Electro Zajal is a new RBMA documentary series exploring the marriage of zajal, a traditional form of performance poetry, with contemporary musical styles in Beirut, bringing together a master practitioner of zajal and six Lebanese electronic producers.
Zajal is a form of semi-improvised, semi-sung poetry that dates to the 12th century. Despite its ancient, far-flung origins, however, zajal remains a vital tradition in modern Lebanon, with the poets, also known as zajalists, attaining high levels of recognition and acclaim. There are multiple forms of zajal, from solo to group performances, but perhaps the most familiar to music fans around the world would be the “battle” style between two or more zajalists, which recalls contemporary freestyle rap battles in energy and structure.
A zajal performance typically includes a repetition of key verses or refrains over minimalist percussion, but for Electro Zajal, RBMA brought together six Lebanese producers – Rajul Al Hadidi, Jad Taleb, Arabia Fats and Munma, as well as 2016 RBMA Montréal alumni Etyen and 2006 RBMA Melbourne alumni Zeid Hamdan – to collaborate on new songs and a performance with famed zajalist Imad Zein Chaieb. The episodes trace the rich history of zajal in Lebanon, highlighting the potential in merging traditional forms and modern electronic music, and offer a look into the cross-generational, cross-genre possibilities of such a collaboration, arising from deep respect for the tradition while seeking to transform it in thrilling ways.
Each Monday through the end of February, a new episode of the four-part Electro Zajal series will debut on RBMA Daily, culminating in the release of the collaborative EP by the zajalist and producers.
4 // The Birth of Electro Zajal
3 // The Fusion
2 // Studio Visit
1 // Intro to Zajal
Header image © Rony Khoubieh