The Lebanese composer spills the secrets behind his debut album, Passport

Omar Rahbany understands the true meaning of the expression “a labour of love.” The Lebanese artist, composer and producer – a member of the legendary Lebanese Rahabni family that has produced generations of world-class musicians and composers – spent three full years working on his first album, Passport, which was launched in Beirut this October. Passport was produced Rahbany Yahya Productions (RYP), which Rahbany co-founded with fellow entrepreneur Mahdi Yahya. To complete the work of art, the two travelled all over the world, collaborating with 180 different musicians and producers, resulting in a truly global feel.

Passport consists of 10 tracks, each telling a different story, and was recorded in Beirut, Chicago, New York, Dubai, Paris and Ukraine, mixed in the U.K. and mastered in Los Angeles. Rahbany took some time to tell Selections all about the making of this truly epic debut album and the ideas behind it.

What stories do you seek to tell in Passport?

To be perfectly honest, I never say to myself, ‘Well well, what’s my next story going to be about?’ Music comes into my ears and I write it down. I later contemplate it, observe it, and that’s when concrete stories start to appear.

Umbrella Woman is the story of a married woman having an affair with a much younger guy. Babel is an interpretation of the Babel Myth. Zook: The Power Station shows the vision of an inspired child who changes nasty realities into LEGOish ecstatic images. Anarkia is the manifesto of a young guy who only believes in belonging to planet earth.

Each composition tells a different story and yet they are unified by the fact that they all came from the same composer. I would also say, now that three years have passed since the first composition, that Passport deals with an identity crisis that finds its remedy in reinventing the concept of identity.

How did you select the 180 different artists who worked with you on the album?

It is a question of language and musical vocabulary. Some pieces required a certain funky New Orleans feel, like Programmusik: Babel – that’s when I thought of Keith Carlock, for instance. Others, like Anarkia, required purer Middle Eastern phrasings and rhythms – that’s how I got the chance to work with some of the best Lebanese artists. Still other compositions required a high level of classical intonation and discipline, like with the Kiev City Symphonic Orchestra… So the music itself determined its players.

We were also lucky to have 14-time Grammy award winner Steve Rodby to supervise the whole production. It’s impossible to name all of the 180 musicians and technicians and organisers, but they all contributed to the sound of Passport.

How did the three years you spent working on Passport change you as an artist and a person?

As an artist, Passport gave me the chance to experiment a lot and apply some of my concepts into music. I met a lot of humble critically acclaimed musicians, and just by listening to them one can learn a lot about what true musicianship is.

On a more personal level, Passport has taught me more about human beings in general: how different and identical we are, where we are in the theory of evolution. Passport has also brought me a new set of questions, when I thought that answers were what I would get at the end of the road.

By Irene McConnell