Saturday, April 11, 2015

Interview with Mackenzie Chami of Koufar

Koufar played the best power electronics set I've ever seen on October 24, 2014, a show featuring heavy hitters Brighter Death Now, Deutsch Nepal, and Raison D'etre. At one level, it's because Mackenzie Chami simply has unrivaled vocal ability and intensity, but on another, it was his staunch commitment to a belief and a group of people. Mackenzie began his set with the anthem for the Lebanese Armed Forces, smiling and holding his heart before a Lebanese flag. As that ended, he turned with eyes like daggers before engulfing the room in the rolling crunch and feedback of power electronics. Mackenzie's lyrics are intense, personal, and political. But most of all, they're important to him and it shows. I'd never been moved like I was when he played. I'm rarely "moved" during a noise set - the only other time I can think of being "moved" was during a Pedestrian Deposit show.

But Mackenzie's set made me wonder what was I loyal to. Is there anything that I care about that much? I don't know. It's unsettling. And it's something I still find myself thinking about.

Though Koufar has many releases on tapes and CD-Rs, it recently put out its debut slab of wax on Jim Haras' Fusty Cunt label, Lebanon for Lebanese with four tracks of downright pummeling, permeating power electronics. Mackenzie's vocals are once again spotlighted on this release, a narrative arc spun around Mackenzie's meditations of Lebanon and what it means to him.

Jordan Reyes: Tell me a little bit about being a Maronite, an obvious centerpiece to your work as Koufar. Has the Maronite identity always been important in your life? Has it changed as you've gotten older?

Mackenzie Chami: There isn’t a whole lot to discuss about being a Maronite. We’re a small group of Catholics that originate from Lebanon. Most of us do not live there, however, due to the temperamental state that the country is consistently in. It wasn’t until I was 18 and finally had gotten the opportunity to visit Lebanon for the first time. It was then that I really got a firm understanding of myself, the culture, and what it “means” to be a Maronite. I use parentheses because I feel that ultimately its your own understanding of your cultural/ethnic background that will serve you, not the other way around. My beliefs have only been reaffirmed as I’ve gotten older. I will be proud forever.
Lebanon for Lebanese

JR: Your heritage is Caucasian and Lebanese, right? Do you find it difficult to reconcile your heritage? I too am mixed race and often have a difficult time "choosing" one piece of my heritage to identify with rather than another.

MK: You are correct. I am only half-Lebanese and can’t speak the language nor read it that well. I do not find it difficult because it is what I am comfortable with. As I mentioned before, during my first trip in 2006 was when it really made things clear for me. Never before had I walked into a room and realized that everyone in it looked liked me. I felt comfortable, and even though my grasp on the language is poor, people were courteous to me because they could see it in my face that I was one of them. This is how I have come to terms with who I am as man. Growing up, it was a constant barrage of people telling me what I was. I made this decision in 2006 and have stuck firmly with it.

JR: You've had a lot of different projects from Crown of Cerberus to Insurgent to Koufar. What distinguishes one project from another for you? How do you know when to create another moniker for your work?

MC: Well, I have trimmed things down a bit, but staying plenty active all the same. The things that have distinguished them have been thematics, as well as the approach sonically. The monikers have come and gone with time, my attempts, my failures, and my victories. However, I can say that I’m trying to focus more on Koufar, Terror Cell Unit, and Crown of Cerberus the most. Other projects might flare up here and there because I’m not afraid to experiment or try something new, but those three are the main ones, especially Koufar and TCU.

JR: Tell me a little bit about the upcoming LP on Fusty Cunt, Lebanon for Lebanese. How did you write and record the material? What specific themes and ideas does the record cover?

MC: The whole thing took place from 2010-2014. Its quite a long and boring story, but let's just say I had some excellent help from fellow artists that I respect, and couldn’t have completed it without their help.  Thematically it picks up where Guardians of the Cedars left off, with  “Damascus in Flames” and “Flares Over the Bay of Jounieh” remaining very much in the vein of “restoring Lebanon to its glory days, eliminating all of the Maronite enemies, civil war refrences, etc.” Meanwhile “Kiss the Hand You Cannot Bite (And Implore God to Break it)” is much, much more personal. The track is actually about me returning to this project and breathing life back into it. Me defiantly screaming “ I WILL NEVER BE WHITE. ARAB SMILE AND HATEFUL SPITE.” over and over at the end of the vocal section on the track. This leads us to the future of Koufar material which will be taking a slightly more twisted, personal route that collides with the various political agendas of Maronite led political groups both past and present. As the project continues forward, it is more along the lines of a modern day spiritual warrior. Taking what I have studied in the past and applying it with my own visions, beliefs, and personal struggles over the last 5 years.

JR: Why did you decide to release the new record as an LP rather than a CS or CD as you have in the past?

MC: It’s all thanks and praise to Jim Haras (Fusty Cunt). He made me the offer and I couldn’t have been more excited for the opportunity or more proud of the material on that record. I am eternally grateful for him to give me the opportunity. Plus, he couldn’t say no to the album artwork...

JR: Your set at the Brighter Death Now show may have been the best power electronics set I've ever seen. What goes into a Koufar set? How do you plan for one?

MC: Thank you very, very much for the kind words Jordan. I really appreciate it. What goes into a Koufar set? Quite a bit. Hours and hours of finding the right sounds, and then hours and hours of rehearsing the set. Hours and hours of figuring proper transitions, followed by hours and hours of frustration upon piecing it all together and attempting to make it cohesive as possible. Ever since I started writing songs for Terror Cell Unit, though I decided to bring that approach to Koufar. In all honesty, it's made me more comfortable with performing in general.

JR: I think one of the edges you have against other PE acts is that your message is clearly a political and ideological one you believe in, rather than the played out exploitation of nihilism so common to the scene. Do you think your ideology and its use in Koufar gives you strength? How?

MC: This is where things get fun. My message is political, ideological, and personal all at the same time. I do not personally believe in every last thing that I present or yell about, however. I like to stick to the “unsafe” side of power electronics when it comes to presentation because therein lies the true power in creating Power Electronics or Industrial music. Earlier in the history of the project, it was me telling a twisted, one-sided view of the Maronites, as well as my story of the history of Lebanon. It's not so much the ideology with the project that gives me strength but more so with being a proud Lebanese man. It is my pride that gives me strength within this project.

JR: You began your set with the Lebanese national anthem, I think. You had a big smile on your face as you looked at the Lebanese flag during that part but you went completely cold and serious when you turned to face the audience. Why the change in demeanor?

MC:The set actually began with the anthem for the Lebanese Armed Forces. The reason behind the smile, well, I was extremely excited to be back and performing for everyone that I’ve missed while living out in Oakland. The change was to subtly let everyone know that I was about to come at them and give them a Koufar performance unlike any other.

JR: Is the idea of ritual a big part of Koufar?

MC: Not ritual, but making sure to pay tribute, no matter how big or small, is of the utmost importance to Koufar.  

JR: What all is in the future for Mackenzie Chami and Koufar?

MC: Endlessly recording, performing, touring, and working with my label Crown Tapes. The moment I stop having fun with it I’ll be done with it.

JR: Anything else you'd like to say?

MC: Thank you Jordan for the interest, support, and patience with me answering you!
Allah Ma3k.

2 comments:

  1. Great interview- thanks! I hope that Drake quote near the end was intentional lol

    ReplyDelete