Want Your Coffee Cup Read? There’s An App for that Now

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Lebanon is a country full of superstitious people. Now, I know many of you will probably deny that, as you silently check your Horoscopes and re-watch Leila Abdellatif on Youtube. Problem is, most of you forgot to disable the feature that tweets your daily horoscope automatically (which makes me unfollow you, like, instantly).

This is a sad reality in a country that is grappling with too many people believing in stupid shit and acting on it. But, it is also understandable, given how much uncertainty we live in, and how little we can trust our politicians, system and even fellow citizens.

Now, when I saw Bassarah, the app, I was like, “Oh come on!”, but then, an opportunity to use it surfaced. When I’m in my hometown visiting, many times annoying old women come and start asking to “read coffee cups” (be2ralik el fenjen madame). Now, I find that extremely annoying, and exceptionally naive given that the predictions often centered around “travel” and “news from overseas” (well, duh, most of my family lives abroad). So, when I saw this app, I thought about all the times these women scolded me for “always looking at the phone” instead of listening to their superstitious nonsense.

So, next time I’m there, I’m planning on waiting till that happens, and pulling out my phone and telling them, “oh, don’t worry about it, I have an app for that!” (ma tet3azabeh tante, el telephon la7alo byebasserle) and I absolutely can’t wait to see their reactions when I call their bluff, and they’ll start wondering how on earth can a phone come up with the same tired lies and vague statements they probably were taught by their moms and grandmas.

You take a pic of your empty fenjen (complete with you smudging it with your finger, just like at your grandma’s, hahahaha!)

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It’s available for Android and iOS, if you feel like experimenting on your superstitious friends too. Also, I’m glad the developers said “add a little fun to your coffee time” instead of “find out your future” or something.

WKBL Just Covered Warda’s Betwannis Bik, and It’s Fucking Epic

Who Killed Bruce Lee are awesome, y’all know that. The boys make it possible for me to enjoy something not purely electronic, and that in itself, is quite the statement coming from me. I love Warda. When I was a little kid, I had a video cassette (VHS!) with a recording of Warda’s “Betwannis Bik” at a live show. I watched it so many times, that the tape was no longer usable by the time I was 9 years old.

So, when Wassim told me what they were cooking up, I was absolutely ecstatic, and this morning, finally, as I was boarding my flight to Berlin, I got the link!

I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. It’s quite the energetic, soulful tribute to a musical legend that has passed on, but will always be in all of our most intimate playlists.

Don’t forget to like the Who Killed Bruce Lee page on Facebook, they always have something cool on there.

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#Ma3Leila: You Still Have a Chance to Write a Song with Mashrou’ Leila and Absolut

I’m definitely not the best when it comes to Arabic poetry and lyrics, but I’m liking the suggestions people have been putting forth since the launch of the #Ma3Leila campaign earlier this month. We’re at the halfway mark almost, and later today, the last piece of incomplete lyric will be posted on the Absolut Facebook page, so, you still have a chance to help write the lyrics of the most refreshingly transformative band in the past few years.

Here are the two previous posts, which you also can still suggest additions to!

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As of tomorrow morning, Mashrou’ Leila will have the daunting task of selecting the best options to complete the couplets. After going through the hundreds of entries and thousands of likes, they’ll record their new song with the audience-generated input, something Lebanese artists and bands haven’t done before. So be creative, and have your words transformed into an awesome song and video clip!

To participate, just fill in the blanks of the couplets on Facebook: Absolut or Mashrou’ Leila

Massive New Ashekman Grendizer Mural in Ashrafieh

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This 10x8m epic mural right next to the ABC Ashrafieh Mar Mitr exit, is done! Our childhood, Arabic-dubbed, Grendizer, has been recreated using beautiful, colorful arabic calligraffiti. It comes at a time when in Lebanon and this part of the world, we really do need a hero for the people. A people that suffers under all kinds of inhumanity from authoritarian regimes, to extremist radicals and military juntas. Here’s to always being able to express ourselves freely, whether its eccentric masterpieces on derelict walls, or rants on online platforms like this.

I’ve missed Ashekman masterpieces like this, and the twins have outdone themselves this time.

Check out the rest of their work here.

Beautiful Animated Short on Lebanon by Marilyn Haddad

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This beautifully, hand-drawn, animated short movie by Marylin Haddad perfectly sums up a lot of the hardships and inconveniences we all face in Lebanon. From the wazawez, to the hellish traffic, electricity cuts and of course, constant war. It’s about a young woman who just wants to dance like there’s no tomorrow, and sadly, sometimes there truly is no tomorrow in our beloved Lebanon.

What I loved were the details you could’ve missed, like when the girl is studying, she’s forced to be a “ballou3a” and regurgitates some of the useless information that’s shoveled at us growing up. I hope you guys enjoy it as much as I did!

Like There Is No Tomorrow from Marilyn Haddad on Vimeo.

Gino’s Blog Interviews Maz Jobrani

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So, I had the honor of getting an exclusive interview with Maz Jobrani before his show for Sanad in Beirut on Sunday. The folks at the Hitlon Hotels in Lebanon were kind enough to invite me for lunch and an uncensored chat with a comedian I look up to and appreciate. Here’s our interview:

It’s not your first time here in Beirut, so, what do you think of our city?

I’ve been here a couple of times, but I never stayed long enough, you know, I have two kids at home and my schedule. My first time was with the Axis of Evil in 2007. We did like 5 shows, so they took us around, up into the mountains. We even tried to meet Hezbollah at one point! It was a crazy trip. Then another time, I came with my wife when my son was almost 2-years-old and we stayed in the beautiful Downtown Beirut.

I love Beirut, I think Beirut is amazing. It’s one of my favorite places in the world. I really would love to spend more time here.

Have you partied in Beirut? Like, not just your shows, but our nightlife?

When we came with Axis of Evil, we did party! I didn’t know much about Lebanon and Beirut before coming here. I didn’t know the levels you guys take your parties to.

We went to a club called Crystal, it was a Wednesday, an off-day, and it was rock and roll, I mean not rock and roll music, but Techno or whatever. I look over and there’s chains coming from the ceiling and girls were holding those chains and like making out. It was crazy, and the guy turned to me and said, “Yeah, you should come Friday,” and I was like, it gets even crazier!

Yeah, the level of partying in Beirut is at another level. When I was in Beirut with my wife and kid before heading out to New York, our friends from there got in touch and told us they couldn’t wait for us to fly in to party hard. And I said, “this is the party capital, Beirut.” And my theory is that apart from the Lebanese I know being very much into living life and enjoying life, part of it has to do that with the Civil War, people just got tired of it. So, when fighting would break out in the streets, people would just say, let’s take it up to the mountains!”. There’s a resilience that the Lebanese people have, and I think it’s beautiful. You guys are some of the top partiers in the world, easy.

Your comedy can be categorized as observational, but for someone like me from Middle East, a lot of times it’s like it has a deeper message behind it. Would you say you do? And what message exactly?

I was a big fan of Eddie Murphy as a kid, and ultimately, I just wanted to be funny. And I think as I got into it though, and started to talk about being of Middle-Eastern descent, Iranian descent, and growing up in American, I think issues started coming up that were social and political. I think that if you can’t do comedy that has a message somewhere, you know, it doesn’t have to be obvious, but it’s got some political points in there, is my favorite type of comedy. You know, like you said, I’m also a fan of The Colbert Report as well as The Daily Show. But, also in the middle of my show, I do silly stuff. DL Hugley said this one time: “When you do comedy, it’s like giving people medicine but hiding it in orange juice, so they don’t taste it”

Many Americans aren’t aware of the discrimination of Arab, Middle Eastern and Muslim people, so my joke about the Arab family on the plane, or even people who look Muslim, it could be Christian Lebanese. So, when you tell them the joke, they laugh about it, but they also know, “hey, this is real”. So, it’s a way of delivering the news.

