Reconnecting with an old musical friend
Profile: Sam Shalabi
by Dave Stewart
Sam Shalabi is one of the most personally influential people I’ve ever known. A musician who splits his time between Montreal and Cairo, he was born in Tripoli, Libya in the mid-1960s, and as a child moved with his family from Alexandria, Egypt to Charlottetown. We met in elementary school as outsiders circa 1972, and to this day Sam continues to be a gateway for music, movies, books, anything and everything. His career as a musician is no less adventurous, and has taken him to points around the globe, whether playing the guitar or the oud, but it began here on PEI…
Says Sam, “I’m very promiscuous in my musical tastes, but I think there has to be that abstract feeling of ‘Punk’ in everything I like. In Montreal I got into free jazz and jazz, and then about 15 years ago I rediscovered Arabic Music in a deep way, and that’s become a big part of what I do.
“My ‘career’ though is really a series of instinctive decisions. It’s about being surprised, excited and experimenting; kinda still the punk rock attitude. I just try to experiment and learn, and if that means writing a pop tune, or an Arabic psychedelic tune, or an hour-long noise piece, or a mix of all three, it’s all good.
“Charlottetown in the late ’70s was, to put it mildly, not so interested in punk music, and so there was a certain isolation until I started meeting like-minded friends who I connected with and could trick into playing music with me. In terms of the isolation, the downside was the obvious I guess: being a brown, weird kid into punk rock there wasn’t a very cool thing at the time, and there was a certain amount of racism involved, or just around the corner, from ‘the public’.
“Chas Guay was a major influence on every level. He was the first person who encouraged me to play, and he might have been one of the only established players I met during the late ’70s/early ’80s who liked, understood and respected punk rock, and he helped me connect the dots to other kinds of music.
“The ‘crew’ around Chas had a big influence as well. People like Chris Corrigan (maybe one of the most underrated guitar players on the planet); Mike Mooney, who was so encouraging and showed me how important songwriting was. Reg Ballagh, a great drummer. Mitch Shurman, another amazing guitar player and friend. There’s really so many, and that time was exciting, because many of those players were coming from a different place than me, but were deep, real and just serious players who were also freaks in a way, outside of the mainstream of music. In retrospect, it was a rare and gracious musical education they gave me.
“I think a pretty strong case could be made that the most interesting ‘warping’ of music comes from outside of major cities. I look at it that I had my own little ‘punk rock revolution’ on this little island, and so I maybe ‘misread’ it and made odd connections that, if I was in a scene in a larger city, might have never happened in the way it did and does, for me. Ultimately, I had amazing friends and we were a tight scene unto ourselves, and that had a profound effect on me that maybe might have been lost in a larger, more supportive city.”
To add further context you need to hear Sam’s music at www.alien8recordings.com, www.museumfire.com and Land of Kush at www.cstrecords.com. And when you do, PLAY LOUD!