10 06, 2019

The Scorpions & Saif Abu Bakr

2019-06-10T16:52:39+03:00Jun 10, 2019|20 Comments

This is going to be a fairly long post but trust me, if you love nostalgic Kuwait related posts you’re going to want to read this because it’s just so random and really interesting.

A couple of weeks ago I was over at the Australian ambassador’s house (Jonathan) who is a music buff and while there he showed me a record which he knew I’d be interested in. The album was called “Jazz, Jazz, Jazz” by a Sudanese band called The Scorpions & Saif Abu Bakr and inside there was an interview with the band members. Turns out the band used to perform in Kuwait back in the 70s at different venues including the Hilton Hotel, the Sheraton Hotel, and the Marriott Hotel. Check out the clipping below:

And can you tell me about your journey to Kuwait?

We went by ourselves and without visa but with the help of our friend Saif (who was also our singer during that stay). And we went there without instruments or anything. At the airport we arrived and waited for Saif to pick us up. Of course, they asked us at the airport for our visas and who we were, but we replied not to have any. Saif wanted to help us to get in, so he called the son of the Prince who liked our music. Saif and him were friends. Following, the son of the Prince came in person and said “These are my guests, give them visas”. This way, we entered the country and made a contract with the television. We went to the shops to buy instruments and from there straight to the TV. After getting paid by TV we went back to the shops to also pay the instruments. That was our first time in Kuwait. But we went once more. The second time we also had a contract with the Marriot Hotel; to us it looked like a ship. This time we had a visa and stayed for a long time. We had an organ player from Jordan and a guitar player from France.

That KTV performance is actually online and you can check it out below:

So this is where things get even cooler. I get all excited about this and start taking photos of the record album and posting them on my Instagram account. A couple of hours later I get a message from a follower saying:

This is so weird. Saif is a colleague of mine and seeing this and reading it, it just seems like it’s another dimension. We knew that he was a part of some band, we just didn’t know to what extent. Where can I get this record/Cd?

Saif was still in Kuwait?? I quickly shared the message with Jonathan who suggested we invite him to dinner. So I had Saif’s colleague talk to Saif and see if he would be interested to meet. I ended up getting his contact information and Jonathan set up the dinner for us.


Me with Saif

A few days later we got to meet Saif and he was just full of interesting stories. Saif was never meant to come to Kuwait, when he turned 18 he decided to leave Sudan and head to Germany. So he headed to Lebanon first so that he could take the train to Germany. Once he got to Lebanon he met a girl and so decided to stay there for a month, he needed the money anyway and he figured he could earn money performing music while there. He then left Lebanon and headed to Syria and from there he got convinced to head to Kuwait and try and earn money there.

Once in Kuwait he met up with an old friend of his called Adam who used to play football for Qadsia club. Adam hooked Saif up with a job as an English teacher for air traffic controllers and as a side gig, he would perform music on Kuwait TV talk show. One day one of the guys at KTV comes up to him and asks him if he could put a band together because he wanted to record a performance for the station. Saif tells him he could and called up his friends in Sudan whom he used to perform with called The Scorpions. That’s basically how the whole story with that KTV broadcast came to be.


The Scorpions & Saif Abu Bakr Performing at KTV

But that’s not the end of it. Saif used to perform for a Kuwaiti event organizer back then called Hussein Abul. Hussein was the guy who brought the likes of Boney M, Demis Roussos, James Brown and Santa Esmeralda to perform in Kuwait. When James Brown came to Kuwait, Hussein gave Saif the job of driving James Brown around since Saif spoke both English and Arabic. Since Saif spent a lot of time with James Brown, a friend of his told him to ask James Brown if he could perform the track Super Bad at his events. The first two nights James Brown performed he didn’t play Super Bad but it was a really popular song with the locals and so a lot of people were requesting it. So Saif explained that to James Brown who said he didn’t mind. During rehearsal that day, James Brown tells his band that he wanted to play Super Bad but, one of the two bassists in the band didn’t know how to play it. James Brown tried to help him out by humming the rhythm he wanted but the bassist couldn’t get it right. Out of frustration James Brown asked his band if anyone else knew how to play the bass on Super Bad, and Saif who was sitting there watching the whole thing said he knew how to play it. James Brown was like are you sure you know how to play it? Saif and his band used to perform covers all the time and he used to practically play Super Bad every night at hotels. So even though he was under pressure now to perform in front of James Brown, he knew the song inside out. He ended up playing for James Brown who was so impressed that he asked Saif to perform the song with the band over the remaining events in Kuwait.

