Al-Hajjaj: Keeping Punk Alive
March 23, 2012
Al-Hajjaj, founder of The Sound of Ruby and The Camel, is arguably one of the key figures that helped give birth to the Saudi Arabian rock scene. Reading his replies made me realize how brave he was to try what he did during that time. It also shows hope for the survival of hardcore punk as a genre and a way of life. Allow yourself to be immersed into another world and time when reading this interview.
One thing that stands out about you is your taste in music which clashes dramatically with what people percieve about your country of origin. Being in Saudi Arabia when and how did you get exposed most notably to the blues and punk rock? What about it appealed to you?
I've loved music since childhood. My musical beginnings was with mainstream rock then I came to a stage where I started looking for other styles in general. As for the blues, I got a big collection from my father then I started a big hobby which was collecting rare & strange albums even before the internet. I had to travel to get some of them.
What made you decide to start playing music and how did you go about finding the instrument of your choice? Was it a bit of a struggle for you?
I still find it a crazy idea to start a band in Saudi Arabia. We deserve a Grammy Award for doing that even if our music sucks. We sacrificed many things, we almost sold our souls to rock 'n roll and it's our love of music that made us wanna play guitar. So, I started the first rock band in Saudi Arabia in 1996. As for the guitar, I heard it in a wrestling match on TV when I was a kid and begged my Dad everyday to buy me the thing that makes that sound. The evil sound that came from Hulk Hogan's theme song. One day when I was 14, I was sitting with one my relatives and he was drunk and hallucinating saying, "do everything in life except alcohol," and he pointed at the TV with Kiss playing saying, " you can be one of those dogs but don't drink alcohol." When I looked at Kiss, it felt like feedback going through my head. It was a funny and strange coincidence. I bought my first guitar when I was 16. I had too many negative reactions during the first two years from culture and society.
Was The Sound of Ruby the first band you've played in? How did the band come about and what was the experience like for you? Any memorable highlights during the band's existence that you can share with us?
Yes! SOR was my first band ...how? When I met one of my friends, who was a tabla player, we decided to form the band in 1996. The first two years it was fun because we focused on learning how to play with each other and I was writing many songs. The next day, I let the drummer listen to it and jam all day, we recorded our first demo in 1998 with one microphone. The highlight is when we got arrested during our first show in the first 30 seconds of the first song ...we didn't even reach the chorus.
I remember seeing some live clips of the band posted on its Myspace page. What was it like playing that kind of music in Saudi Arabia during the 90's? Did you guys encounter any opposition and how did you deal with it if you did?
In the 90's, we played small shows with our friends in a tent with a diesel motor out of the city with no electricity. That was also our jamming place for five years. It was funny because most of our friends are into rap and reggae, but they always came and supported us. We had two public shows, we were arrested at both of them.
Since then, how have things changed for musicians there who play Western music? Do bands still play live?
After the year 2000, my permanent members left the band because they were not serious and they didn't know the real message of "Hardcore-Punk." After "Nu-Metal" became popular in Saudi Arabia, I met some great musicians and I started a new lineup for the new band. I was lucky to have the best professional musicians in Saudi Arabia, "Nader HoeyBoy-Mustard," the slide guitarist, "Kamal Sledge-Hammer," the bassist bassist, and "Esaam BigMac," the drummer. Also, I was so lucky that Kamal was recording as a hobby so we released an album almost every year. He was also running a website called "SA Metal" and this site is what caused all the Saudi bands to know about each other. We did many shows together and our band was probably most respected for pushing the boundaries of what can and can't be done, including wearing traditional dress on stage and mixing Oriental/Arabic scales with punk and alternative. We had live shows in Saudi Arabia and abroad but unfortunately in 2008 public shows in Saudi Arabia had to stop forever. So, I'm not sure if there are any shows going around because I have no interest in playing in my home country. "I'm tired of fighting."
What made The Sound of Ruby disband? Were there any bands in- between The Sound of Ruby and your current project, The Camel?
We had to take a break. We didn't release anything since our 2008 album, "shmagh." We lost many chances for record label offers and we lost many chances for touring and opening for our favorite bands. There's even a almost completed but never released album. Also, my character in this band drove me crazy. I almost lost my mind. I know that the deals and record labels that came to us are because of my country of origin so I thought to myself, "I'm not a fucking clown." I did tons of interviews and had TV offers. Most of them don't know the difference between rock and rap. It was a war between the liberals and the conservatives. They used us as a weapon. Still funny that the most famous band from Saudi Arabia is a fake female band so fuck everyone. Our music is free to download for everyone since the first day of SOR. We support free music, freedom and punk is not dead!
Yes, I had a band between SOR & The Camel called Constipated Sand Nigger.
Speaking of The Camel, what's the concept behind it? Any future plans for the project or are you just going day by day with it? It's a one-man band, right?
This is the result of what I have learned from all the years. It's my solo project and I only work with close friends that I trust. They join me in recording, yes! I'm a solo musician now and this is what I'm gonna be doing forever. I already released two albums and they are being sold on Amazon & iTunes ("Friends Dream" and "11 Minutes of Chaos"). I'm working on releasing two single CDs named, "Evil World" Vol. 1 & 2. Vol.1 is already being sold online and I'm now working on Vol.2.
Aside from music, are there any other creaive means that you use to express yourself with?
Yes, I do short "surrealism" flims & avant-garde stories and paintings. Sample:
This may be an odd question, but what is one of your favorite and one of your least favorite things about living in Saudi Arabia? Have you had the chance to travel outside of the country for comparison?
The thing that I really like about Saudi Arabia is the desert and the thing that I really don't like is living in the desert. Yes, I lived abroad for a while.
Thank you for taking the time out to answer these questions for me!
Download The Sound of Ruby here and here; the band on youtube. Buy The Camel's albums here; the band on youtube. Constipated Sand Nigger on Myspace.