Every time I make my usual weekend hop from the Arab world to my hometown of Beirut, I like to check out new stuff, as opposed to going to my once-regular spots. Living and working in between Erbil and Dubai, I feel lucky being only a few hours away from where I was born and raised, so I catch a flight home whenever I can.
There’s something about Lebanon, this place that claims its own lifestyle, originality, and creativity. Perhaps that’s because of its interesting location, hugged by southern Europe, the Mediterranean, North Africa, and the Arab world. This has also been of significant impact on its culture for generations, from food to fashion, to arts and music.
What I witnessed this weekend was something I have been dreaming of for more than a decade. I was always into unusual, ear-tickling hybrid genres of music, as opposed to most people around me, which were mostly into pop and hip-hop music that I also love. But it was just not enough for my hungry ears that always wanted that extra edge to feed my harmonic urges. That’s why I always went for progressive metal, jazz fusion, psychedelic trance, you name it! I loved everything that was out of the ordinary, be it acoustic/organic or electronically recorded and produced.
I found out that there was an interesting event going on in the town of Hammana, some 45 minutes from Beirut, which also happens to be only 15 minutes from our summer house in Jiwar Al Hawz, in the Baabda governorate of Lebanon. So, I hopped in my car and drove there. As I was getting closer to the destination which was in the Meydan (Centre) of the town, I progressively felt more and more energy coming from that place, lights were getting stronger and more people appeared. I parked my car and started walking towards the main stage of the event, and to my utmost surprise, the first thing I heard was that juicy textured sound of a synthesizer, wobbling its way into the ears of the hundreds of people there! I believe the age range based on what I saw what some 5 to 75 years old, it’s crazy! Everybody was there listening to this interesting music.
It was open for everyone for free! I luckily found a seat close to the stage and rushed to it. As I sat on my “VIP seat”, I started examining the premises: The stage, sound, and light were all set up so professionally, thanks to the people from Hammana Artist House, Mejwiz, and Beirut Jam Sessions.
The first duo that was performing was “Rust”, stylized as "رست" in Arabic. It was an extremely stylish young lady named Petra Hawi that was singing traditional oriental tunes and gliding graciously between those exotic Arabic maqams (Scales) harmonizing with her band mate Hany Manja leading the workstation and juggling his drum machines and synthesizers. It was a beautiful combination of classical oriental musical phrases and heavily electronic modern sounds. Not only me, but everyone was sitting there, mesmerized by how much effort and experience these guys put in to create this exceptional craft.
As the technicians were switching the stage configuration before the second act, I took a walk around the venue and stumbled upon so many friends that I’ve known for years in the music industry, including Michele Paulikevitch whom I’ve known for some 12-plus years since the early days of Fete de la Musique when we used to perform in downtown Beirut. Michele was also part of the organizing committee of this one-of-many event. I was so happy to learn that this was a regular thing being done all over the country! I was also delighted to see all those faces I know, coming from all corners of the country to this village in the mountains and sharing the beauty of music.
Next up was the duo of Etyen and Salwa Jaradat, who also did an extremely interesting performance mixing old (maybe forgotten) Arabic words and melodies with Techno-like instrumentation. However, this act was more down-tempo, more minimal, more tribal, and Bedouin. It was extremely satisfying to witness their gig, they even used odd time signatures (which is when the music does not follow the “normal” 4-beat musical rhythm.) I was also surprised to learn from my friend Alex Chahine from the band Gizzmo whom I also stumbled upon at the event, that the set being performed was only prepared a couple of days before the gig and was actually executed seamlessly! This really shows what refined level of musicians was on stage that night, I really felt proud of the fact that this music scene started slowly emerging from the underground to the main stage!
But the highlight of the night was this: I bounced to one of the nearby bars to grab a beer, and 5 minutes later, on my way back to the front of the stage, there were like 50 people raving!! This was truly the cherry on top of that night, not only were people sitting and listening, but they eventually joined the movement and started flowing with the live set. It was a 3-generation rave and I can’t describe how I felt. This was all with the help of all the ladies and gents who worked restlessly with a clear goal all those years, and finally took the scene by storm!
This is Lebanon, this is our music culture, always evolving and adapting, and continuously inspiring the world!