x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

Songwriter fuses music 'from different planets'

Michel Elefteriades says music show promises a fusion of styles and sounds.

Michel Elefteriades and Tolga Cebe at the press conference.
Michel Elefteriades and Tolga Cebe at the press conference.

DUBAI // For the Lebanese songwriter, Michel Elefteriades, the challenge to create a fusion of Arab and international music was far from a simple one, but the experience was well worth it.

The award-winning producer helped bring together the star performers for Coke Studio, a live music show that unites artists from all over the globe to perform.

"Our aim was to have some of the best and most well-known Arab artists collaborate with different musicians from around the world to create a totally unique fusion of music," says Mr Elefteriades.

As producer for the show, Mr Elefteriades exchanged ideas with other musicians and found any initial barriers, be they musical or social, quickly breaking down.

However, he admits it was a challenge working with artists from different disciplines and trying to come up with ways to integrate often opposite styles into a format that would be balanced and, above all, sound good.

"The big thing for me was the pressure of having the cameras filming us for the show.

"Normally I would be working in my studio behind closed doors but, for Coke Studio, we had to show people the creative process.

"It was fascinating for me to see how these artists worked. We had The Wailers, who performed with Bob Marley, in for one of the shows working with the Egyptian singer, Mohamed Mounir, and that was the first time they had heard an Arabic singer," he says.

Coke Studio is aired in Pakistan and has already proved a hit in India and Brazil where it brings together musicians from different fields of contemporary and traditional music.

Unlike the Pakistani version, where the mix is between different types of music from the same country, for this series the talent is drawn from different parts of the world.

"The Middle East version is a little different," says Mr Elefteriades. "You could say the music we are trying to fuse is from different planets."

He recalls filming for one episode with the Syrian singer, Rouwaida Attieh, and a gypsy band from the Balkans.

"At first there was a separation between the Arabs and the Europeans," Mr Elefteriades says.

"We took them to an Arab village and very quickly the barriers were broken down and they started to learn about one another's culture. It was amazing to see this transformation.

"We had as much of a fusion of culture and social values as we did with the music. It was great working with so many talented people." Filming for each show took place in the artists' home countries and explored their roots and cultures.

The actual Coke Studio, where the artists would come together and record their songs, was The Music Hall in Beirut.

The series will run for eight, 45-minute episodes and will feature the likes of Mohammed Hamaki, Jay Sean, Yara, The Wailers and Saber Al Rubai.

"This is a really unique show where the viewer will see how the creative process works between artists from varied backgrounds," says Mazen Hayek, a spokesman for MBC Group.

He says planning Coke Studio had taken several months but the broadcaster is confident viewers would tune in and enjoy the show.

"Arab youth are in between two worlds - a world of tradition, heritage, belonging and pride contrasted with another world of modernity, progression, and connection to the rest of the world," says Tolga Cebe, the marketing manager for Coca-Cola Middle East.

The first episode, which screens tonight at 10.30pm on MBC1, will feature Nancy Ajram and Jose Galvez in a mix of Oriental and Flamenco sounds.