Lebanese fusion maestros Adonis bring protest spirit to London

From Muse to Fairuz: Lebanese fusion maestros Adonis bring protest spirit to London
4 min read
06 November, 2019
The New Arab Meets: Adonis, the four-piece Lebanese band taking their fusion of old Arabic classics and pop-rock anthems from humble village beginnings to a European tour via Lebanon’s protests.
The Lebanese four-piece are on their first European tour [Courtesy of Adonis]

Growing up in a dull industrial borough, making music that romanticised everyday scenes and interactions was a way for Anthony Khoury and his brother to escape the mundanity of small-town life.

Despite these humble beginnings, Khoury is now the lead singer and keyboardist for one of Lebanon's most popular bands, named Adonis affectionately after their hometown.

Camping trips by the nearby river of the same name, said to be the location that inspired a Greek legend, kindled a friendship between Khoury and guitarist Joey Abou Jawdeh, with bassist Gio Fikany and drummer Nicola Hakim joining soon after.

An affectionate nod to their youth, the juxtaposition of Adonis being the Greek god of beauty and desire and the town itself being quite the opposite, is not unnoticed by the band's members.

The contradiction "helped shape our universe," says Khoury. "It was ironic for us that this particular town should be named after the god of beauty and fertility because it had nothing to do with that."

It was ironic for us that this particular town should be named after the god of beauty and fertility because it had nothing to do with that

However this duality of adolescent dreams and their mundane reality gave roots to the band's debut.

"Our first album is all about things that on the outside seem uninteresting, but once you look into them and once you attach them into stories and emotions and to romances, they start taking life," says Khoury.

Now touring for their fourth album, have their small-town influences changed?

"Somewhat," says Khoury. "We've grown up since and some disenchantment was bound to happen. And then some heartbreaks. And then you're bound to start talking less about magical rooftops where endless nights of revelry happen, and start talking more about real life things. But something of it stays, it's in the name of the band and it's in the way we met each other."

Their latest release has brought them on their first European tour and first show in London. Despite the obvious influence of old-time Arabic classics Umm Kulthoum, Fairouz and Wadih Safi, Adonis' music straddles an array of worldwide influences, distinctively incorporating the anthemic keyboard and guitar melodies of British bands like Coldplay and Muse.

Being an artist in Lebanon in general, at the moment especially, is a political act in itself

"British influences are everywhere," says Abou Jawdeh. "It's where the music, for me at least, started. It’s the cradle of rock, it's the Beatles it's the Rolling Stones, it's Queen, Elton John, Adele, Coldplay."

Left to right: Anthony Khoury, Gio Fikany, Joey Abou Jawdeh and Nicola Hakim [Courtesy of Adonis]

But as Lebanon's mass protests near their second week, the band admit it is difficult to be away from home at a time of such upheaval.

The band members do not shy away from the political nature of being artists in Lebanon in the current climate.

"Being an artist in Lebanon in general, at the moment especially, is a political act in itself," says Khoury, adding that the upheaval adds deeper meaning to the content of their lyrics.

Read more: Lebanese band Mashrou Leila release anti-occupation music video

Luckily, they were able to squeeze in two days at home between concerts, treating protesters to a performance.

Music is "a great way to spread a message," says Fikany. "So we’re using it to reach out to the people, in [our shows in] Europe also to spread awareness about what's happening in Lebanon. And we're also reaching out to the Lebanese people here."

Having now played some of Lebanon's biggest festivals and venues, can they say they've "made it"? Almost.

"We can feel the progress of the past year," says Abou Jawad, highlighting two "turning points" of Lebanon's Jounieh Festival in July and a collaborative show with Aziz Maraka "an artist we really admire", at Amman’s amphitheatre in October.

"I think we’re pretty much established in Lebanon," says Khoury, adding that the current ambition is to reach the same level in all Arab countries, especially in Egypt.

"It’s a crowd that we would love to win," he adds. "I grew up listening to Egyptian music, so I don’t think I’d be fully satisfied unless I know that the Egyptian crowd is digging it and we put on massive shows there."

But for the moment, London, Paris and Berlin will do.

"It’s a great honour to be here and we can't wait to get up on stage and see the vibe of the crowd," says Abou Jawdeh.

As the band takes to the stage at the intimate East London venue, it's a definite change from the stadiums of their home turf.

Fans pack into the front rows to sing along to every lyric and scream out the names of their favourite band members, as Adonis can’t help but bring an especially jubilant mood to the show, carrying the spirit of Lebanon’s street parties to London.

Florence Dixon is a staff writer at The New Arab.

Follow her on Twitter @flo_dix