The Universe. Some scratches of Beryllium. Diving. The Navel of the Galaxies. Maybe god. Maybe the void. Maybe you. Maybe it's just cryptical

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

The Warmest of the Cold

Place: Ridge A.
Mood: Warm
Song: Suleima * Rima Khcheich

Welcome to Ridge A., Antarctica. A land where it is believed that no human could have possibly walked upon. What makes this place special? While looking for the perfect location to build an astronomical observatory, a team of American and Australian researchers have discovered Ridge A., the "coldest, driest and calmest place on Earth" (

Head of Study Will Saunders claims that it is as calm that "there is almost no wind or weather there at all."

There, the temperatures reach -70 degrees Celsius, you could hear your own breathing and see the stars twinkling.
And I bet you would feel so warm in such a cold heaven.

But if you find Antarctica way too far, and you'd like to reach such a state, here is another alternative.

In a genuine initiative from the Beirut Art Center (BAC), singer Rima Khcheich reunited with musician Rabih Mroue to present a thematic night entitled "One Minute Late." The BAC, known for its art galleries, video screenings and lectures, aimed to prove that it was a real center for Arts in the Lebanese capital by bringing to its small stage a musical performance.

The hall in which the concert was to take place is a small 70-something-seat that is shaped in a vertical yet conspicuously narrow manner that its only public entrance is through its right side.

Rima enters the stage in a black ensemble, a scintillant necklace, a yellow scarf and her unmistakable signature smile. She is accompanied by Rabih Mroue on flute. And then she greets the audience by introducing what the evening is about. Now although the presentation looked fuzzy and I did not quite get the true essence of it, it looked to me like Rima was intimidated by the place as much as I am. I felt confined in a coffin and was almost suffocating. Rima made several light mistakes in her speech but she was so elegant in her presentation that actually it made me smile rather than feel more confused with what she was trying to convey.

Onto the first part of the concert: "One Minute Late from Reality" or actually 33 minutes late as Rima introduced it since it would be a 33-minute piece. The original text of the song is written by Abbas Baydoun and ended up being performed in its entirety.

Mroue set the infrastructure by playing a tender flute intro that reminded me of the flutes of the Andes Heights in South America. And then Rima would sing Baydoun's lines a cappella. For the next 33 minutes, Rima and Rabih would alternate between her graceful singing and his crescendoing flute play (especially on the unsettling yet powerful third stanza which he mastered beautifully) only to meet at the very end in a perfect harmonized cacophony before Rima chants a final "I always arrive on time to the meeting, yet it's Time who's late."

Part two is introduced by Mroue as four traditional old poems which will be sung by Rima, all written between 1926 and 1928 by the likes of Ahmad Chawki and composed by Abdel Wahab. Mroue said that Rima would be making a unique composition out of the four poems, comparing that to a screwed up computer which would mix its files when they would be printed. I know this was supposed to make the audience smile because of the heavy performance that was coming up, but comparing a poetic composition to a deflated machine certainly wasn't the most intelligent association to come up with.

The actual composition surely felt like perfect territory for Khcheich. I have never been a fan of real 'tarab' but I certainly came a long way to finally learn to appreciate it. She made the poems breathe through her velvet voice and her yellow scarf felt so warm against these concrete blocks that she was surrounded by. Her voice was like a gymnasium undulating between high and low notes and it felt like she was on the edge of a cliff refraining from jumping.

The concert was rounded with the always welcomed Suleima, in an even more stripped and dirge-like rendition through the distinct sound of an accordion played by Mroue. By now, Rima has taken off her golden scarf to let Suleima cry more freely and wrap the concert.

And that was it. After an hour and some ‘minutes late’, Rima managed to enchant the small crowd no matter the circumstances, and no matter the place. And I’d bet that she’d charm the spectators anywhere she might be, even if it were on Antarctica's Ridge A.

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