One interesting fact I found out, Hussein had also supposedly signed a contract with Michael Jackson to come to Kuwait. But before Michael Jackson’s event, he had scheduled the popular band Osibisa to come to Kuwait as well. But Islamists caused an uproar over one of Osibisa’s tracks because it contained an Islamic verse or something like that, and Hussein was banned from organizing events ever again. Hussein supposedly ended up leaving to Brazil where he now lives permanently.


Saif with Pele in Kuwait

Anyway, Saif eventually ended up leaving Kuwait to study but then came back once he was done. He’s been in Kuwait ever since and currently still teaches English at a local aviation school but still performs in Sudan every now and then with his old band. He lost most of his old photos during the 1990 Iraq invasion but I shared two remaining ones in this post, the Pele photo above and the band performing at KTV above that. Jonathan the Australian Ambassador is also gonna try and bring the band together again to perform in Kuwait and once that happens I’ll let you guys know.

For now if you’re interested in buying a copy of the album “Jazz, Jazz, Jazz” it’s available for purchase in different formats on bandcamp.

Update: Jazz, Jazz, Jazz is also available on Spotify. Farrah Galbi Aljadeed is my favorite track followed closely by Forssa Saeeda.

23 10, 2018

Watch Fajer Eat

2018-10-23T13:29:16+03:00Oct 23, 2018|32 Comments

Not sure if you know this or not, but like watching people play video games is a huge thing, watching people eat is also a pretty huge, at least in Asia. The actual term for it is mukbang which is a combination of the Korean words for eating and broadcasting.

The first time I came across a video of someone eating was back in 2012 when I posted about Emmy who was sent a box filled with sweets and snacks from Kuwait to try. Nowadays though the videos I tend to watch don’t have any talking, they’re usually just of someone sitting in front of their phones and broadcasting themselves eating something. The only sound you’ll hear come from any crunching or slurping that’s taking place. An example is the video above which has 24 million views and is just of a guy eating some crispy fried chicken.

I’ve always found this fascinating so when a friend of mine called Fajer started doing something similar here in Kuwait I got super excited. I’ve known Fajer for years, she’s always been a big foodie and I always love going out to eat with her. Recently she started gaining popularity with her food eating videos. At first, she started posting them on her personal instagram account, but then she got invited by the popular local food account @q8food to do live broadcasts of herself eating there. That’s when she really started blowing up and now even has her own account @fajereats.

I honestly think its a brilliant idea and I’m not only saying that because she’s a friend. With every girl in Kuwait left and right trying to be a fashionista, I love how Fajer is having fun by just being herself in front of the camera, stuffing down a 5 patty burger because she feels like it.

So if you’re into mukbang or curious to check it out, she does a live broadcast a few times a week on @q8food and you can also check out some videos on her own account @fajereats.

27 06, 2018

Sunshine School 1980-84

2018-06-27T17:45:54+03:00Jun 27, 2018|11 Comments

Back in the 80s the British School of Kuwait used to be called Sunshine School. It started off as a nursery before eventually turning into a middle school. My class I believe was the second class to graduate from the school (Junior 4), but it was also the last class since the 1990 invasion happened and the school ended up closing down. Once the war was over it reopened again as BSK.

