I sit at my desk listening to Shostakovich’s 8th string quartet, a piece I chose because it resonates very well with the repressed anger I’ve accumulated so much of over the years. As I listen and write, the somber introduction ends and without warning, is met by the violent eruption of the next movement. The music screams out, dragging my imagination to a scene of someone destroying the room they are in after having put up with so much injustice. I feel that someone could be me, as the feeling of something like poison spills out of from my heart; it feels so good as it exits, so just.

The first of angers

The first of angers is a collective Lebanese anger at the unjust confiscation of our hard-earned savings by our banks. It’s a possibility that the money may never come back, and even if it does we will probably lose half of it because of the economic collapse. In order to save this money in the first place, a lot of us had to put up with working jobs we didn’t like, endure endless traffic jams, and bear ever-looming expenses.

During my 3 years at the Conservatory, I and my colleagues at the Orchestra would show up day after day to play for mostly incompetent tyrannical conductors who let their insecurities and egos morph into aggressive, abusive behavior toward our already exhausted egos and souls. We all felt anger, but weren’t able to anything about it, except and each deal with it the way that they could- but I’ll tell you this- most coping mechanisms that I saw were very unhealthy.

I would play Jazz and other gigs at night, write my own music, and rehearse for other projects almost daily, which left little time for me to rest and look after myself. I wanted to be actively saving money while learning new music and pushing myself further ahead as a professional.

Eventually, I wore myself out. I could see the breaking point- either stay in the orchestra and build more resentment, more poison in my heart, or leave and try to heal. I went with the second option, not just for my own sake, but for that of my colleagues as well. I was not someone easy to deal with during that period. I did and said some hurtful things to some close colleagues. But, I don’t think I could have done better at the time. I don’t know exactly what I was saving money for in the first place, but now I know that I will never know for sure.

The second of angers

Then, the October 17th Revolution came, and while so much of it was full of the promise of beauty, some terrible violence took place against the protestors. “How could it be allowed?” I asked myself, “that a group people asking for freedom and dignity should take a beating from the police, the army, and the violent supporters of the established tyranny?” Yet all of this happened, and some people were even killed in the process. A lot of us mourned them, but the supporters of power publicly said that they had deserved it, and that all protestors should suffer a similar fate. A similar fate: one protestor was executed with a bullet to the head at point-blank range in front of his wife and child, while his executor still goes unpunished.

The economic collapse peaked after the revolution began. Everything suddenly became five times more expensive, and our currency’s purchasing power dropped pathetically. To this day, supporters of the established political order blame the Revolution for all this, refusing to see that it was exactly what the Revolution stood against- abusive measures taken by those in power that have lead to the economic collapse.

The third of angers

Then, COVID-19. At least before this damn virus we could let out some anger by protesting in the streets; we could go and see some live music, a play, or a movie. We could, if things got difficult, get a reassuring hug from our friends and family. Now, even a handshake is risky business among family members. To make it worse, governments all over the world took on a morbidly authoritarian attitude, but you couldn’t argue with that, since it was a matter of public health and wellness, which they never truly cared about before this ordeal. I don’t think I need to tell you what forcing people to stay in their homes to stare at their televisions, computers, and phone screens has done to them.

The fourth and greatest of angers

You’d think that was it, but no. The August 4th Beirut Port Explosion came upon us with a devastating blow to whatever soul we were still preserving. So devastated and heartbroken were we, that any words on resilience and some phoenix rising from the ashes just added insult to injury. Rage boiled in our hearts, and the media took advantage of this mass anger, fueling it with its themes, shows, and advertisements. 

All through these heavy events, I worked on my new album, which helped me through most of the thickest times. It kept me focused on being creative instead of destructive. Meanwhile, my anger stood silently watching over me. It waited to be acknowledged,  all while I kept myself occupied, conveniently ignoring it. Little by little, it began eating at me and my relationships. I could not allow things to go on like this, so I turned to angry music, as I have subconsciously done so many times before. Shostakovich’s 8th’s quartet is just one example. A lot of us welcome anything that helps express our anger, while neither fueling nor extinguishing it, because these three are totally different things. This is why I believe the Kimaera’s rendition of “Ya Beirut” was a big hit of our generation. It expressed the rage a lot of us felt but didn’t know what to do about. Though their style is pretty underground in Beirut, their message came through loud and clear even to people who don’t necessarily listen to that kind of music!!

Our anger is ancient

I was telling my father that I feel this winter we are going to witness a lot of ugly events. He nodded in agreement, thinking I was talking about thefts, poverty, murders, and deaths from cold and hunger, all of which he was all too familiar with. But, I was referring to the general state of unexpressed boiling anger. People from my father’s generation often use the phrase “fire under the ashes” to describe tense uncertain situations… they, and we, have been feeling the heat of this fire for well over 50 years. That state of the fear of uncertainty as well as unresolved traumas of civil wars drive people to act inconsiderate, hateful, and hurtful to one another… which, I dare say, is a commonplace attitude among us Lebanese

Someone once said, “Instead of posting about suicide prevention, stop being such assholes to each other.” Anger is the other side of compassion, which, as an originally Latin word, means “to feel together”. Anger is such a powerful emotion, particularly in its ability to isolate and intensify the Ego, causing an angry person thinks he/she suffers alone, while in fact, we all suffer, and we all suffer together.

The healing nature of art

And here is where I come back to music. To Shostakovich, a man from Soviet Russia who wrote music so true that it would resonate with another man’s heart many generations after his own, thousands of kilometers away. I don’t think he ever imagined that his music would have such effect on millions; the thought of that alone might have terrified him, maybe even stopped him from beginning any work.

Yet, he worked from a place so deep in his heart that he reached the collective heart of us all. He was in touch with what troubled the human soul, regardless of time and space. Though surely he was not the only musician to have done this. For that matter, any piece of music that assures us that we are not alone in what we feel is a piece written from a place of compassion, and compassion heals anger.