Not long after I graduated from Holland and came back to Lebanon with a master’s degree in music, I was approached for a gig. It was a charity event, a fundraiser for the Lebanese Red Cross. I was asked if I could play with MEEN, a local rock band that I’ve been playing with and with whom I’ve recorded three albums since 2008.
I was told that we would have to play for free, since there was not much money to spend on the event, and that, after all, it was a fundraiser. So I said I would contact the band and see what they thought. Normally, I would turn down these kinds of approaches, but I thought this one’s for a good cause.
Some time went by and I found out, by coincidence, that the organizers had approached some “celebrities” who refused to play for free and had asked for a relatively large sum of money. These celebrities were pop singers. One asked for $5000, another asked for $12,000, and the third asked for $15,000.
Now, why do I have a problem with this? Here’s why. I am bothered by the fact that people have a poor understanding of the quality of the product they are paying for and thus justify the fact that a so called “celebrity” asks for this huge sum of money for a charity event, while we (MEEN) were approached lightly.
However, it is important to point out some facts here. We, MEEN, are serious, professional musicians. The music Fouad and Toni Yammine write is music with a purpose that takes time and commitment to create and later rehearse. Some of it is entertaining, some thought provoking, and some of it is social criticism (which is what artists have been doing for millennia as an attempt to drive society forward by pointing out what we noticed is not really working).
These “celebrities”, however, are more concerned with performing music that is commercialized (poorly, most of the time). What do I mean when I say commercialized? I mean that it is intended for commerce: the activity of buying and selling of goods and services, especially on a large scale.
They write songs about perverse sexual desires, disguised as love songs. They put forward chauvinistic content with no meaning or purpose whatsoever for the listener and they call themselves “fannaneen” (artists). Some songs are so poor in content that they don’t even need logical lyrics anymore, just a jumble of words will do. But because of the way the product (I mean the singer and the song) is packaged, people think it’s better music than serious music (music with a thought-out social purpose). A lot of these songs encourage women to be weak and submissive and men to be dominant and violent, which is where I think we fail to see the power and importance of art (even poor art such as theirs).
These ideas seep into people’s minds after repeated exposure through television, radio, and concerts. And what do we do? We pay them ridiculous amounts of money so they can keep doing what they’re doing on a larger scale, and ask the serious musicians who spend hours and hours every day perfecting their art to play for little or no money, just because the media doesn’t call them “celebrities”. And mind you, it is not the media that should be assessing the value of an artist and elevate him to that status. So many of these media workers, with some exceptions, have no idea about what makes good art and have no knowledge about music or art in general. They are simply doing their marketing drills and what the boss asked them to do.
The problem runs deep, and until music and all arts are taught seriously by professionals in schools and universities, the public will not be able to discern good from bad art. They leave that up to media sources. By art, I mean literature and movies as well. We all know which titles I’m talking about. While the serious and well-crafted books are ignored, as is the case with music and art in general, these are promoted and dominate all other works. What a pity. But we can change it.
Edited by: Jared Baum