Sam Shalabi

We are very pleased to present Osama, Sam Shalabi’s “protest music about arabophobia in a Post 9-11 World”. Sam Shalabi is the hardest working person to emerge from Montréal’s vibrant music scene, appearing in over a dozen projects including Shalabi Effect, Molasses, Detention, and a trio with David Kristian and Alexandre St-Onge, among others.

Musically, Osama takes quite a leap from the territories occupied by Shalabi’s last solo outing, On Hashish, which comprised field recordings, tape music and improv sewn together to fantastic results. Osama features contributions from over thirty Montréal musicians and takes a straight-ahead hard rock, psyche and pop approach, but still utilizes many improv and experimental techniques.

Osama opens with ‘The Wherewithall’, a track that mixes elements of hard progressive rock with mysterious vocals and then breaks into spoken word segments that include references to such things as rare guitars and Keiji Haino, among others. ‘Der El-Bahri from the Air’ features one of Shalabi’s other projects, Poseidon Council, taking the lead on this incredible psychedelic pop piece. It features vocalist Billy Mavreas sounding quite a bit like solo-era Syd Barrett and some incredible guitar soloing, as well as cat sounds. The recording’s closing and golden moment is the incredibly beautiful seventeen minute epic, Guantanamo Bay, which begins with an eerie similarity to Soft Bulletin-era Flaming Lips. Once again the blissful pop elements fade and dissolve into layers of sound. This track builds into an incredible crescendo driven by static, brushes, crackles, noise and the distant sound of muffled epic soundtrack music.

Here are some thougths that Sam wrote down about his new record:

This album was started, in earnest, as ‘Protest Music’ about arabophobia in a ‘Post 9-11 World’. I wanted it to be auto-biographical (my given name is Osama) and somewhat clear in its intended dissent.

After about six months of working with these goals in mind, things turned ugly… The whole notion of ‘artistic dissent’ felt like a very slippery form of self-aggrandizement. I began to think about how this all ‘fit into’ both marginal and mainstream culture. Why was I doing it? Who was it for? What was it supposed to do? And, what does it mean to say ‘I’ or ‘We’ in this context? The fact that over one year later very few of our ‘artists of dissent’ had anything to say, in their own work, about what was and is happening, darkened the mood of the album.

After September 11, 2001 it really seemed like there was a semantical Crisis Point - an actual, little opening, the kind that ‘artists of dissent’ spend their lives dreaming about, and very few of them (and us) dared or cared enough to step through it. It was another year and the same song… So, when I started to work on the album again my original ‘themes’ had turned ugly, frustrated and absurd. All of this was filtered through my own personal experiences (or vice-versa, maybe). Then, Voila! The album ‘pretty much’ finished itself… My friend Adam Frank’s description of the album as being about “the shit that doesn’t say or do anything? that has no meaning” is very apt.

All I can say is that the album was done under a cloud of anger, joy, sadness and an involuntary absurdity. I don’t think it’s cynical. I didn’t feel cynical when I was putting it together. I tried to make it an index, to let these voices (no matter how cryptic) speak for themselves. Beyond that, I don’t think the album ‘means’ anything, there’s no univocal message to it. It was a response to a difficult year and, as such, has no intellectual, political or artistic agenda. Hopefully, it ‘says something’ though; about ‘arabophobia in a Post 9-11 World’ in an inormative, entertaining and rockin’ kind of way.

- Sam Shalabi


  • Label: Alien8 Recordings
  • ALIEN 37
  • 2003
  • Total duration: 57:47
  • 128 mm × 143 mm × 6 mm
  • 60 g

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