At a recent concert in Beirut, Tarek is half-gymnast as he writhes to the ground with his guitar. Khaled is in his own world, beads of sweat on his forehead, as he strums his way into a trance. A projector casts images of the bandmates on the wall behind Dani as he pounds away. All three are wearing butcher aprons. The first thing Tarek says backstage?
“I hate politics.”
Last week, Tarek and Khaled sat down in Beirut with their manager and a fellow firebrand musician and collaborator, Raed el-Khazen, to discuss their message, their journey from Damascus to Beirut, and their forthcoming album, “180°”.
Syria Deeply: Tarek, you said you hate politics, so how do you keep it out of your music?
Tarek: If I want to play real music, I have to deny something called politics because it’s a lie that man created. I appreciate those people who are here that can mix the two, but for me I can’t. Sometimes a person doesn’t do anything in his life, so he starts to blame politics, that they don’t let me do this or that. But I believe you can go and do your own thing. Someone says, “I’m afraid to sing.” Who told you that you can’t sing? Get out of that. I have friends that told me that once the revolution started, they started to make songs and a band. I compared myself to them and said, “Why did they have to wait for this situation?” Since I was young I felt I had to do music. I didn’t wait till there was a disaster – maybe I can be a disaster!
Khaled: Politics is always present, so is religion. Everything is linked, but we are talking more about something human, in the head or the heart. The music and songs are our message. We are trying to bring everything to the surface.
[!]SD: Where does the name Pressure Pot come from?
Raed al-Khazen: We live in a pressure pot – the situation of this generation is a pressure pot coming to its boiling point. The idea they present goes beyond the Arab world. It’s a generational thing, but in the Arab world they feel it more than rest of the world because even the illusion of freedom is not given to them.
SD: What’s different about your forthcoming album, “180°”?
Khaled: We were at a good point, but everything has gotten to a higher level – not only in terms of our music, but the relations between the band members, the feelings, the lyrics. And we want to keep going over 180°.
SD: What is your favorite track on “180°”?
Khaled: For me it is “Badeel” (“Alternative”). The first verse goes…
“Since the second I put my head on the pillow/My thoughts have gone all over the place/Who am I speaking to?/In my hand is a pen and paper/It is not important what I write on it/But what is waiting: to find an alternative/But speaking from the heart is impossible.”
SD: Do you ever find non-Arabic speakers at your concerts?
Tarek: We had people from Sweden, from Denmark, a girl who made a film about us called “Taht el-Daghet” (“Under Pressure”). They felt there is something in our music: they catch the vibe.
SD: How do you feel about being seen as representatives of Syria?
Tarek: I’m comfortable until that second where they look at me and forget that I’m playing music. I want someone from the outside to listen to me because of my music, not because they feel bad about my situation. There is something that brings the world together besides politics, and that’s music.
SD: When was the last time you played in Syria?
Tarek: It was in 2010, and they put us in a jazz festival. It’s the only place we were allowed to play. Rock is not allowed. Either jazz or you don’t play.
Khaled: Rock means you’re a devil worshipper.
SD: Are these attitudes changing?
Tarek: Now it’s getting worse. The people getting control are really taking things very far backwards.
SD: How does it feel to be based in Beirut, playing outside your home country?
Tarek: I believe this whole thing is our world. I don’t have a country.
Khaled: I feel the same.