This past weekend while in Lebanon I found a bunch of photos, two of which I’m sharing here. The first one on top I believe was taken at Sunshine School when it was still a nursery, based on my age in that picture I’d say around 1980-1981.

The photo above was taken at their second campus. In total, Sunshine School had three campuses, the third one is still around but I think the first two were demolished ages ago.

If you’re in any of the photos by some weird chance let me know. I have another photo I scanned this weekend in which I found three current friends of mine in not knowing they were in my class back then.

Here are the photos above in full res [Picture 1] [Picture 2]

3 10, 2017

Chef Khaled Al Baker

2017-10-03T10:56:59+03:00Oct 3, 2017|7 Comments

Khaled Al Baker, or KB for short is the brand manager and head chef at Meem Cafe. He’s also a good friend of mine and I’ve been wanting to post about him and his transformation of Meem Cafe since I’ve been watching it happen from the very beginning. Just over a year ago, Khaled moved back to Kuwait after studying culinary arts at the Johnson & Wales University in Miami. He started looking for work and decided he wanted to join MMC Catering who had a bunch of popular restaurants including LeNotre, Meem Cafe, Over Jar and Three & Barista. When he applied, one of the tasks they gave him was to pass by Meem Cafe, try their food out and let them know what he thought of it. So he invited me along with a bunch of our other foodie friends (including Hind from PantryBee) and we passed by Meem Cafe and tried out as much food as we could. My overall impression wasn’t that positive with items on the menu that didn’t make sense to be there, and what was there wasn’t that great either. But Khaled was busy taking down notes, he saw a lot of potential and so he went back to MMC with his feedback and they hired him, giving him the task to revamp and upgrade the Meem Cafe menu.

Khaled wasn’t always a chef. He originally studied accounting and finance at the University of Central Florida and then worked 6 years as an accountant in the oil and gas industry. Things started to change right after his cousin opened up the upscale butcher shop Prime Cuts. They started grilling non-stop 5-6 times a week and Khaled would have his home cook put together the sides while he did all the grilling. But his cook kept making the same sides all the time which eventually got boring, so Khaled decided he’d also do the sides himself. He started reading up a lot and experimenting and the more and more he cooked the more and more he was loving it. So he started taking cooking lessons whenever he found any and he cooked for his friends whenever he could before he eventually decided to go back to university to study culinary arts.

Over the past year Khaled has been super busy reorganizing and reinventing the Meem Cafe menu. Because I keep popping over to Meem Cafe to see him whenever I can, the whole thing to me has felt like I’ve been watching a food reality show where the chef goes into a restaurant and just overhauls the menu. The first thing Khaled did was remove all the items that didn’t fit in with the theme of Middle Eastern comfort food. After refocusing the menu under the main theme, he started experimenting with modernizing Arabic classics while also fusing others with different cuisines. He loves cooking and he’s been generally just having fun trying to come up with new dishes like zaatar fries, Lebanese nachos, burrata mana’eesh and braised short ribs hummus. The end result is a lot of good food with a lot of unique flavors. Even his chef coat is infused with Arabic by being designed like a dishdasha while incorporating the shemagh pattern.

While sitting with Khaled and interviewing him for this post I realized where all this passion with Arabic food was stemming from. He thinks that as Arabs we’re losing the food marketing war with items like hummus and pita being considered Israeli and not Arab, while Greek yogurt becoming trendy but not labneh. He thinks that if we don’t start modernizing and refining Arabic cuisine, we’re going to eventually lose it all. I never thought about it in that way but now that I do I’ve started appreciating what his doing a lot more.

