Beirut-born entrepreneur and musician Wassim Bou Malham has dedicated himself to expanding and supporting the modern zeitgeist of regional music through many sonic endeavours. With an impressive career over the past decades, Bou Malham has established himself as a formidable figure within the music industry in Europe and the region. In Lebanon, Wassim Bou Malham co-founded Factory People, a dynamic company that supports and promotes artists by providing them with a platform, creative studios, and hosting events and clubs, among other ventures. Between Lebanon and Germany, Bou Malham’s journey with the synth-rock band, Who Killed Bruce Lee, brought them notable success.

However, a lingering feeling persisted—something wasn’t quite aligned. Bou Malham experienced a transformative shift, yearning to delve into his identity as an Arab musician and create music that reinterprets the musical Arabic traditions. Bou Malham immersed himself in a four-year exploration of his Arabic sound, culminating in his latest project, Gharam Electric. Bou Malham’s vision is clear: reinterpret the traditional sounds of instruments like the Oud, and forge a new direction within the ever-evolving Arabic music landscape with an experimental edge.

KHAMSA chats with Bou Malham about growing up in Beirut, the regional music scene, the future of Arabic music, and his latest project Gharam Electric.

١. You’ve always been around music, whether your personal projects or working on Factory People. What gravitates you to work within the business infrastructure of music?

There are two reasons why I work within the industry while expressing myself as a musician. The first reason is that I need to be in a creative job. I graduated with an economics BA and joined creative agencies for 10 to 11 years. I always need to be within a creative industry because I have to express myself beyond the basic functional business sense. While working in multinationals, I had a band called Who Killed Bruce Lee. We were together for around 11 years, did two albums, got signed to Sony globally, and toured worldwide for around three years while living in Berlin.

Music was a very serious matter for me, and I was always trying to break through with music. But at the same time, I had a super steady job for ten years. I was juggling both for a very long time, and then it became clear that I needed to combine both in a smart way because living two parallel lives wasn’t sustainable. That’s when I met my two partners, Jade and Tala, and we decided to start doing parties together. The parties developed into our first club, called the Grand Factory, then developed into the second club, called Reunion, then came Soul Kitchen and then those developed into a festival in Beirut and the company grew exponentially. We opened last summer in El Sahel, Egypt. This year, I’m opening Soul Kitchen and Reunion in Dubai. I found that with my two partners, I’m able to focus on making the business happen at all levels and maintain the creative integrity of the Arab music industry by bringing in artists from all over the world into the Arab world and curating events for local and regional DJs, bands, and musicians.


٢. I like what you said about your concerts, where it’s not just about regional talent but about bringing talent from abroad and putting them all together. In the Middle East, and as Arabs, it’s important to claim a sense of identity beyond the Western lens. But at the same time, we shouldn’t isolate ourselves from the world but rather celebrate each other with other people and celebrate others with us.

So the second reason why I function in this industry is that, as an Arab artist, it was so difficult for me to find platforms where I could play, distribute my own music, and get a visa to play shows outside of Lebanon…it was as if the world was conspiring against me. It was frustrating, given how often I had to think outside the box to exist as an artist. Today, I do everything in my power to push or celebrate all the young artists in our region looking for a platform, advice, or any move that cements what they’re trying to do as artists. Because we have this big platform today, Factory People, which has been a real institution for the past 11 years in Lebanon, we have our own agency, designers, and content department, so we help a lot.

If you type Late Knights on YouTube, you’ll stumble upon our platform, where we document the musical feats within our region or any artist that passes our region – local, regional, or international. You’ll find many concerts for people such as Kamaal Williams, who is pushing the boundaries of Neo Jazz and Neo Soul in the UK and Europe. You’ll find Yasmine Hamdan, The Synaptik, or any regional artist pushing the boundaries. So we put them all on one platform, shoot their concerts at a high production level, and shoot interviews for them. When we do that and put them on the same platform as international artists, they get a lot of media spillover through a lot of the fans of these international artists. Yes, we manage clubs and do parties, but at the heart of it, we build communities.

٣. Many people also forget that when you start as an artist, you need time to create your own art. Not all artists can spend time on promotional/social media work, so I find Late Knights a very helpful platform.

We do have a lot of content on Instagram, but it is primarily a YouTube channel where you can watch a full concert and see the artists interact with their audience. It’s everything I wish existed within the music industry when I was younger. We also use our clubs as concert platforms; we use our network to connect people together and book tours for people in the Middle East because, at some point, that was unheard of – touring someone within Dubai, Egypt, Lebanon…etc.


٤. I also think it’s interesting to look at how you guys support independent artists that function across genres. If you look into the dominant music industry in the Middle East, the big industry players were Rotana Music and similar companies. Not saying that they’re bad, but they had a specific genre and style they adhered to.

With companies like Rotana, it’s predominantly commercial and mainstream music. They would never pick up anything non-commercial or mainstream because they were financially focused. And it makes sense when you’re coming out of the war as a region or, specifically, as Lebanon, your focus is how can I recuperate and make money. So what was selling was the mainstream, four-minute pop music format. And that’s why it was what it was. But you must take care of alternative music because that’s the future. Anything that’s alternative today will be mainstream in 10 years. It was not taken care of at all and was always in the corner of the “underground.”

