Adonis, a band on the brink of ruling Middle-East arabic pop

It all started in September 2010.

Anthony Khoury and his friends got together to form a band. They practiced in a storage facility turned to a music room in the small Mount-Lebanon town of Brummana. They gave their first concert in December 2010 in a restaurant in Beirut. Since then, they’ve never looked back. They played in music venues across the Middle-East, from Beirut to Dubai, Amman and Egypt, they recorded a top 10 Virgin Megastore Beirut best-selling album for 10 consecutive weeks. They accumulated 28,000 likes on Facebook (and still rising) and-yes sir- are recording their next album in Jean-Marie Riachi’s studio, the industry’s giant who worked with arabic music legends from Majida Roumi to Fairuz.

Adonis band is getting big. What is frightening is it’s going to get bigger.

It would be very easy to compare Adonis to Mashrou’ Leila, the other Lebanese band who created a mini-revolution back in 2009, being the first Lebanese indie-pop rock band to get so popular and hype (got recommended by Perez Hilton, played along a mad sideline including Gorillaz in Byblos’ Festival 2010).

But Adonis is another Lebanese band. And this is as far as the comparison can go.

adonis on the stairs

Adonis and friends next to their music practice room in the town of Brummana.

Listening to Adonis, you may want to label them the Lebanese Coldplay, Beirut or Mumford & Sons. Although some of these influences can clearly be heard, Adonis has a much more versatile, individual, original baggage than that, and it takes full dimensions in the song “Shajret el jararank”  which starts on a quiet, bluesy, romantic note and ends up being an unexpected catchy song that makes you stand on the table and shake your belly if you could-ever-belly dance.

Adonis has pulled out a lot of singles since then, often well timed with the winter or summer season. It would be interesting to hear what their third album, recorded in one of the biggest Middle-East studios, would sound like.

London wYre had the chance to chat with Fabio Khoury, the bassist of Adonis and asked him questions about the band and his view on Beirut’s musical scene.

LW: How was Adonis founded?

FK: It first began with Anthony (vocals and keys) and Joey (guitars) jamming whenever they had the chance to. They were both Architecture students at AUB, and both shared interest in local music (Melhem Barakat, Fairuz, etc.). Eventually they decided to start a band, and asked me and Nicola to join, along other musicians and friends who didn’t end up staying with us.

Our first rehearsal as a band was in the fall of 2010.

LW: How do you guys create songs? Is there one person who comes up with a song and you add arrangements to it or do you create a song collectively from scratch while jamming? Is there a main lyricist in the band?

FK: Anthony comes up with lyrics, and basic melodies. Then we get together, fine-tune the music, and work on the structure and arrangements. There are a few exceptions. ‘Kermalik’ was composed by Joey, and we also have a few covers, such as ‘Bent l Hawa’ which is based on Edith Piaf’s ‘L’Accordéoniste’.

LW: Is there any kind of competition between you guys and Mashrou’ Leila or is Mashrou’ Leila a kind of big brother showing you the light or are you guys as different to Mashrou’ Leila than you are to Haifa Wehbe?  

FK: If there were no competition between local bands and musicians, our small scene would not be growing and evolving as fast as it is right now. Each year, the quality of songwriting, music production, live concerts and music videos that other bands and ourselves are producing is getting better and better. We owe it to bands and artists like Mashrou’ Leila for creating new platforms and constantly raising the bar. As all artists coming from the same place, we sometimes have the same stories to tell, but the tools we use to tell these stories are naturally very different and specific to each.

LW: What things do you think can be improved in the underground world of music and filming in Lebanon and how?

FK: The main issue with the underground world of music in Lebanon is that it gets categorised as “underground” and as “one scene”. For the new wave of bands, a lot of them record at the same studios, play the same concerts, and ultimately end up with the same sound. And to the outside world, this scene looks like a foreign culture, so they place the experimental jazz bands with the indie rock bands with the politically-engaged hip hop bands, in the same category. In cinema it’s different, because local movies are almost entirely “underground”, beside the occasional hit.

LW: You guys have today more than 20 000 likes on Facebook and supporters from across the Middle East. What was the breakthrough moment that helped you getting there?

FK: It happened very progressively through the years. I think that some of the TV appearances and music videos helped. Like almost all new bands, we owe a big part of our success to social networks.

LW: Did you ever have a creative/musical influence (friendly) clash with the other members of the band?  

FK: Of course. We have a lot in common with the music we enjoy, but we also have very different backgrounds and tastes. Those clashes are the perfect opportunity for us to push our music upwards, and I wouldn’t count on going through one practice without one of them.

LW: Do you remember the first time you played on stage as a band and how was it like?  

FK: It’s the band’s birthday, December 18th 2010, at Walimat Wardeh, a restaurant in Hamra, Beirut. The place fits 100 people, and I think 150 people showed up, most of them friends. I remember this being a very good concert, despite all the small mistakes which we wouldn’t allow ourselves to make anymore. It’s the great feedback we got that day, which was a first step in our journey.

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