From the Oct. 17 protests, the downward economic spiral and a pandemic lockdown, Metro al-Madina has had many a muse for its latest musical projects.
Fans following Metro’s online endeavors will be treated to rooftop practice sessions, home-performances of “Bar Farouk” favorites and a new song from their comical “Aghane Servicet” project called “Lira & Dollar.”
“We’ve been trying to rehearse, meeting on a rooftop, and we’ve been doing some projects from home from past performances,” Metro al-Madina’s artistic director Hisham Jaber told The Daily Star. “We also have new song from the second volume of ‘Aghaneh Servicet,’ which was meant to be launched on March 24, but everything closed, so we’re going to release them as singles.”
First launched in November 2019, “Aghaneh Servicet – Al Hajj Transportation” started as a group of songs based on four years of conversations overheard in Beirut’s public transport system. Penned by Jaber before last year’s protests, he had already anticipated more music would come out of the sociopolitical changes the country experienced.
The new tune is one of 12 new satirical compositions from “Aghaneh Servicet – Zaman El Enhiyar,” which covers topics from the protests onward, through love songs.
Featuring the vocals of Cosette Chedid, Ayman Sleiman on oud, Ahmad Khateeb on Riq, Deiaa Hamza on accordion, Bashar Farran on bass and Farah Kaddour on bouzouki, the music video was filmed on the blue-lit Metro stage, with all the musicians wearing masks.
The classically romantic Oum Kalthoum-style music of “Lira & Dollar” is in hilarious contrast to the lyrics, which compare the country’s financial crisis to a lover’s quarrel.
“You treated me like a small depositor, piss-poor and wretched,” Chedid croons with a pout. “And you, cold-blooded, couldn’t care less … I opened my heart to you like a fresh dollars account, Go ahead and snatch whatever is inside.”
One of many cultural spaces struggling over the past few months, the satirical cabaret venue is hoping to get back to normalcy from June 8, the date the government’s five-stage reopening plan is set to conclude.
“During the revolution we had a pay-as-you-like system, just to stay open, but the last three months we’ve been closed and paying what we can to our staff,” Jaber said. “We’re a big family, between artists and staff we’re about 60 people, trying to make ends meet.
“We’re waiting to reopen and see how we’re going to do [it]. People are scared. Will they be able to pay for performances? Can people living in this situation carry on and afford it?
“Especially now with the dollar crisis, all our alcohol at the bar would be more expensive now. We’re usually just a self-sustaining theater but we’re now looking into option for grants of funding to help us.”
When restaurants and cafes were allowed to reopen, only 30 percent capacity was permitted – something that Jaber says would not work for a performance space and would not be worth running a show, when compared with costs of putting on a performance. Regardless, he stays optimistic that this storm too will pass.
“This isn’t apocalyptic. We’ve passed through everything in life and there isn’t anything else,” he said. “Corona isn’t a new problem. It’s just another problem. Since we’ve opened we’ve seen bombs, war, Daesh, and god-himself. We just have to keep trying.
“We opened this theater in the city to interact with the people. The audience is our life source, and as long as we have an audience it means people are in need of a space like this,” he added. “Maybe one day the city will have other needs and priorities. Maybe we’ll open a bakery and call it Makhbaz al-Madina – you get a free song with every bag of bread purchased!”