IN THE STUDIO WITH OMAR RAHBANY
Say hello to Omar, the next-generation Rahbany, changing the face of classical music with his newly released album Passport.
The Elias Rahbany Studio lies deep underground a Naccache building, hushed and disconnected from the outside world. The lights are dim in the reception area; it’s cramped and confined like a darkroom. But enter the recording studio and enter into light and space. A Pierre Sadek caricature of music royalty, the composer Elias hangs on a pale blue wall. The control room, with its hardwood floor and mahogany touches looks out at the entire music room, intimidating to amateur eyes. Amid the microphones, Marshall amplifiers, and a polished piano, one gets the feeling great music is made here. Like the music of 27-year-old composer – and latest of the Rahbany dynasty to come through – Omar Rahbany.
“When I’m in ‘studio mode’, and this could last for months like with Passport, I transform into a bat,” he says. “They sometimes call us the rats of the night because we work at night and we spend a lot of time underground.”
Passport was released in October, a unique compilation of songs, each different from the next. It opens with Overture, which was recorded with The Kiev City Symphonic Orchestra, a classical introduction to the album, or “curtain”, as Omar calls it. But the rest of the album is not exactly classical; it is a merging of East and West, of jazz and oriental music, infused with a classical foundation.
“It’s still challenging as to how we can market this. What is its label? Classical? Jazz? World music? Oriental? I wanted to compose music without thinking of picture and image. I wanted it to be abstract,” Omar says.
His inspiration for Passport comes from the concept of total art, or Gesamtkunstwerk, where all performance or artistic elements of a piece are integrated, as well as the concept of sacred geometry – the belief that certain geometric shapes have sacred meaning. Their form inspires Omar to make his music “more solid and better connected”, and this idea was used in the album’s artwork. He even cites football, a passion introduced to him by his uncle Oussama, as a creative stimulus because it taught him teamwork and strategizing. To compose the song Anarkia, he used a referee whistle and the Batucada, a Brazilian rhythm section close to the samba used in the Brazilian football team’s victory dances.
“When I first began working on Passport, I saw it as something ordinary. Then I saw people’s reactions, and I began to think about how it needed courage. The project is courageous. My partner and producer Mahdi Yahya and I have a passion towards new things, towards risks; what’s the point of rediscovering something already there?” Omar explains.
They created Rahbany Yehya Productions (RYP) and worked with designers and sound engineers to get the album going. A total of 179 individuals contributed to the making of Passport, which saw Omar travel to Chicago, New York, Dubai, Paris and Ukraine for its recording and Real World Studios in the United Kingdom for the mixing. Contributors include big names in the jazz industry, like fourteen-time Grammy award winning producer and musician Steve Rodby, drummer Keith Carlock, guitarist Wayne Krantz, trumpeter Cuong Vu, and composer and drummer Karim Ziad. Omar chased them down expecting no response, but they were swayed by his music and jumped on board. Passport took three years to complete, with even the song sequence taking time because each one is so different from the other. The name Passport was chosen at the very end.
What does the future hold? Taking up sculpting, he says, and even filmmaking. As for the music, he’s looking into making something even more different.
“Passport is now behind me. I don’t want to do anything like Passport, I want to discover something new,” Omar says. “I feel like more of a discoverer than a composer.”
Words by Rayane Abou Jaoude
Photography by Tony Elieh
Passport is out now and can be found at Virgin Megastores.