Playing various genres including rock, reggae and indie music Random House (Al Bait Al 3ashwae) are combining modern forms of music with century old traditional elements belonging to the sufi culture which they dub themselves as a type of Neo-Sufism, creating a novum within the independent music scene in Jordan.
One of the newest songs are called Al-Baaz al-Ashhab (Grizzled Hawk) which fuses modern rock music with Sufi symbolism and metaphors. This song is inspired by one of the most famous Sufi personalities, Rumi (1207-1273) and is based on his Poem of the Atoms. Random House belongs to a new generation of musicians using this type of cultural tradition, catering to a younger audience.
The Idea of Neo-Sufi Rock
The idea for Random House started during the college years of Qais Raja, the band’s vocalist and guitarist. He thought a lot about ethnic music and how music grew organically. Explaining how the music of Random House started to taking shape, Raja said:
“I wanted to use the Middle Eastern, Arabic sound in terms of melodics and rhythms and apply it to rock music, i.e. all kinds of rock music.”
Raja grew up listening to 1990s grunge music and to bands such as Nirvana, Pearl Jam and later indie and rock bands such as The Strokes and Queen of the Stone Age. But he was also influenced by Pakistani and Indian music, in particular by musicians such as Nusrah Fatih Ali Khan.
The band was formed on New Years Eve in 2011/2012. The band started as Qais Raja (Lyrics, Vocals, Rhythm Guitar), Ferras Arrabi (Lead Guitar), Ahmad Al-Haj (Bass) and Seif Abu Hamdan (Drums). Seif and Ahmad left but came together again this year which is now the current formation of the band. For a time being Nairuz Al-Ajlouni and Khaled Ghubbas played in the band as well. Their lyrics are hard to define as many of their songs comprise of metaphors. Even if they do not relate to specific political and social issues, the lyrics could be understood as a comment on current issues.
They are based in Amman, belonging to a generation of new musicians, creating their own unique style of modern music and going through a musical development, making this music more accessible to the society. The name of the band is based on the understanding that “all universal laws were created after interactions of random nature occurred between the physical and the spiritual realms of the universe, as a result, humanity finding Utopia by living a life based on complete natural freedom, free will, and randomness.“ The only other band in the region that does similiar music like Random House are Toot Ard (Strawberries). They are playing a combination of rock, indie, reggae music and are originally from the Syrian Golan Heights describing themselves as “Mountain Reggae”
For Raja, their songs represent a form of modernised Sufi music, their sound is a bit dark and gloomy while including instruments such as the Tabla to intertwine psychedelic rock sound and traditional elements. One of these songs is 3asr al Dalu (The Age of Aquarius). While the song remains energetic all the way, the lyrics and the sound are shadowy, creating a trance dream-like state.
Creating Ya 3Aleem
This song is part of their first EP Ya 3aleem (Knower), released on Soundcloud, and referring to one of the many names of Allah in the Quran. Self-funded, this EP is Random House at their best, combining metaphors, mysticsm and offering more than just another rock band fusing music with Sufism. Although most of the songs were written earlier in 2012, there wasn’t a right time to record and release them until now.
The writing process of a song starts usually by having a riff or a chord progression where every one in the band would step in and participate in creating the song, “there are no rules or boundaries in what we are doing” says Raja. “Although I do mainly the writing, all our influences are put together in the songs. Take Majma3 Al-Bahrain for example, whose melody was written by the bassist Ahmad Al-Hajj.“ One line of this song states that love is the basis for religions. Not mentioning a specific religion, or a specific issue but only speaking in riddles is a basic feature of Random House’s songwriting. In the same song the vocalist talks about the mind and the heart, with the mind being the logic part of a human and the heart being all about emotions reflecting the characteristics Sufi is about.
When listening closely to Random House, the songs of this band clearly reflect the Sufi influences, but at the same time they keep their own sound. Another Single Nasf El-Tareq (Half the Way) is about a journey, that all have to take, leading to different paths in lifes. Every person has a different ending they want to reach, and so they have to go all the way to complete the journey. This song reflects the inspiration taken from the 90s grunge bands while combining them with the sound Random House has created over the years, using not only drums, but a percussion instrument called Tabla played by Awad Awad.
Random House’s journey is only starting to begin. After they released Ya 3Aleem things got really going, playing gigs in Amman, and outside of Jordan as well the band got a positive feedback from the audience. Especially in Egypt, the people were aware of Random House. Some of the people already knew the songs. The band did not expect that this would happen. In their next recording they want to apply certain sounds from the region more to their own soundscape. Now they are planing at the beginning of the next year to record more songs and they hope to plan their first album.