If you haven’t been to Meem Cafe for awhile now then I’d recommend you pass by and try it out again. They’ve got four locations, one at the Jaber Al-Ahmad Cultural Center, another in Hamra Tower, another in 360 Mall and the last one in The View in Salmiya. You can also follow Khaled on his instagram account @chefkb

20 09, 2017

Cars & Coffee with the US Ambassador

2017-09-20T13:19:59+03:00Sep 20, 2017|36 Comments

A few weeks ago I got contacted by the US Embassy telling me that US ambassador Lawrence Silverman wanted to meet up for coffee. Originally they wanted to know if he could come by my office, but I thought that might be a bit weird since I currently work in a government office and it would be kinda awkward if the US ambassador came to our offices with his entourage just to meet with me. So I asked them if we could meet somewhere else and they were like sure, where?. Now in my head I was thinking, can the US ambassador actually have coffee anywhere? I didn’t know if there were any rules or security protocols that prevented him from doing so, but I wanted to meet somewhere casual, so I figured I’d ask anyway. So I proposed Arabica at Arraya and they agreed. First thing I then did was get in touch with Arabica and see if I could book a table. I didn’t want to get there with the ambassador and then not have anywhere to sit so Arabica ended up hooking us up.

I actually just got back from having coffee there with the ambassador since our meeting was this morning. His arrival was pretty dramatic as expected, first I got a message from the Cultural Attache saying “We’re approaching” and then I saw all the flashing lights of his convoy pull up a few moments later. He then walked over to Arabica with his security detail who ended up hanging out around the area until we were done with our meeting. It was my first time meeting with ambassador Silverman. I had met the previous ambassador when we flew together to the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier, but ambassador Silverman has only been in Kuwait for a year and so we hadn’t had the chance to meet yet.

The meeting turned out to be pretty enjoyable surprisingly, I was worried we wouldn’t have anything to talk about and end up with awkward moments, but there wasn’t a dull moment throughout the hour we were together. We kinda clicked from the start since we were talking about Oman and I mentioned how me and some friends of mine were planning to send our sport cars there for a road trip, and he mentioned that Audi recently launched their RS3 in Oman. I was like wtf? (in my head) How did he know that? Me and my friends were actually watching an RS3 review video that was shot in Oman when we decided on this trip. Turns out the ambassador had watched the same video and himself is a car guy so the conversation pretty much flowed after that with us talking about cars mostly.

Close to the end of the meeting we brought up the idea of him possibly guest posting on this blog, similar to how the previous British ambassador had his “Mondays with Matthew” posts. He was interested so expect those posts to come soon. I have to say, its occasions like this that make me enjoy what I do so much. It’s unreal.

25 04, 2017

The Kuwaiti Violin Maker

2017-04-25T11:31:50+03:00Apr 25, 2017|1 Comment

A few years ago I posted about a Kuwaiti violin maker and since its a slow news week, I decided to repost that article. You can check the original post [Here] but I’ve also copy pasted it below. It’s a very interesting story if you haven’t read it before:

Article originally posted on July 24th, 2013

Last night I passed by and met Haitham Al-Ghareeb, a local violin maker. We met at his small cozy workshop in Rawda located right outside his home. When you walk into his dimly lit workshop you’ll see a small diwaniya on the left with around a dozen violins hanging on the wall, while on the right hand side is his workstation where he crafts all his violins. He filled a kettle with water and put it on a small electric stove next to him and we started talking.

Back in 2000, Haitham was a oud player but was interested in getting into violins. He started looking for a good violin to buy in Kuwait but he couldn’t find any. Most of the violins available in the market back then were of poor quality from low end brands. That’s why Haitham decided to make his own violin using documents and instructions he found online.

Haitham hadn’t crafted any musical instruments before, he had dabbled with some minor oud repair but nothing major. This got me even more curious, how can a 25 year old with no previous woodworking skills be able to craft such a delicate instrument as a violin? Well the answer I believe might be in his genes. Haitham’s father, grand father and great grand father were all dhow builders. Woodworking had existed in his family for generations and it was just natural for him to be good at it.

Haitham’s first violin wasn’t flawless, it had mistakes and was made using locally sourced wood but yet the sound it produced to his ears was beautiful. This encouraged him to build a second better violin with imported tonewood (wood cut specifically for musical instruments). He started frequenting forums and participating in online communities where other violin craftsmen from around the world would share their tips and techniques. His violins kept improving with every build and soon he had his own tips and tricks to share with the community. He loved crafting violins so much that he quickly forgot about wanting to play them. He became obsessed in building and perfecting his own creations.

