The Overseas Ensemble
Album production and live performances
A project by Ilaria Lupo in collaboration with Paed Conca and Sarigama
With The Beirut Art Center, Radio Beirut, Institut Français Du Liban, Zoukak Theatre.
Sources and collaboration to the research from: Sen. Prof. Sunil Aryiaratne, Prof. David Kenneth Jackson, The Department of National Archives of Colombo, The Legal Agenda, Nizar Saghieh, Nayla Geagea, The Beirut Migrant Community Center.
The project focuses on the legal interdiction for immigrants to perform music publicly in Lebanon. This due to the Artist Visa's normative, rooted in the French mandate, which up till now regulates foreign prostitution under a strict set of rules and restrictions of personal freedoms. These protocols are put in place by The General Security through the sponsorship system called kafala, ruling migrant labor in Lebanon and in The Gulf Region. The Artist Visa is defined as a permit to perform and therefore is mandatory to play live music in Lebanon, creating a status of illegality for immigrants practicing any form of performance.
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, under the acronym of Sarigama band. Lupo 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 in 6/8. It was introduced in Sri Lanka at the colonial time (along with Kaffrinha music). Baila developed after the Independence, to become an essentially local music of the working class - with founding 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 legal 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 legal bans, but also the crystallized forms of cultural representation in the context in which these musicians operate.
The research on Baila was articulated through exchanges with academics whose oeuvres are touchstones in the field: Prof. Sunil Aryiaratne, author of the book Baila Kaffrinha and Prof. David Kenneth Jackson, author of the book Sing without Shame.
Radio Beirut produced the albumThe Overseas Ensemble and the band performed at The Beirut Art Center, Focus Liban Festival (by The Centre Culturel Français du Liban and Zoukak), Yukunkun Club and Radio Beirut.