The region is in turmoil, as your jokes illustrate when you say “how do you know the Middle East is going crazy? When Beirut is the safest place there!”. Has that changed your jokes and shows?

I know the rest of the Middle East is going crazy when Lebanon is the most peaceful place in the region. A lot of times, it’s just what really hits me, like for example, I had a Syrian ask me, why don’t you do jokes about Syria. I said, well, I’ve never been to Syria. I don’t sit down and say, I have to write a joke about this topic. If it comes to me, it makes me laugh, then I do it. In light of the situation, I joke about learning to talk Arabic, and I say, if you just say the words you do know and throw in some food in the middle, people will think you speak it. Like, “Yalla, shawarma, yalla yalla, wallahi!” So, I was saying yalla, yalla, hurry, hurry, but you are always late. And Salam Alaykom, which is “may peace be upon you”, and then you go outside and start a war. So, no one is listening to anybody, and it’s a joke Arabs have laughed at.

It’s just about figuring out a light way to say it. I never make fun of the victims or people who are refugees. I think one of the jobs of comedy is to make fun of those in power, not those who don’t have power.

Are you a geek? We were talking about Star Wars earlier, so I had to ask!

I’ll be honest with you, I think I was a bit of a geek when I was younger. I was a big fan of comedy too, that’s why I ended up being a comedian. I don’t have the patience or maybe just lost interest in video games, so not anymore. I loved Star Wars, but didn’t really like the prequels, but when I saw the new trailer, I said, hey maybe I’ll go see the new one. I got excited. My son is 6 now, and I’m kinda waiting for the right age to watch Star Wars with him.

You don’t really distinguish between Persian and Arab, and focus on the Middle East being one kind of “front”. Is that true, and why?

I do, I always make jokes about how Arabs and Persians are different. The problem is that the US is so isolated, that if you don’t open your eyes, if you don’t travel, you’d think everyone’s the same. I used to joke about that, on how my US passport it says “born in Iran” and I’d joke about how some Arab countries like Kuwait don’t get along, and I’d get asked all these questions. Some Arab countries don’t even get along with each other, and I say, the whole area is not one country. I hear people say “just bomb the whole goddamn region”, and you go, “but they’re different countries, which are probably enemies”. Like the Bush administration going into Iraq, where a Sunni minority, was ruling a Shiite majority, and they expected to be greeted with flowers and once you remove the dictator, everyone would just get along (not that the dictator was any good!). But it’s this level of ignorance that is unbelievable. I remember when they were looking for Bin Laden, they asked a bunch of senators if Bin Laden was Shiite or Sunni, and they didn’t know!”

Lebanon has always been known for its free speech and liberal ideals, but recently, a crackdown on free speech and increased censorship is hurting that. What are your thoughts on that?

Well, I’m really bothered by censorship. I think people should be allowed to say what they wanna say. I think there’s some of that going on the in the US as well. I think social media has made it so that if somebody is offended at all, they make a big deal out of it. If you have to limit your thoughts and ideas because you might offend somebody, I think a lot of artistic ideas would be pulled back and that’s bad. On the other side, I’m not with saying things just to provoke. With social media, everyone has a platform. Like, just to say something racist.

I hope Lebanon doesn’t go that way. I think it’s all political and they’re looking for excuses. I think it’s easier for me from the outside to say “just do your thing and don’t worry about it”, but ultimately, those who are trying to stop people from saying what they wanna say, is that we live in an information age. So, no matter what you say, whether you’re in China or Iran or Saudi Arabia or wherever, and you’re trying to block people from hearing or seeing things, hey man, it’s just one click away. It’s almost futile, a futile effort to stop people from saying what they wanna say. And I think a lot of regimes are realizing that young people wanna say what they wanna say, they want their freedom of speech, and the laws need to be fair.

