We meet up with Jordanian band Random House, where we speak about the creation of the universe, Neo Sufism, and the role of media channels in shaping the Middle Eastern music scene.
Jordanian rock/reggae band Random House is in Cairo this week, playing a couple of gigs including the ever popular live music hot spot CJC. In an old restaurant on the mezzanine level of the Om Kolthoum Hotel in Zamalek, with paintings of different Arab musicians - most notably Om Kolthoum - hanging on every wall, we spent the evening with the band trying to figure out how random Random House is, exactly.
The band consists of rhythm guitarist and vocalist Qais Raja, guitarist Feras Arrabi, bass guitarist Ahmad Alhaj, and drummer Seif Abo Hamdan. Together, they form a collective of different styles and tastes in music – the way they dress, and their individual sense of humour. Band members might differ on a couple of topics, but they all agree on two things: The Doors and Pink Floyd. The name Random House is derived from a philosophical view on the universe, seen through the eyes of the band members, who cite the name as a reference to the randomness of the formation of the universe and that, through this randomness that saw the creation of stars and planets, a home was created for us – hence the name Random House. A melting pot of sounds, with band members coming from different musical backgrounds far apart on the spectrum, where one member comes from a classical music background to another who is a metal head. Their songs, available on their YoutTube channel, are all original, and some are instrumentals - no lyrics. One of their songs is entitled Nile; Qais Raja, the band's lead singer, wrote the song after a trip to Luxor and Aswan. "The inspiration for the song came after a trip on the Nile River," he says. They believe that the media has the biggest role in developing and shaping the music industry in the Middle East. "Commercial media focuses on commercial musicians, and the lack of alternative media channels delivering music like ours to the listener is the biggest hindrance in the industry right now," Ahmed Alhaj says.
The boys are referring to their music using the term 'Neo Sufi' to describe the sub-genre they are playing – a term used in Sufi philosophy to describe a new wave of Sufi adherences that are more modern. Qais Raja explains: “So basically Neo Sufism is a modernised form of Sufi practice for the day and age we live in. Back in the day, Sufi dervishes used to get out of any materialistic lifestyle, they used to be wanderers without having any attachment to anything, but in the modern age it’s not possible to do that.” He continues, “But a person now can reach a certain level of being enlightened whilst being productive in the 21st century, that is where the term Neo Sufism came from.” Raja also says that Neo Sufism, in reference to music, is using that kind of philosophy with a Sufi musical background, and since Sufism and Sufi dervishes relied heavily on music and chanting, we can see where the connection lies.When asked about Egypt, the boys collectively stated that, although this will be their first time playing here, they have heard a lot about the crowd for such music in the country and how it's more "informed" than in Jordan. Through Jordanian band Jadal, they learned about festivals like Oshtoora and they would love to end up playing something like that, also citing the importance of more desert-themed festivals throughout the Middle East. They have already played the Genina Theatre in Al Azhar Park, and Room Art Space, with the final leg of their Egypt tour taking place at CJC this coming Thursday.