So now, I think the role that we play as Factory People, and me personally as Wassim with my music, may open these doors for the future. Because what’s alternative today addresses the subculture of what exists within our countries.


٥. I agree; I don’t think Rotana existed to isolate other artists. If a country has been politically damaged, most people will look at ways to survive because they don’t have the luxury to do otherwise financially. That’s why building an arts infrastructure in the Middle East takes much longer than in the West. So finding a balance where you can exercise your creativity and find ways to support yourself is crucial.

A lot of the concerts or events that support local artists aren’t lucrative in that sense. The same goes for Late Knights; it doesn’t bring in a financial return for us as a company. But on the other end, we also do commercial events – specifically techno events since it’s now the commercial sound. Personally, I’m not passionate about it, but we do it because it keeps the company going. It makes it sustainable for the company to do what it’s doing and fully support regional artists on a high level of artistry. That’s how we balance both worlds, which makes it easy for us to stay invested.

٦. Given your experience, I’d love your perspective on studio accessibility for upcoming artists.

When it comes to Lebanon, there was one studio where almost all of us recorded – specifically talking about alternative scenes. It all depends if the people managing the studios are super passionate about what they do because they will often have to work with bands or work on projects without any financial return. Many young alternative bands or artists don’t have the financial means to come in and pay for full studio hours, engineers, and all of that. So I think where the future lies is home studios. For example my project, Gharam Electric, we set up a studio at home and recorded it ourselves. We didn’t have to go into a professional studio because the digital programs we’re all working on, like Ableton or FL Studio, are so advanced that you have your own studio on your laptop. All you need to do is have a few microphones.

Obviously, there are levels and recording in a pro studio would get you better quality, but the quality you get today from building your own home studio is also superior. It’s different than playing instruments, writing the music, and then going to a studio and having an engineer take care of everything else. As an artist, you will have to dig through the technology and learn about it. But then there’s so much power in your hands if you do.


٧. For sure. Tell me more about your project Gharam Electric.

Around five years ago, I was in the band I told you about, and it was an English-singing Rock band. And as I was doing that, I was always running from what made me an Arab because I come from a middle-class family that struggled to make ends meet. We lived in local areas. We didn’t live in Beirut and experience these amazing French schools or whatever. So I was always trying to escape that and go towards something that looked more like my generation. There wasn’t anything young happening in the city I was living in. But at the same time, on TV, you had MTV Music, MTV cribs, Nirvana, Unplugged, and all of those things that resonated with me as a 15-16-year-old. I want to do something like that. So that’s why musically, I gravitated towards Western music a lot because it spoke to my generation’s language.

But five years ago, when I was touring, I felt that there’s a lot of power in immersing yourself in your culture and understanding where you stand.. How can you add to it? How can you reinterpret it? How can you use your global influences locally? Because as Arabs, we speak at least two or three languages. We know a lot about Western culture, whether European or American. So we’re kind of a melting pot of a lot of things.

I always dreamed of writing music I wanted to listen to when I was younger. So I wrote Gharam Electric’s music while thinking, what would I love listening to in my car? What would I love listening to if I went to a club? What would I’d love to sing along to? What am I missing as a listener and not as a musician? I picked up the Oud again, and I started playing the Oud for the last four or five years to learn the Maqam and the different Arabic scales. I went back to writing in Arabic a lot. It was an exercise because I also needed to discover my voice in the dialect I’m using…how to sing Arabic without sounding folkloric. I was trying to see if there is a fresh way of interpreting our language within that singing process.

٨. I believe we, myself included, suffer from a Foreigners Complex, where we think the West is always better. But we also have great things to nurture, improve, and reinterpret. Similarly to what you said about the Oud – classical instruments like the violin have sonically infiltrated metal music. It took people to say I may not like classical music, but I’m willing to learn this instrument and interpret it according to my own taste.

It’s so true because you need people passionate about that to produce this type of progress. Progress doesn’t wake up one morning and just presents itself. Someone like Zeid Hamden in our region did that for many artists because he pushed the boundaries when it came to alternative Arabic music, especially with his project with Yasmine Hamdan, Soap Kills. You can’t uncreate what he did anymore. It has been put forward how he was using the guitar, how he was using his voice, and how they were expressing themselves within the Arabic culture in a very interesting manner. I’m sure that influenced so many young kids because music has to progress as everything else progresses.

The sad truth is that all industries were progressing except the culture and arts industry in the Middle East and North Africa because everyone was focused almost all the time on economics and politics. But the progress within the art world that has been happening in the past five or six years is happening at a very high level, led by countries like Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon, and in some sense, Syria. Many amazing artists such as Bu Kulthum, Maryam Saleh, Marwan Pablo, Jadal, and so many others are all paving the way for what we’ll sound like in the future.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Rand Al-Hadethi is an art, culture, and fashion writer who approaches all her creative endeavours with a penchant for storytelling. She explores the intersection of fashion, culture, and society and sheds light on talent and cultural movements across the Middle East and the world. Rand also publishes a bi-monthly themed substack newsletter called WebWeaver™. To reach Rand, email her at rand@khamsa5.com or follow her on social media @rundoozz.
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