The lyrical legacy of Elias El Khoury: teen Beirut blast victim remembered through his music

School friend Shadi Abou Chamat pays tribute to the aspiring rapper, whose profile has been officially verified by music platform Anghami

Elias El Khoury, left, and Shadi Abou Chamat created songs together under the name A$hca$h and Shadiday. Courtesy Shadi Abou Chamat
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If the hollow shell of Beirut Port is a defining image of Lebanon's August 4 explosion, then Elias El Khoury is one of the faces of the tragedy.

El Khoury, 15, was one of more than 200 people who died in the blast that destroyed swathes of central Beirut last year.

An official enquiry is under way, with a judicial source close to the investigation recently telling The National that charges will soon be laid.

I am glad the world is listening to it and knows how talented my friend really was

While that may provide some consolation for a traumatised nation, nothing replaces the hopes and dreams shattered amid the wreckage.

El Khoury, who succumbed to his wounds two weeks after the explosion, symbolises that loss by leaving behind a small body of work that resonates today.

The teen, who hoped to follow into his father’s footsteps and become an architect, also nursed a dream of being a rapper.

It is a goal he shared with childhood friend and producer Shadi Abou Chamat.

Abou Chamat says the pair released two songs on music-streaming service Anghami shortly before the devastating explosion. The platform posthumously verified El Khoury's account in May, 10 months after the tracks' release.

The boy from Achrafieh

Under El Khoury's artist name of A$hca$h, you will find the songs Space and Valid, both since featured prominently in a number of official playlists including Lebanese Rap.

The teen's carefree and boisterous wordplay about party life was partly driven by a desire to mentally escape his confines, his friend reveals.

"We did these songs while the country was in lockdown," Abou Chamat tells The National.  "We were bored at the time and we would chat to each other on Zoom, checking up on each other, and we decided to do these songs as a bit of fun."

Abou Chamat, 17, describes the music as “simple", because both were learning the craft as they went along.

With El Khoury a fan of glitzy rappers such as Canada’s Nav and Abou Chamat enamoured with the murky sounds of late hip-hop pioneer MF Doom, both decided to use their time at home to give voice to their passions.

Over a string of online sessions, they cooked up the tracks, with El Khoury writing lyrics to the trap hip-hop beats produced by Abou Chamat on music software programme Ableton.

Once completed, the duo realised stage names were needed to match that sonic swagger: hence A$hca$h and Shadidady were born.

El Khoury’s moniker is a tribute to his original home district of Achrafieh in eastern Beirut.

Residential and leafy, it is known as a hamlet for the more fortunate – a fact he was humorously reminded of ever since enrolling as a first grader in a school in the working class suburb of Rabieh, 12 kilometres away.

“He was the only one from our group that actually lived inside Beirut,” Abou Chamat recalls.

“We used to make jokes about that and about how people from Achrafieh are all rich, love to speak French and expensive things.

"He was totally different than that, of course. Elias was easygoing, chilled, the peacekeeper in our group and really positive about the future.”

Music that will live on

It is those latter conversations that Abou Chamat misses the most.

The pair often shared their dreams of finding career success and raising their own families.

“We would also joke around,” he says. “Especially during the lockdown, we would talk about how all of our problems would just go away if we were rich and able to do anything we want.

“The songs we did were us kind of imagining our lives if that ever happened.”

Abou Chamat recalls that August 4 was just like any other day when El Khoury called him after 6pm about a growing blaze nearby his home at Beirut Port.

The images of the fire he shared moments later was the last Abou Chamat heard from him.

Hours later, El Khoury’s father confirmed Elias, along with his mother Mireille and sister Nour, were taken to hospital with serious injuries.

Abou Chamat returned once to the site of the explosion, months later, but was too upset to stay long.

It’s a similar feeling he now experiences when listening to their music.

“It’s tough for me to even hear the songs right now,” he says. “But I am glad the world is listening to it and knows how talented my friend really was.

“His parents, who never knew about the music until after he died, told me how important it was to them because they can keep hearing his voice.”