Calamita is the experimental rock project of Lebanese guitarist Sharif Sehnaoui and bassist Tony Elieh, both are members of the Middle-Eastern free music super-group Karkhana. Sehnaoui is a member of the free-improvising «A» Trio with trumpeter Mazen Kerbaj and double bass player Raed Yassin, and Elieh is active in the Lebanese post-punk and post-rock scene.
For its project with Egyptian, Beirut-based singer-songwriter-guitarist-sound artist Aya Metwalli, Calamita added Lebanese drummer Malek Rizkallah, who plays with Elieh in the post-punk band The Scrambled Eggs. Metwalli and Sehnaoui worked before on a dance piece by Lebanese choreographer Ali Chahrour which included a wide collection of Arabic songs and ancient poems. The album of this ad-hoc quartet Al Saher (stay awake in Arabic) was recorded at Tunefork Studio in Beirut.
The songs of «The Voice of Egypt», Oum Kalthoum (1898-1975), which Metwalli’s father played for her non-stop, served as a starting point for Al Saher, and Sehnaoui describes it as a «long journey trying to compose music for Oum Kalthoum songs». Metwalli and Calamita aim to revisit and update the modern Arabic song format and explore the possibilities of classical Tarab songs (stirring musical performance that launches the audience into a trance-like state of ecstasy), extracted from their origins and reframed within the music of the twenty-first century. The quartet brings into this exciting mix diverse influences ranging from free jazz, post-punk, free-improv, seminal musicians and outfits like Tony Conrad and Last Exit or, obviously Oum Kalthoum.
Al Saher begins with a bold and radical cover of a love song identified with Oum Kalthoum, «Hazihi Laylati» (This is my night), composed by Egyptian guitarist Omar Khorshid (1945-1981). The thorny and dense rhythmic craze of Calamita contrasts the seductive, emotional vocals of Metwalli. The following «El Khala3 Wel Dala3» enjoys an insistent, hypnotic rhythmic drive that embraces the charismatic delivery of Metwalli, who also ornaments the song with vintage synth sounds. The title song experiment with a more sparse abstract texture that only highlights the emotional depth and unique timbre of Metwalli’s vocals, but patiently it gravitates into another addictive, hypnotic rhythmic pattern. The last song «Kadni El Hawa» (I almost got fancy) by Egyptian singer and composer Yusuf Al-Manyalawi (1847-1911) takes the conventional modern Arabic song format and inject restless, punkish energy. Still, the beautiful vocals of Metwalli radiate the emotional drama of this song.
Aya Metwalli (v, g, elec), Sharif Sehnaoui (el.g), Tony Elieh (el.b), Malek Rizkallah (dr)