CHANG­ING THEIR TUNES: MEET THE MU­SI­CIANS WITH ODD HOB­BIES AND HIDDEN TAL­ENTS

▶ Si Hawkins dis­cov­ers that stars such as Rod Ste­wart and Unge Beirut can turn their tal­ents to more than al­bums and con­certs

The National - News - - ARTS & LIFESTYLE -

The scene: a large con­cert venue in south­ern Nor­way, where a tightly packed front row of young fans ea­gerly awaits one of the na­tion’s hottest new rap­pers, Unge Beirut. Such an at­mos­phere could be in­tim­i­dat­ing, but Beirut – whose real name is Elias Tch­aba – had some ex­pe­ri­ence of ex­pec­tant crowds be­fore rap kicked in. For years, he looked likely to pur­sue a ca­reer in foot­ball.

“If some­one asked me, ‘what is your big­gest re­gret?’, it would prob­a­bly be that I let mu­sic get the bet­ter of me,” says Tch­aba, af­ter per­form­ing at the Sorveiv Fes­ti­val. “I love mu­sic, a lot. But I would choose foot­ball any day.”

Such is the price that can be paid when de­cid­ing be­tween cre­ative vo­ca­tions. Tch­aba was born in the Le­banese cap­i­tal – his stage name means “Young Beirut” – then raised in Kris­tiansand, a city in south­ern Nor­way. Foot­ball helped him to fit in and he earned a US soc­cer schol­ar­ship. But cir­cum­stances changed, he re­turned home and rap took over.

It went well. Last year his de­but al­bum, Hev­nen er sot, men jeg tilgir deg, was nom­i­nated for the Spelle­mann Award for Ur­ban Mu­sic at Nor­way’s ver­sion of the Gram­mys.

That riotous show he per­formed at the Sorveiv Fes­ti­val in Kris­tiansand sug­gests Tch­aba made the right de­ci­sion. “Peo­ple keep telling me that,” he says, laugh­ing.

This may sound like an en­vi­able em­bar­rass­ment of riches, but for pop­u­lar mu­si­cians, bal­anc­ing two cre­ative pas­sions can be com­pli­cated. Some tal­ents com­ple­ment each other, while other vo­ca­tions clash.

Vis­ual arts tend to mix well with the mu­sic life­style. For big stars, en­vi­able op­por­tu­ni­ties can oc­cur. Take the Rolling Stones gui­tarist, and ac­com­plished artist, Ron­nie Wood, who last month part­nered with lux­ury watch brand Bre­mont to paint 47 watch faces. Each time­piece costs about the same as a new BMW.

For newer mu­si­cians, that flair for vi­su­als is use­ful for record cov­ers and other pro­mo­tional ven­tures. Last month, Cana­dian singer-song­writer Matthew Chaim staged a joint art ex­hi­bi­tion and launch party for his al­bum The Math­e­mat­ics of Na­ture. A track on the al­bum, Rea­son, is also ac­com­pa­nied by a jaunty an­i­mated video, us­ing Chaim’s dis­tinc­tive draw­ing style. Off­stage he chills out by us­ing chil­dren’s crayons.

“I was do­ing a tonne of song­writ­ing ses­sions in LA with pro­duc­ers I’d never worked with be­fore,” Chaim ex­plains. “Some­thing as light as draw­ing with crayons was a great way to re­lax into the ses­sion and al­low some­thing real and true to come out in what­ever mu­sic we’d cre­ate.”

Keep­ing the draw­ing and mu­sic sep­a­rate can also be pos­i­tive, though. He says there are pe­ri­ods “when I’m do­ing so many writ­ing ses­sions that it starts to feel like I’m writ­ing the same song ev­ery day. Or the busi­ness side takes a front seat and writ­ing songs doesn’t feel all that in­spired”.

“That’s when turn­ing to an­other medium can of­fer a fresh, ex­pan­sive perspectiv­e on things. Draw­ing has done that for me,” he says.

Un­likely cre­ative pur­suits can help to al­le­vi­ate the pres­sure of work­ing in the mu­sic busi­ness. Blues rock hero Jack White has de­vel­oped a side­line in ar­ti­san fur­ni­ture mak­ing, while Rod Ste­wart raised eye­brows by re­veal­ing his long-term hobby: a mas­sive model train set, based on 1940s Amer­ica. It’s dif­fi­cult to imag­ine the rocker tin­ker­ing with those tracks, but he also en­joyed a more en­er­getic pas­sion in his younger years, when he

Dan Robin­son

Left, singer Matthew Chaim is also an artist, while Rod Ste­wart, above, is a model train en­thu­si­ast

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