3/11/2012

Abdallah Safar: The Jordanian Omar Khourshid? - عبدالله صَفَر.


Greets from... Jordan.


Many people don't know the Middle-eastern kingdom called Jordan from a regular bar of soap. It's understandable, because this country we're talking about here is a small, dickwater-nascent kingdom home to just 6,8 million people.

Jordan (or, The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan to give you but the full name)
, has a central geographical position in the levantine area called the Mid-Rim (no laughs there at the back, babes), and this centralized emplacement gave it a gravitational force for almost all musicians from nearby, border-sharing countries like Syria; Lebanon, Egypt, and Israel/Palestine to come and play in the 60's and 70's.

The country has no underground life like that of Beirut, unfortunately which never helped the place to grow its own distinctive musical identity. Especially, when the world was so rocking to British-invasion sounds that came in the 60's as we all know, and changed the face of popular music for ever and a day. Still, and through my relentless search, I managed to trace some bands that played in and around Amman; the capital, in the late 60's and early 70's. These 'garage' bands were formed for few months only by mostly Circassian young'uns who played their cheaply-bought instruments (I even saw some electric guits that didn't bear any maker brand!), and did so jus' for their own enjoyment, and to impress the local chick. Needless to say what kind of bands they were trying to become sound-alike with: the Beatles and Rolling Stones (two curse words, trust you me love-muffins). Now, when one asks about the reason for the absence of such scene in Jordan when say, in Lebanon, around 100+ garage bands were active and playing the local bars like billyo... one should realize that the financial 'shituation' here was-and-still-is so terrible that it forebode anyone with a real musical endeavour to go ahead with their plans.

Omar Khourshid in one popular, Egyptian 70's film
holding his famous honey-burst Fender Strat guitar.
The sob-story takes a more-cheerful turn not far from Jordan in Egypt, home to King Tote-Axe-Omar: a wholly, insanely-cool Guitar God ('Godtar'), who played music on his simplistic, electric musical instrument in a way no-one in their dreams thought possible (some critics even compare his music as something completely off this planet), and all of that was before Dick Dale (an Arab by birth being half-Lebanese), or Aris San (an Israelite-Greek whose playing's a mere carbon-copy of Omar's impeccable fret-manship) were famous. Omar Khourshid played in and out of Egypt when the real-dealio was to play where the coo'kats convened in Beirut, Lebanon butts-to-nuts with mega-monied playboys, international druglords, and mafiosos.

Arabs are one nation. There are no real; tangible, impending borders between us. If one wants to go to Egypt, they won't feel out of place. Same for Omar when he came to Jordan in the mid-80s (and, years before that), to celebrate with his 'Arabrethren' the holidays season at one of the big-buzzing, five-star hotels around the capital city of Amman; namely, the Intercontinental. And at one new-year's Eve party, the in-house hotel-band's leader Abdallah Safar finally was able to meet his God.

This was around 1985. Money was flowing in from returning expat Jordanians coming back from the Gulf area for a few weeks to enjoy the meek weather here better than stay in the Gulf peninsula where as they say, 'if you'd leave an egg on the curb, it'd boil in three secs!'. The expats were the fuel inside this barely-worth-it musical scene in Jordan. Regardless of haves and have-nots... it lubricated the cogs well enough to turn on until the early 90's, at least, when the Gulf War kabooshed the whole thang in a climatic bang in 1991.

Most musicians in Jordan had no chance at making it here, when on the contrary, and in comparison to the late 60's scene in Jordan where new artists like Samira Tawfic (she came from Lebanon), Fahd Ballan (Syria), Fouad Hijazi (Lebanon), saw their first days of stardom, recognition, and fame. Samira, for example, was so famous in Jordan that she was nicknamed 'Umm El-Jiesh': The Mother of The Army from the many times she's called to sing for Jordanian army troops in the 70's. Fahd Ballan himself had a huge following of faithful fans in the eastern townlet of E-Zarqah, and when he died the whole town mourned him as if he's one of them.

A nostalgic, yet futuristic picture featuring
The Guitar Man and what he played later on:
Farfisa org, played by Mohammed Azzam here.
On and on, small-budget, no-goodnik artists like Abdallah Safar had to break potato-sized beads of sweat in badly-AC'd hotels, hopping around from this party to that... until he completely refrained from playing his guitar, and took the always-shitty Korg (Korean Org for the uninitiated), Ketron, and what-the-fuckin'-ever easy-peasy sounds techies try to duplicate inside these plastic dumb non-instruments.

Abdallah & Omar, in the mid-80s.
In the end, Abdallah's fascination with Omar was a sure sign that he wanted to make music that sounded like his. His band 'The Falcons' (الصقور), played some nice medleys but never had he or the band been put into record. He played here in Jordan for a short while before leaving entirely to stay as an expat in that land of Big-Everything: namely, the U-S-of-fuckin'-A to get 'big'. Boh.



Musically talking now, Abdallah's playing is a sincere copy-act of Omar's. His fluid intriguing string notes grow from stab-attacks much like Omar Khourshid's unparalleled playing. He's not a master, though. But, I'm sure in the 3 available below tracks, one can see how this young Jordanian guitar player has learned from the best. They are from the late 80's, and I will make sure in the coming posts to feature some Jordanian pop musicians worthy of a listen.


Dig this dog!

H.H.

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