friend of ours, Justine, who sang. She later told us that the French Ambassador told her that he liked our performance and wanted to let us choose a festival in France that we wanted to attend. In 2011, we went to Rock En Seine. There were four stages… it was the first time we attended something as big as this.
.

TK: I found out what it takes to play on one of those four stages ... fully equipped with roadies changing equipment for the upcoming band. I asked myself, Do you want to be like this? Or do you want to remain the cool guy who’s covering in your country, with girls in your neighborhood paying you compliments? Experiencing Rock en Seine made me want to work a lot harder to reach a place like this and reach this level of treatment. Because that’s the treatment, the thing that I saw there. It is how musicians should be treated. It’s so hard to find that kind of treatment here. Maybe because people in the music industry had really bad times for the last twenty years of their careers. Maybe I had to see it to find out I like to be able to perform or to do something like this with Dani and Khaled one day.
.

The band members were especially influenced by Blonde Redhead at Rock en Seine. They claimed that the band “sounded new” and “ambient, very dark and bright” and that their music was “open” and “full” despite having only three members. I couldn’t help but remark that some of the words they used to describe Blonde Redhead were the same words I have heard to describe their music from 180°, their first album, which they began recording when they left Damascus as three members instead of four.
.

DS: In 2011, Khaled and I were already in Beirut and became acquainted with the music scene. I used to do some gigs and take a few drum lessons. Khaled spoke with Eqa’a, a small record label, about Tanjaret Daghet, just as we started to work together. Tarek moved to Beirut a week after the label agreed to record with us. During this week, Tarek and Khaled were working on some songs.
.

KO: We worked on Tanfisseh (Pressure Vent), Badeel (Alternative), Taht el Daghet (Under Pressure), and Wahietak (I Swear to You). After Dani moved here, we worked on Ya Ramady (O Grey), and La Tkhaf (Don’t Be Afraid).
.

DS: We did one gig in Beirut, the four of us, with Nareg. We did only that one before I decided to stay and Nareg decided to go back. We mainly worked on those tracks and the two instrumentals (the intro track, Tanjaret Daghet; and Wein al-Daghet/Where Is the Pressure). The ideas for the songs were almost entirely there. We did a one-day rehearsal for the concert, and after the concert I went back to Damascus to bring the rest of my stuff back to Beirut.
.

TK: Somehow, it was the most challenging moment for the three of us to break out of what we already settled into. In 180°, each one of us had his own approach to music. In the upcoming album, it is about breaking our artistic characters to have something that we together call new.
.

“Mustateel,” a song off the upcoming album, -4, describes the shape of the band’s bond and how they perceive their life together. One of the ways they are trying to break out of their “artistic characters” is by retelling stories they have heard, including personal stories about themselves. I asked them if they have other challenges, and if making music that people want to listen to is one of them.
.

TK: We have to fight to get people to listen to a genre that they don’t like. The new album might have some input on that subject. It’s not a complicated album, it’s just more…approachable than 180°, which was more or less a chance to go inside the studio and perform. The new album will be something else. The lyrics that Khaled chose are way different from the first album. They incorporate open, inside stories and concepts, you can say. The style of drumming is different, the way I play the guitar is different. It’s like each of us are on a journey to open up a new channel.
.

In addition to insight into their upcoming album, TD offered a live unplugged performance of their newest song, “Maridh,” in a new rendition that they rehearsed just once before this interview. Khaled played the double bass and lead vocals; Dani played drums with wire brushes to deliver; and Tarek played the classical piano, giving a mellow sound to an otherwise energetic piece. TD expressed more about making music in an industry that dictates success according to a band's following on stage and album sales.
.

TK: This kind of drama belongs to us, and it is real. For the people who think we have the best kind of living in Lebanon – exploring and gigging – at the end of the day, it’s about what we’re doing for the band. It has nothing to do with coming up with a hit. I know that we can. I know that Khaled’s capacity to produce a hit is 80%; so are Dani’s and mine. I know that if each one of us worked together to produce a big track, it would happen. What matters is that the three of us as a band are clear in what we really want to show.
.

Tarek’s frustration defines what he, Dani, and Khaled are pushing for by the end of this conversation. Their story now is to persevere as musicians and as friends. We can still see them in concerts or smaller venues like Metro El Madina, and they have been regulars at monthly jazz sessions called Mezyaq in Mezyan in Hamra. In between live performances, they have been working on their new album since the beginning of the year. TD is leaning on the idea that it has moved past its trials while recording 180°, and that its greatest challenge was to produce a distinct and new set of tracks for the upcoming album while maintaining their and the album’s integrity.
.

TK: We’re not trying to showcase ourselves with, yeah, we are a band. We came from that place, we came from a war. We came from this dramatic whatever the fuck it is, we were brought up with a background that we never thought we had a future in. Fuck that. What matters is that we are living today; I’m breathing in front of you, Khaled is breathing in front of you and Dani is breathing in front of you. Are we clear about us making something really interesting for other people to follow? That’s the real question, and that’s what I’m personally looking for as well. Even as a member of this band, I’m still looking for it. It’s important to not just look at our history. With what 180° brought to us, we need from our new album to express more and to convince others that three people can make something from nothing.

Contributor
Saba Sadr

Saba Sadr is an Iranian-Lebanese fine artist. She takes joy in intricate details and textures in everything from decrep it urban walls to noise. She aspires to work in the field of Public Practice. Saba enjoys community and collaborative art projects and often tries to capture a social process – the pattern of growth and change in a society over the years – or challenge herself to break away from her conservative norms. She is counting on a breakthrough someday.

Post Tags
Share Post
Written by
No comments

LEAVE A COMMENT