Electronic Aleppo on the mind

The album cover for "Hello Psychaleppo."

BEIRUT: The Syrian city of Aleppo might conjure up images of a traditional city, steeped in history. More recently perhaps, thoughts of the country’s biggest metropolis may turn to the destruction wrought by civil war.

This Saturday, at Hamra’s Metro al-Madina, Hello Psychaleppo will show a different side to the ancient city.

The electronic music project is a collaboration between Zimo, from Aleppo, and Nabil Saliba, of Lebanese band Slutterhouse. The two have been working together for the past few months, but this weekend will be their first public performance.

Zimo has been making music, from rap to acoustic, since he was 12 but he says the electronic stuff has always been closest to his heart.

“This electronic project was a very personal thing,” he says. “I hadn’t planned to release any of these tracks.”

After a while, though, when he realized he had around 20 completed tracks and that his friends were enjoying the music, he decided to release his first album online – which is available for free download.

That was eight months ago, and he says he’s been receiving positive feedback ever since.

“Now I have a small fan base,” Zimo says, “but I do feel like it’s growing, getting better.”

His first album, also named “Hello, Psychaleppo,” blends moody synth, with shuffling hip-hop breaks, and elements of more traditional Middle Eastern sounds, against a subtle wash of background strings.

Growing up, Zimo says, he listened to a mixture of rock music, such as Iron Maiden and Metallica, and traditional Arabic musicians including Sabah Fakhri and Umm Kalthoum. He cites the iconic Egyptian vocalist as an inspiration behind his current electronic project, alongside Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, Massive Attack and Sigur Ros.

When he arrived in Lebanon four months ago, having left Aleppo because of the situation there, he met Saliba through a friend – Joan Baz, who will VJ Saturday’s performance – and the two started working together.

“He’d already heard about Hello Psychaleppo, which was really nice, and we met, and he has a unique style also.” Now a recording may issue from their collaboration, Zimo says.

This weekend’s performance will represent the first time Zimo has performed his electronic music live.

“I’m really excited about it,” he adds, “... and while I’ve never performed it before, now I can see the structure of it and I can see where it’s going.”

He is no stranger to performance, having had weekly gigs in Aleppo. Zimo says that while a few years ago it was pretty hard to find anywhere to play in that city, over the last few years Aleppo had become less conservative.

More recently he and a few friends began renting a small pub every Friday, where they would play covers – from reggae to country – and the place was full every week.

Before it became a battleground between President Bashar Assad’s troops and rebel insurgents, Zimo says, the underground music scene in the city was increasingly vibrant.

“I have so many friends who are just like me,” he continues. “We have so many talented musicians and there’s quite a big underground network, but there are not so many places to play and it’s really hard to make this thing grow and grow.”

With a degree in fine arts, Zimo had hoped to pursue his studies, and had never planned to leave Syria. “It’s pretty hard,” he says. “There’s a whole generation now who are doing nothing, and there’s nothing to do.

“I stayed for a year in Aleppo after graduation and then things got worse. I needed to stay there. I had no plans to go anywhere – that was my country you know. But my parents had to let me go. You couldn’t see a future there for the next 10 years.”

Apparently able to see the best in a bleak situation, Zimo points out that the art scene in Lebanon is better than in Syria. “I had plans to continue my studies, but the plans went in a different way, and now I am doing this. You have to deal with the reality.”

Hello Psychaleppo will perform at Metro al-Madina Saturday at 10p.m. Tickets are LL15,000. Call the venue on 76-309-363 for more information.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on November 09, 2012, on page 16.




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