By Jawanna Sawalha
Photo by Zeina Malouf. In picture from left: Nicola Hakim, Anthony Khoury, Fabio Khoury and Joey Abou Jawdeh.
A soft male voice sings its way into my ears as I walk towards a glass door; it’s the kind of voice that is unforgettable. So distinct and extraordinary; this song belongs to none other than Anthony Khoury. A familiar name to many, and if not, Adonis would do!
When I arrived to the glass door of café Urbanista in Beirut city, it swung open, and the waiter greeted me with a smile. I looked around and there I saw Anthony sitting in an armchair with his silver MacBook on his lap, another man leaning on the armrest, both engaged in a sign conversation with a group sitting on the opposite side of the café. Walked over and introduced myself, and as Anthony takes leave of his friend, I sit myself on the chair opposite to the low table to begin the interview for My.Kali.
“Sorry, we were just trying to tell this guy over there that his new haircut looks horrible on him.” Anthony said as he carefully placed his laptop on the table, “it’s cool, he’s a good friend”, he adds. Anthony Khoury is the lead singer and co-founder of the Lebanese band Adonis. Anthony and Adonis’ guitarist Joey Abu Jawdeh, who are both architects, decided to quit their day jobs a couple of years back and start up their own design studio. That’s after working in an office for some time, and taking the decision of juggling between their practice as architects and their vocation as musicians.
“We opened the studio just for the sake of having more control over our time.” Anthony explained. “Now we have the luxury to forget about music for a month or two and focus exclusively on work, and then decide to stop taking projects for a couple of months and concentrate only on making music.”
Joey and Anthony met at university, when one day, Anthony heard Joey humming a tune in Arabic that was familiar. Realizing they both share the same passion for traditional arabic music, the pair became close friends, and soon after that they decided to start Adonis, and invited Nicola on drums and percussion, and Anthony’s brother, Fabio, on bass guitar.
In 2011 Adonis released their debut album, ‘Daw L Baladiyyi’. An album of stories, romance, and adventures with melodies that are easy on the ears where Anthony’s voice takes you on a journey that completes and gives a character to the songs.
“We recently realized that a lot of the people that listen to our music are from the generation of our moms and dads.” Anthony added, “In our music there are a lot of detailed references to Beirut and to the particularities of living in this city, I guess it sparks a certain patriotism, and it’s bound to connect with older people.”
One day when I was back in Amman I decided to blast my bathroom with ‘Stouh Adonis’ while showering, the song was on repeat up until I got out. Later that night, my “classical music-loving” dad asked me about the song I was playing in the shower, nevertheless, Anthony knew what he was saying.
“In the Arab region, the connotation of the word ‘Artist’ is very different than in foreign languages.”
Recently Adonis released their new music video for “Bent El Hawa”, a song about a man who falls in love with a prostitute before losing her in a street fighting incident in Tripoli. “Bent El Hawa” is actually a cover of Edith Piaf’s famous 1955 song “L’Accordeoniste”, but with a different narrative. Piaf’s song was narrated by a “fille de joie” who falls in love with a musician, at a bar she worked in. Maybe Adonis wanted to be the musicians in that bar, maybe they simply wanted to revisit Piaf’s version from the perspective of the musician… “The director focused on the cinematic aspect of the story we’re telling” Anthony said. “We built a puppet house for the video where we brought all of the song’s settings and characters to life”
Adonis and six other friends worked for 10 days on building the set for the video, which is one of the most creative out there; the action appears in the clip at the exact moment where it’s narrated in the song; according to Anthony, this move comes as a caricature of some pop music videos which illustrate the song word by word.
“Neither the song nor the video were planned, we worked it all out in a couple of weeks, and had absolutely no funds to back the project” Anthony added. “The director, Martine Daher, knowing that we are architects, suggested that we build the puppet house and create all the settings and characters ourselves.”
A sense of nostalgia overwhelmed Anthony and Joey as they executed the set; they felt like they were back in architecture school, working on designs and models from sunrise up until sundown, pulling all-nighters.
Nevertheless, becoming Adonis took a lot of fighting and courage, since being a musician in this part of the world is not a profession that many endorse. “In the Arab region, you get a lot of frowns from your parents and society in general when you wish to go into arts and music, the connotation of the word “artist” in Arabic is drastically different than in foreign languages.”
It took these talented guys a long time to find a suitable producer for the kind of music they make, according to Anthony. “One of the hardest obstacles we’ve faced,” Anthony claimed. “Many production houses today are more into the sex business than they are into music. Except for a few exceptions, the Arabic song is being left to rot in a stagnant, repetitive and ultra-packaged carcass”.
Anthony believes that being a musician goes beyond the process of interpretation, and certainly beyond the shallow accessories of the industry that are relentlessly flashed on our TV screen, such as the jewelry and the expensive cars. he believes what makes a musician is first of all thinking, understanding and then making music, money being only a “side effect”.
“Besides, we like to think that the kind of music we make does have the potential to spread beyond our niche; we have the songs, we just needed the production” Anthony added. “it’s just about having better playback and recording equipment, in music art and technology cannot exist without one another.”
If you did not catch Adonis live in concert yet don’t worry. This fall they are planning on hitting few cities around the Middle East, and few further, with new songs and new material, which personally I’m extremely excited to hear. The band is very active via social media, as their Instagram account states: “Their music is something to fall in love with.” – Now Lebanon. Be sure to follow them through social media to remain updated on their latest works and releases. Also be sure to visit their fascinating/innovative site, which is refreshing in design and very entertaining to browse through. I leave you to Adonis.
Adonis video Playlist