Mephisto Halabi – The Arabic Room LP + mp3 download (UnrockLP023)

Preview Fall/Winter 2021



Unrock, 2021.

This album is a critical meditation on variations of Orientalism practiced by Arabs themselves, as well as those who were born and raised within the diaspora. It originally began as a documentation of extended drum techniques, but eventually morphed into a project of more ambitious scope. Having an open timeframe, Julius Masri gave himself reasons to include all the instruments he obsessively picked up and learned over the years. The work accumulated intentions and guiding principles, and it became rather autobiographical in nature. Some of the tracks either refer to or were recorded in the actual physical spaces he grew up near, in Tripoli, Lebanon during the 1980s.
The “Arabic Room” of the title refers to the sitting room in his family‘s house that was decked out in hyper orientalist exoticism, mashing together furniture, fixtures, paintings from all over the Arabic speaking world. The sitting room, or salon, is common in Lebanese homes made specifically to host and entertain guests. Rimsky-Korsakov’s Sheherazade and other western made Orientalist cultural artifacts not only had ubiquitous presence in the house, but also found their way onto tv shows and commercials. After moving to the US, his parents recreated this room in their home. Additionally, his father’s generation was one that saw their country transform from a post-agrarian trading society after WWII to a center of banking and finance within the span of a few decades. The sense of some lost Eden like innocence of the interwar years permeated much of the media that was available to him growing up there. This album is neither ironic nor some judgmental pronouncement. Call it critical nostalgia. For Masri, there isn’t much difference between this form of exotic fantasy creation, and his own adolescence steeped in comic books and listening to bands like Voivod. They both seem to him part of what’s known in German as Fernweh, “a nostalgia for a place one’s never been”.
All instruments are performed by Masri himself, (drums, Egyptian rababa, Azeri kamancheh, circuit bent electronics, keyboards, hammered dulcimer, and vocals). Genre-hopping is foundational to the album’s ethos; jazz, metal, experimental, electro-chaabi, and sound collage all appear within the framework of Arabic music, creating the sense of adventurous possibilities best associated with well curated mixtapes.

Julius Masri is a Philadelphia based multi-instrumentalist and performer/composer, originally born in Tripoli, Lebanon. The Arabic Room is his debut solo-album. Currently he is working and playing with members of the Sun Ra Arkestra. The album will be released on vinyl only in an edition of 300 copies.