I think the West has progressed a lot more than countries here in that aspect. In the US, I can go up on TV and make fun of the president. There are many countries here where I can’t make fun of the leadership. But that shows you the security of the system, cause the president of the US knows he’s not gonna be overthrown by my joke, whereas in some countries, they feel if you disrespect the leader, others might disrespect the leader and threaten the leadership. But, hey, if you’re secure in your leadership, and you’re fair, you shouldn’t worry about what people say.

I hope that freedom of speech progresses in the region. Online it will, it’s unstoppable. No matter how closed off the regime is, people know what’s going on.

One of the hardest things in comedy is knowing when it’s ok to joke about something, especially something tragic. How do you gauge that?

I’ve seen comedians do jokes about tragedies the same day, especially now with social media. I personally try to be very conscious of not making fun of any victims in any way. If a war were to break out, or like the cop killing in St Louis, I wouldn’t find myself making fun of Michael Brown. But, if the police chief says something ridiculous, you can make fun of that. The incident is so tragic, but you can make fun of something that was said that needs to be ridiculed.

This girl in Kuwait tweeted me after a joke I did after Boston bombing, how my first thought was, my heart goes out to all the victims, but how my second thought was, please don’t be Middle Eastern… Don’t be one of us. So, this girl in Kuwait thought it was offensive because people died, and I tried to explain in the 140 characters that I disagree, or else there’d be no comedy. It’s about making fun of the hypocritical things that come out of tragedy.

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Maz was awesome. He was a lot fun to be around, very knowledgeable about the world’s current affairs and very passionate about what he does. He’s starring in new feature film that will be released in 2015, and is releasing his book “I am not a Terrorist, but I’ve Played One on TV” in February.

10 Gorgeous Johnnie Walker Fire Graffiti for Lebanon

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So, I’m sure you all saw a photo or two on your newsfeeds, or on a billboard or LED screen somewhere in Beirut. I was lucky enough to be asked by the brilliant guys and gals behind the campaign to stand in the shot of my quote, and it was quite the experience.

There’s no photoshop. Just a really talented fire artist who can pull off each shot impeccably in mere minutes and just a handful of takes! I really love mine, and it was sorta nice to see my weird, alien/ghost self on a Karantina rooftop on billboards all over town and magazines. So, I thought I’d share the making-of hyperlapse video, and a few photos that I really liked. Check out the rest here and on the #KeepWalkingLebanon hashtag

 

Christmas Series: Beirut Chants Till December 23rd! And its Free

I love Classical music. Whether it’s one musician, a quartet, a choir a whole orchestra or all of the above. Christmas is an especially magical time for such performances in Beirut’s many, many historic churches.

For 7 years now, Beirut Chants has been bringing to life these churches with local and international acts of all kinds: choral, sacred music, chamber and philharmonic orchestra performances and appearances by international soloists.

It already started on December 1st, but will continue till the 23rd.

You can check out their complete schedule here. Also, I’ve taken the liberty of selecting a handful I think will be really worth your while:

Friday December 12

The Lebanese Philharmonic Orchestra, at St Georges Maronite Cathedral in Downtown Beirut. I love the LPO, and their weekly performances in a church near USJ right off Monot Street. This is one Beirut Chant night I definitely will not miss. 8:00PM

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Monday December 15

Vadym Kholodenko in St Louis Capuchin Church (the one with the tall steeple everyone photographs with the mosque minarets in Downtown, right next to the Saraya). Kholodenko is the 2013 Gold Medalist of the Cliburn International Piano Competition. So, if you’re a fan of a grand piano on the altar of a gorgeous old church, then it’s a no-brainer. 8:00PM

Tuesday December 16

The 40-member Fayha Choir from Tripoli and its suburbs will be in the St. Elie Church in Kantari on Tuesday. It’s a beautiful sight and experience, from an amazing city with an unfairly tarnished reputation. You might know them from the Arabs Got Talent show too. So, if you’re into choirs, Kantari is where you wanna be on Tuesday at 8:00PM

Al Fayha' ChoirFriday December 19

The LPO joins forces with the choirs of the National Conservatory, the Antonine University & NDU and Soprano Felicitas Fuchs. This is one of the grandest Christmas concerts of the lineup, and if you miss the 12 December one, you aren’t allowed to miss this one. Starts at 8:00PM in the St Joseph Church in Monot.

