Sitting on the fringes of upheaval in the Middle East, Lebanon’s capital Beirut has become the scene of experimental music-making by Khat Thaleth, a group of rappers out to take the revolts that started during the Arab Spring to the next level.
The collective has members from around the region — ranging from Tunisia, birthplace of the Arab uprising, to the Palestinian refugee camps of Lebanon — and vocalises the realities of a new generation carrying the baggage of the past.
Khat Thaleth literally means “Third Track”, a metaphor for an alternative take on the polarised societies and politics of the region, and a reference to the Hijaz Muslim pilgrimage railway which once connected the Arab world.
The 24-year-old from Homs, known as the capital of the Syrian revolution, said the protests which have swept the Middle Eastern region since 2010 lit the fuse for the collaboration which he describes as “a first of its kind”.
As Syrian hip-hop developed alongside the nearly two-year-old revolt against the regime, “people started to listen… and it became more direct,” he said.
On the morning of a concert in early February to plug the rappers’ album release, Darwish said he was well aware that much of the audience would be expecting the Syrian rappers to speak of the struggle in their country.
Though the Khat Thaleth artists come from similar backgrounds, they do not shrink from belting out sharply divergent views — even on the same track.
On “Souret Soureya” (Verse of Syria), El Rass, who hails from the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli, goes head-to-head with Paris-based Lebanese artist Hamourabi on the Syrian revolt.
And those points of view cover some big subjects.
In the song “E-stichrak” (Orientalism) — borrowing the title of the Edward Said book that said Western caricatures of Islamic culture were used to justify colonialism — El Rass and El Faraai, a Palestinian-Jordanian, bemoan a modern form of imperialism.
Darwish and veteran Palestinian rapper Tamer Naffar, meanwhile, together criticise the stale anti-Western rhetoric of Arab regimes on the track “Kursi Aatiraf” (Interrogation Chair).
They rap: “Don’t keep telling me about the colonisers and occupiers. Look how (well) they treat each other, the ones you despise. Then look how we deal with each other and start to be jealous.”
The raw poetry of the young rappers has earned them a devoted audience since the start of the project in March 2012.
At the concert, fans say the artists get right to the heart of the issue.
Chef Mohammed Sayyed said he went to the concert to hear the rappers’ take on current events in the region.
As they perform “Min al-Awwal” (From the Start), the Touffar duo from Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley warn the audience not to be complacent about change the Arab revolution has brought.