Who Killed Bruce Lee

Blending Spices


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East heads West: Beirut’s indie rock band Who Killed Bruce Lee will bring their original, oriental flavor to Europe this summer, recording their debut album in Berlin.

  • Author: Janna Cramer
  • Photos: Who Killed Bruce Lee
  • Video: Directed and produced by WKBL and Teddy Tawil

Far more earth-shattering questions circulate than who invented barbecue sauce. However, when your world is rocked, rather literally and practically daily, by terrorist attacks and political crises as is the case for Lebanese band Who Killed Bruce Lee, you might find refuge in topics more mundane than the ever-present Arab-Israeli conflict and civil war in neighboring Syria. You might, for instance, think about barbecue sauce.

Twenty-eight year old Wassim Bou Malham loves barbecue and all things grilling. When not busy creating songs with his three Lebanese band mates, his mind often wanders that way. Call it his coping mechanism.

Right now though, the four men are about to set out on a new adventure. Last year, to their great surprise, they won a Beirut talent show called „Red Bull Sound Clash”. „These really professional industry people approached us and told us we have a special thing going, and that we have a real chance of becoming successful one day,” recounts guitarrist Wassim. The encouragement, something tough to come by for young musicians in Lebanon, was just what the band needed.

„Everything is sexier once you leave your comfort zone“

On the one hand, Beirut, once the cosmopolitan center of the Levant, then almost completely destroyed in a bloody civil war, remains a unique city for Lebanon, comparatively liberal even. It boasts a vibrant nightlife: People go out, eat streetfood —falafel, taboulé, hummus, pita — then head to clubs and bars, where they dance all night to indie and electro music, temporarily forgetting about the region’s social and political unrest.

„Of course they want to ecape,” says WKBL drummer, Malek Rizkallah, 28. „When a bomb explodes in the morning, you want to be able laugh about it at night. Sounds paradoxical, but that’s the way it is around here.“

The night clubs, though crowded, don’t involve live music; rock bands reap no benefit from the city’s booming club scene. Meanwhile, live music venues both remain few and far between and seem to draw the same crowd week to week, making them dead ends for bands trying to expand their fan base. Keyboarder Hassib Dergham says, „Out of 4.5 million people in Lebanon, we see the same 10,000 or so folks, over and over, at our performances.“But the competition win, that opened doors. One was to Paris.

Red Bull invited the four musicians to the French capitol to record a few of songs at their music studio. „Everything is sexier once you leave your comfort zone,” the guys say about the experience. „We saw what we can accomplish under the right circumstances,” Malek adds. He credits demanding producers, high end technology, and ideal work conditions. Then the band played the Montmartre club La Boule Noire: They found enthusiastic applause and new fans with their indie rock sound mixed with Mid East flavors.

The men mention Led Zeppelin, The Who, and Queens of the Stone Age as role models, but, too, rapper Jay-Z as well as Arabic artists Abdel Halim Hafez from Egypt, and diva Oum Kulthum, Callas of the Arabic world.Wassim, Malek, bass player Pascal Sarkis, and keyboardist Hassib Derghm met 2010 in a Beirut Blues club owned by Malek’s father. It was open night at the Quadrangle. „We had pizza and a beer for three bucks, then we took the stage“, Malek remembers. „We just clicked.“

„When a bomb explodes in the morning, you want to be able to laugh about it at night“

This summer, Who Killed Bruce Lee will move to Berlin to record their debut album. They hope to tour other parts of Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, and plan to stay in Europe for at least a year. „Right now, we are trying to get our documents ready,” Wassim says. It’s a bittersweet preparation: They despise the bureaucracy as well as the thought of leaving their home country. (Wassim, for instance, is in love and wants to marry his girlfriend. „But her family is against it”, he says. „Traditionally, Lebanese parents want someone other than a globetrotting musician for their daughter.“)

Wassim becomes pensive, again; Middle Eastern melancholy sometimes gets the better of him. He broods over social barriers between his love and himself. But melancholy and a sense of humour, they go surprisingly well together in his world, and they quickly shift him to less weighty thoughts — like who invented the barbecue sauce? And who killed Bruce Lee? The latter is a perfect example of the Arabic mind at work: Bruce Lee wasn’t murdered at all; he died from cerebral edema. But why not consider what happened if...