Beirut, 1977

The Overseas Ensemble | 2015/16

The Overseas Ensemble, 2015/16
(Performance and film)
Foto: Film still

Migrant labor rights in Lebanon lie under the kafala system - restricting any basic freedom. The project focuses on the legal interdiction to perform music publicly. This due to the rules of the Artist Visa, rooted in the French mandate, which still regulates foreign prostitution in Lebanon.

Sarigama are a group of Sri Lankan nationals who migrated to work in Lebanon, and who play music for themselves. They work by day and rehearse at night – in the basement of a supermarket. I involved them in a collaboration with the composer/musician Paed Conca. During three months of rehearsals, Conca and Sarigama created an experimental album, born from a research on the Sri Lankan music Baila. Baila’s origins can be traced in a merging of Portuguese and African music - a hybrid of Western melodic system and asymmetric and cross rhythms. It was introduced in Sri Lanka at the colonial time (along with Kaffrinha), and developed after the independence, to become an essentially local music - with godfather figures such as Wally Bastiansz and MS Fernando.


The Overseas Ensemble’s rearrangements explore deconstructions of format, rhythm, duration, fusion of genres, connecting with wider processes of blending and their historical roots. The project questions such processes through the lens of cultural production. Due to the above-mentioned restrictions, in Lebanon Sri Lankan contemporary music develops in underground circles only. This is part of the liquid geographies of the ‘non-official’ diffusion of culture. The band’s activity testifies of a process of participation to the local scene - even if an invisible one. It resists bans, but also the crystallized forms of cultural representation in the context in which these musicians operate.

The Overseas Ensemble performed live, at The Beirut Art Center, at the underground music venue Radio Beirut, which produced the album, at the Festival Focus Liban (by The French Cultural Center Liban and Zoukak) and at Yukunkun Club.

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