A new annual music festival crept onto Lebanon’s cultural calendar last December. The Beirut and Beyond International Music Festival aims to showcase emerging artists deemed deserving of wider local and international exposure.
Founded by director Amani Semaan, artistic director Khaled Yassine and production manager Ziad Fayed, as reinforced by a team of volunteers, the festival combines public concerts with professional roundtables and workshops for musicians.
The programming focuses on the Middle East and North Africa, and 70 percent of the acts hail from this region. International performers must be having their Lebanon debut at the festival.
This year, BBIMF will run from Dec. 4 to 7 at venues across Beirut, with an additional concert in Tripoli on Dec. 9.
“Last year [the concerts were] only in Beirut,” Semaan explains. “This year, and the plan for [future] editions, is to expand ... We’re Beirut and Beyond, so we should at least start [expanding] in Lebanon.
“This year we had interest from the Safadi Foundation to support and collaborate with us to take one of the bands outside Beirut, and they chose Alif.
“We wanted to target another audience ... and we wanted to prove that Tripoli still has space for culture, for peace, for things to happen outside the security situation.”
The second edition of the festival features 12 live performances, a roundtable entitled “(Mis)representation of Middle Eastern and North African Music in the European Media” and a workshop for musicians focusing on copyright, licensing and publishing, led by Danish legal adviser Morten Madsen.
BBIMF organizers have invited 15 industry professionals to attend, including festival directors, label representatives and agents. Last year’s event saw an Egyptian label sign one artist, Semaan says. Two others were invited to perform in France.
The opening night, set to take place at Masra al-Madina Thursday, will feature a performance by Lebanese jazz and world music fusion trio REK, followed by a concert by Moroccan multi-instrumentalist Mehdi Nassouli.
Nassouli’s performance is one of the festival highlights, according to Semaan. “It’s his first time in Lebanon,” she says, “and he has been working on his project for a long time and he’s very serious about his music and the way he presents it. He has a very nice energy, so it’s going to be a very interesting act to see.”
Later that evening, Egypt’s Islam Chipsy will regale audiences with his upbeat, synth-driven electronica, a contemporary sound rooted in traditional shaabi folk tunes.
Friday’s program will begin with an appearance from Norwegian “future jazz” inventor Bugge Wesseltoft, whose eclectic sound references deep house, techno, and ambient and traditional jazz. He’ll be collaborating with Lebanese bass player Elie Afif.
Lebanese drum ’n’ bass trio DNB will close the evening with their unique sound, a blend of genres from jungle, to dub, hardcore and reggae.
The festival intends to provide support for artists that is currently lacking. “We felt that there was some kind of a gap,” Semaan explains, “a need for a platform for musicians – especially independent musicians – in the Arab world, where they can play their music, meet professionals, take part in activities like workshops and roundtables that can help them improve their music or their career ...
“In Lebanon we don’t have an infrastructure for culture, especially for music. Ministries and public institutions do not really exist to help [independent] musicians.”
Saturday’s opening show by Italian improv musician Daniele Camarda is set to take place at Mansion in Zouqaq al-Blat. The festival will then shift locations to STATION in Jisr al-Wati, where the eight-member Algerian fusion band Democrataz will perform. Due to release their debut album this month, the group blends reggae, African gnawa beats, jazz and dub with a contemporary electro sound.
Following their set, South African-Dutch duo Skip&Die will present their “psychedelic, tropical club pop,” which blends musical influences from a range of cultures and vocals in languages as diverse as Xhosa, Zulu and Portuguese.
Sunday’s final shows will take place at Concrete 1994, in Sil al-Fil. Hailing from Germany, Switzerland and Sweden, the three members of Gesing Rohrer Meyer will launch the evening with their laid-back rhythms and experimental soundscapes, a blend of improvised and composed material. -
The five-member Alif ensemble, semi-regulars on Beirut’s music scene, will regale audiences with their electro-acoustic sound. Syria’s Hello Psychaleppo will then bring things to close with his blend of tarab influences and contemporary electronica.
This year, tickets cost LL25,000 per day, allowing access to two or three concerts. The festival is partnered with the Oslo World Music Festival and receives financial support from them as well as the Norwegian Embassy and AFAC, the Arab Fund for Arts and Culture. Organizers are also running a crowdsourcing campaign on Zoomaal to make up the shortfall.
“It’s running until after the festival ends,” Semaan explains, “[so that] people who came to the concerts and loved what they saw ... can also support us. We’re taking the risk anyway ... Our strategy is in that three years we will be a free festival.”
Ultimately, Semaan hopes, BBIMF will prove fruitful not only for the musicians and their audiences, but for international perceptions of the region.
“The social and political and security situation in our region never gives priority to culture,” she says. “... I was in Seoul [South Korea] a few weeks ago and whenever I said that I live in Lebanon and I have a music festival here they were surprised.
“The media only shows the bad things that are happening in the region and whenever we expose internationally something cultural, not necessarily music, this can help the image of these countries.”
“Beirut and Beyond International Music Festival” runs from Dec. 4 to 7 in venues across Beirut and continues in Tripoli on Dec. 9. For more information, please visit www.beirutandbeyond.net.