Album Reviews

Mayssa Jallad ‘Marjaa: The Battle Of The Hotels’

Lebanese artist Mayssa Jallad creates a conceptual album following Beirut splitting into East and West throughout the Lebanese Civil War.

Mayssa Jallad gives a voice to architecture and its destructive remains by way of war on her stunning conceptual album Marjaa: The Battle Of The Hotels via Ruptured Records. The Lebanese artist overlaps her architectural mastery with a haunting soundscape of a vital district that represents class, division, and its people.

The album references Jallad’s Master’s thesis regarding the 5-month urban battle that took place within the luxury hotel district at the beginning of the Lebanese Civil War (1975-1990). Marjaa: The Battle Of The Hotels is a product of teamwork over the course of 5 years, as stated on her social media, written in collaboration with producer Fadi Tabbal and many talented individuals in Beirut’s alternative scene. The album takes experimental avenues, utilizing modern Arabic, electronic ambience, alternative and folk.

Conceptually, while the album preserves and “maps” the events by observing the battle through present and past lens, the album also serves as a call for new answers; a creation of another way to not just look once again to the “left” and the “right”, as these were the directions of destruction.

Marjaa: The Battle Of The Hotels respectively is beautiful and haunts through time itself. Jallad’s solo album encompasses the artist’s impactful and powerful storytelling abilities through her lyricism, voice, and activism for an unforgettable collection. Jallad writes as she wears the war’s pain through the production and vocal runs that reach into the soul for change. A call to the forgotten; a call for the exposure of “warlords turned politicians”; a call for remembrance which makes this album incredibly special.

The 12-track LP is presented in two parts, present and past, as its entirety looks ahead. The album opens in observance and confusion through “Etel” and “Kharita.” Our narrator takes in the empty buildings by sight and recalls the snipers that held up the skyscrapers, the hospital that can’t be found, and the empty rooms that once served as a place to eat and for maids to retire.

Mayssa Jallad

Mudun” listens as a charged motivator, but is always anxious. Acting as a marker for dated tracks to come, the track captures the exchange between the left-wing pro-Palestinian Lebanese National Movement against the right-wing Christian-nationalist Phalanges Party, referred to as the Blues and Reds throughout the album.

The experimental disarray of sounds theatrically transports the listener closer and closer to the battle alongside Jallad. The blend of textures is utilized throughout the album as a key technique for movement which becomes potent when mixed with Jallad’s crestfallen lines.

Of the first half, “Baynana” becomes hopeful in sound against a bright, slow emergence of an acoustic and is a strong captivator of story. Jallad’s vocals are gentle and sit above the melody before the track’s transition towards a Spanish-folk sound. The interruption in production features the poetic lines by Jallad which bring us back to reality: “There are ghosts here and the killers and free and alive [are] among us ( هناك أشباحٌ هنا والقتلةُ أحياءٌ احرارٌ بيننا).”

The ominous waltz of “Haigazian (October 22)” revises the mood. The slow burner spreads throughout the body and bruises as each side advances. The track blends seamlessly into “Burj Al Murr (October 25 to 27)” and continues the movement of Red and Blue. Percussion emerges as a lively art-noise to contrast the short burst in tempo that resembles marching boots. Another shining light of Jallad’s imagery and narrative hauntingly found in the solemn facts.

Cover art for ‘Marjaa: The Battle Of The Hotels’

By the second part, our narrator has been consumed by the invasion and is now inside the buildings.

Markaz Azraq (December 6)” easily is one of the strongest leads on the album and becomes a meditative moment which steers the remaining tracks towards its conclusion. Led by an acoustic, the point of convergence of production and Jallad’s words are at the sensory residue. Jallad’s timber is wounded, but resilient; thick with emotion and bathed in cries, armed by people’s remembrance. There is a passionate warmth of empathy that is transferred with each verse, only lowered by the cool tone of uncertainty.

Jallad writes with each part and sight, to its sound, as one entity for a compelling, intangible feeling that spans decades and could not be complete without the illustration of “Markaz Ahmar (December 6 suite).”

The remaining four tracks mirror the couplet structure as heard thus far on the album. Jallad’s tracks live independently, but carry greater influence in pairs and as a whole.

The spoken word of “Al Hisar (December 8)” listens as actionable calls by the Reds that cannot be stopped on top of the sounds of the buzuk. It reminds us where the battle nears, but doesn’t reflect until “Holiday Inn (January to March).” It’s a quiet, piano-led track with traces of brassy percussion that lulls the previous noise into the last shred of questioning hope: “How shall we respond/How shall we respond/How shall we respond ( كيفَ نستجيبْ؟ كيفَ نستجيبْ؟ ).”

“Holiday Inn (March 21 to 29)” is a great art-noise piece that complements the second half well and conveys its convoluted mindset. While it is still sorrowful, this track is the first of the collection to sit in the silence. And with the intense emotions and imagery that was presented, “Al Irth” and its lyrics is the perfect way to end the album.

Jallad gently educates and once again reiterates the battle’s importance through the silvery chimes of the metallophone. We hear of the attempt to erase in the Taef Agreement and Solidere project. We hear of it being used as “a case study for the American Military.” We hear it was inherited. More importantly, we hear the hope of realization: “But the war did not end / The war will not end/ As long as we vote for the Reds and Blues.”

As stated on Bandcamp: “The music caters to post-war youth who have never been taught this difficult history. Once we consider the ‘Battle of the Hotels’ as our common heritage, it provides an opportunity to teach the value of civil peace. It is also a call to protest for the renewal, rather than the recycling of the political class that has once destroyed the country and holds us, to this day, hostage of its violence.”

Connect with the artist:

Facebook | Instagram | Bandcamp | Spotify

%d bloggers like this: