The Evolution of Tanjaret Daghet

Syrian alt-rockers poised to bring Arab rock to a wider audience

UNDER PRESSURE: Khaled Omran, Tarek Ziad Khuluki and Dani Shukri (from left)
By Adam Grundey
Oct 06, 2013

Between their high-energy live shows (their name translates to ‘Pressure Pot,’ and their music has an appropriate edge of pent-up tension to it) and the release of their debut album, 180°, at the end of the summer, Syrian trio Tanjaret Daghet (currently based in Beirut) look increasingly like becoming one of the few bands to nail the tricky business of making Arabic-language rock appeal to people who don’t really listen to anything except Western music. Certainly, they’re being told on a daily basis that people dig what they’re doing.

You’d think that would make them pretty happy. But guitarist Tarek Ziad Khuluki suggests they’re not getting carried away just yet – aware as they are that there’s not much on the regional scene for people to compare them to. “For me, you can’t really go on what Syrian or Lebanese people think of it, because you could give them anything, and they’d be like, ‘Oh my god! This is the best thing I’ve ever heard!’ There really aren’t that many people who’ll tell you if they think something’s shit,” Khuluki says, sitting in the Beirut recording studio owned by the band’s manager and producer, Raed El Khazen, who, it seems, is someone who will tell them what he truly thinks. “With other producers, it’s like, ‘You play really good. You’re really talented. I’m done. Bye,’” Khuluki continues. “But there’s only a couple of people, like Raed, who’ll give you advice that’s really professional.”

Since moving to the Lebanese capital in 2011 – just as Syria’s bloody civil war began – to avoid military service, Khuluki, bassist and vocalist Khaled Omran and drummer Dani Shukri, with the help of El Khazen, have shifted from being a band that only toyed with creating original music to seeing a career as a rock group as a viable goal. “The concept really started here,” says Omran. “There, we were just testing out thoughts that were still cooking.”

“It was a really big move,” Khuluki adds. “We took everything to the next level.”

At first, Khuluki – a self-taught guitarist with a love for grunge and Western rock (the band’s music takes in influences from Pink Floyd to Nirvana to System of a Down) – couldn’t fathom how they could blend that kind of sound with Arabic lyrics and melodies. “Khaled convinced me that, as Arabs, we had to show people that it wasn’t just about playing English covers for your entire life. Because I was really into that, you know? It was huge for me that someone could come to me and go, ‘F*** it. We can do our own thing. We don’t have to be like anyone else.’”

Both Omran and Shukri were classically trained at the acclaimed High Institute of Music and Theater in Damascus. Although both admit that they weren’t the most dedicated students (Omran took 10 years to finish the five-year course because “I don’t really like classical music,” while Shukri points out that classical percussion doesn’t really lend itself to practice – “Everything’s huge! You can’t have an instrument at your place”), that background undoubtedly helped Omran conceive their blend of Western-influenced rock and Oriental melodies.

Khuluki’s less-academic approach has also come in useful. Although he wasn’t a student, he often visited the High Institute, but the main purpose of his trips was to smuggle in beer and piss off the professors: “I’d tell them, ‘F*** your system. Nirvana are the best band ever.’” That attitude was a boon to Omran. “In the Institute, they’re so strict,” Khuluki says. “Khaled wanted to try a lot of things, but they’d say, ‘No. You have to be disciplined. You have to do this.’ And he wanted to rock. But rock music at the High Institute? It’s like you’re asking for Hitler to come back, you know? It’s something terrible.”

It was 2009 when the trio started to play together. But it wasn’t until their escape from military service that they got completely serious. “We really thought that going to serve was like signing your death warrant,” says Omran. “All of my friends were leaving Damascus, we had to get out.”

“Can you imagine?” asks the diminutive Khuluki. “Me? Holding a…” He pauses. “Whatever. I don’t even know the names of any guns. It’s ridiculous.”

The move to Lebanon brought the band a mental, as well as physical, distance from the situation at home, and inspired Omran to compose lyrics that carry a sense of universal frustrations – social, cultural, political and sexual – rather than those specific to Syria (a crucial factor, El Khazen stresses, in why he believes Tanjaret Daghet have the potential to grow beyond the initial hype of a ‘Syrian rock band’). It’s a shift that has clearly motivated the trio. And so far it’s succeeded in establishing them as one of Lebanon’s hottest underground acts.

“[Once we got to Beirut] it was clear we were more serious than before,” says Omran. “Because you gain perspective and see things from the outside. So the writing changed with that. It wasn’t an insider’s perspective anymore, it was [more objective]. It’s the same issues, but the perspective’s different.”

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