The past and the present come together when it comes to Love and Revenge.
For the past two years, the Lebanese duo, consisting of audio-visual artist Randa Mirza and DJ and producer Wael Koudaih, have toured their acclaimed production globally, with the UAE next on the agenda as part of the NYU Abu Dhabi Arts Centre season.
For those attending the group’s shows on Wednesday and Thursday, expect more than your typical electronic music gig. In what promises to be an immersive affair, you will find Mirza and Koudaih (a former hip-hop artist who performed under the name Rayess Bek) manning their booths, flanked by a keyboardist and oudist.
But the star of the show is the visuals. These will be projected onto a large screen and will mostly show selected scenes from films produced during the golden age of Egyptian cinema – from the 1940's to the 1960's.
These scenes are tastefully and skillfully synchronised by Mirza to the heaving, shuddering beats provided by the trio of musicians.
Ever since announcing their project globally with a memorable performance at London’s Shubbak Festival last year, the duo and supporting musicians have toured Europe and across the Middle East.
Speaking to The National from Paris, Mirza explains that the response has been positive, but for different reasons. "The way Love and Revenge is received from the Arabic crowd depends on if they are Arab, young or old. We receive a lot of messages from people who are old and who are happy to relive the experience, it is like a nostalgic feeling for them," she says.
“As for the western public, it has always been also a positive experience [playing to this crowd] because people are amazed that they didn’t know about all this richness we have, about the music and the cinema. The main theme of the show is the image of woman and seduction and love in the movies. What used to be done at that time is impossible to reproduce today.”
The group's name is a rough translation of Gharam wa Intiqam, the title of a 1944 film starring Asmahan as a femme fatale. In addition to the stage show, the group released an accompanying self-titled EP, which you can download for free from their Bandcamp account.
The song selections act as a time capsule of a period when pop stars were renowned for their technical virtuosity and songwriters for their expansive compositions.
The EP’s modern touches arrive in the form of thundering dance beats and an instrumental element coming from synths and muscular oud riffs.
It would be easy to dismiss the group as simply another musical mash-up, but the mixing is done with a deft hand and a keen appreciation for their source material.
Take, for example, their version of Batwaness Bik, by the great Algerian songstress Warda. The augmentation of stalking oud riffs and strings is a welcome contrast to the original track's lush orchestration and in turn serves to illustrate the fragile beauty of Warda's voice.
In Ya Msafer Wahdak (Oh, Lone Traveller), sung by Egyptian actress and singer Najat El Saghira, Love and Revenge give the song the lounge music treatment with nocturnal-sounding keyboards and throbbing basslines. In their live show, the track will be paired with scenes from 1942's Love is Banned, the film responsible for the original song.
It is just one of more than 100 films that Mirza uses in a typical Love and Revenge set.
As well as showcasing the depth and glamour of Arabic cinema, Mirza hopes Love and Revenge will help Arabs see the value within themselves – which is a far cry from what is seen on the news today.
“All the young people in the Arab world feel frustration, because we are talented, we have ambitions and we are educated, but politically we suck,” she says.
“Part of the idea was first to introduce ourselves and others to our culture, to remind each other about what we’re capable of, and who we really are, and then to give ourselves a kind of pride in who we are because everybody is kind of depressed about the way we are being represented, what we are going through and our identity.”
Love and Revenge are working on expanding their outlook. They are presently working on new material, which has them using international archival images of “B series” horror and western films and pairing them up with tracks from the Gulf and North Africa. “
We’re looking for tracks from Mauritania, from Kuwait and the UAE,” she says, adding that the band is open to submissions and recommendations.
“We also found some beautiful woman singers from Saudi Arabia and Morocco, and of course, Algeria. We want to broaden the spectrum of Love and Revenge. So I don’t really know where it’s going to go, but that’s the starting point.”
Love and Revenge will perform at the NYUAD Arts Centre on Wednesday and Thursday. Tickets start from Dh50 from www.nyuad-artscenter.org