When Haitham first started making violins he was spending 4 hours a day working on them and each violin would take around 2 months to complete. Nowadays he’s too busy with work and family so it takes him around 9 months to complete a single violin. But he’s fine with that. He never started making violins with the intention to turning it into a profitable business. Even his prices have remained the same over the years even though his violins kept getting better and demand for them kept increasing. He just loves making violins and isn’t interested in expanding. It’s a hobby he’s just really good at. He also does a lot of repair work on violins which to many musicians is a lifesaver. Musicians bond with their instruments and having a local violin maker means that a damaged violin no longer needs to be discarded but instead can be repaired. Only two of the violins hanging on the wall were his, the rest were either in for repair or were being sold by other musicians.

Once we were done with the interview, Haitham served us some tea. Throughout the whole interview which lasted around 40 minutes I had watched him make us the tea using two kettles, a can filled with what I assume is tea leaves and a box filled with I don’t know what. He then skillfully poured the tea from the large kettle into three glasses that were sitting amongst a dozen on the table in front of us. The tea was delicious and to me summarized the kind of person that Haitham is, a perfectionist.

If you’d like to contact Haitham for any reason you can do so by emailing him on hghareeb.koc@gmail.com

23 01, 2017

Unique Hype Lifestyle Boutique

2017-01-23T12:07:53+03:00Jan 23, 2017|24 Comments

Unique Hype is a lifestyle instagram account that sells and trades in deadstock sneakers and streetwear. The account belongs to Mohsen, a Kuwaiti student currently residing in LA who wants to remain anonymous which is why I’m only sharing his first name. I found out about him around a year ago when he first started, back then he had less than 2,000 followers and today its over 20,000. Mohsen is a sneakerhead who is in the business of deadstock sneakers and streetwear, which basically means sold out items that you can no longer find in retail (like Yeezys). I personally source my own sneakers but sometimes I get stuck and thats when I contact Mohsen who usually can source them for me, like I’m currently looking for size US11 SoleBox UltraBOOST and he’s trying to find me a pair.

I asked Mohsen how he started and turns out it was out of necessity. Growing up he was always into sneakers and when he moved to the States to study, he started lining up outside shops whenever there were any big releases. But with big releases and limited quantity, once its your turn and they don’t have your size, you end up picking up any size available. And thats what Mohsen ended up doing, he’d line up for hours and then end up with a pair that weren’t his size, so he set up @uniquehypekw to start selling those pairs. Overtime the more he lined up the more connections he made and the more he bought, sold or traded. He started meeting people in line, like other resellers or kids who just stood in line to make a quick $30 or $40 selling the pairs. So Mohsen started making deals with these kids, instead of standing in line himself, he’d get in touch with these kids, offer to give them their cut if they’d buy the sneakers for him. He also started dealing with the other resellers and every now and then one would call him up whenever they needed to unload on a large batch of items. So one guy would call him up and be like hey, I’ve got 10 pairs of Yeezy 350’s if you want them, and Mohsen would have to agree to buy all 10 at an agreed price. The more he did it, the more popular he became as a seller and the more connections he made.

I personally find all this really fascinating obviously since I’m into sneakers but Mohsen has also saved me a lot of headache. Friends and strangers contact me all the time asking me how they could get a pair Yeezys and instead of me trying to find a pair for them or show them how to go about finding stuff, I just send them over to him. I’m actually waiting on my pair of OG NMD’s which he’ll be delivering to me later tonight. So if you’re ever looking to grab a pair of difficult to find sneakers or even sold out clothing like Supreme, Anti Social Social Club or whatever, try him out. He’s also willing to buy or trade with you in case you’ve got something he wants. [@uniquehypekw]