There are plenty of other dates and musicians, including several children’s choirs and soloists. I just picked a handful that I’d like to go to myself.

Check the Beirut Chants Facebook page for more information!

6 Awesome Calligraffiti Pieces in Tripoli by Hayat Chaaban

Hayat Chaaban is a young street artist from Tripoli who I had the fortune of meeting during my latest visit to Tripoli. In a city damaged with the scars of conflict, crumbling under the weight of neglect and suffocating amid the posters of politicians that disfigure its charm, Hayat’s work lifts its spirits up just a little bit, while preserving its Arab culture and heritage.

Here are a few pieces I chose, and some captions underneath them translated from what Hayat has told me about them.

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ما أضيق العيش  لولا فسحة الفن 

which roughly translates to: “How cramped is living if it were not for a space for art”

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unnamed-2After her previous piece, the local sheikh of a nearby mosque asked Hayat if “she could do something about the abandoned building facing it.” The above is the result.

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“تحديت الموت وانبعثت من الرماد ” مكتبة السائح  هيك قالتلي

This piece is my absolute favorite of hers so far. It roughly translates to: “I faced death, and rose up from the ashes”. It was done near the door of Father Ibrahim Sarrouj’s iconic “Al Saeh Library”, which extremist islamist torched after several unsuccessful attempts and tried to kill Sarrouj’s assistant with a silencer-equipped gun…

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كن بلسماً إن صار دهرك أرقما, وحلاوة إن صار غيرك علقما
أيقظ شعورك بالمحبة إن غفا لولا الشعور الناس كانوا كالدمى

كنت عم إقرأ قصيده “إيليا أبو ماضي” كن بلسماً” وخطر ع بالي أبونا سروج، وشو صار ب مكتبة السائح. حبيت إترك ذكرة حلوه… شرحتلو فكرة الرسمة و حبها كتير

 علمنا أبونا نكون مسالمين مع يلي بيأزي، كلنا سبينا وما تركنا كلمه ع يلي حرقوا المكتبه، وأبونا كان الوحيد يلي ما قال كلمه سيئة، وأخر بيت الن, عالم بلا ضمير ,بلا شعور وبلا شي، مجرد دمى يتحكم فيها الجهل

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ويل لأمة  تكثر فيها  العقائد وتخلو من الدين – جبران خليل جبران 
على حيط مدرسة  في أبوسمرا
It’s a famous Gibran Khalil Gibran quote which roughly translates to: Woe upon a nation where ideologies are many, but religion is absent
Follow Hayat on Twitter

 

 

VEA: A Better Use for Old Tires in Lebanon [Hint: NOT Burning Them]

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The image above is almost an icon for Lebanon in recent history. Existential crisis? World Ward? Fight with your neighbor? Pissed Barca lost to Real? Let’s burn a tire! And even though I never really got the point or effectiveness of this act, I’ve come to terms with the fact Lebanese folks from all sects and walks of life will resort to this unhealthy, ugly and environmentally irresponsible act.

But, the guys at Vea Wear have decided to find something more useful and environmentally friendly: making designer items with old tire rubber. Jewel-encrusted clutches, duffle-bags, wallets and earrings among many other things you can find on their page. I’d think of getting myself a wallet if Najib hadn’t already bought me an awesome one already as a gift.

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It’s not just tire rubber btw, I’m sure all you Jack Daniels fans will love the soap dispenser they put together, and for all you vintage film buffs, their film candle handles.

The official launch is on the 8th of November at Beirut Souks, but I won’t be able to attend. So, lemme know how it goes!