One of my pet peeves about Beirut for years was that it always seemed to lack some sort of ambient artistic activity. I mean the city wasn’t lacking in artists, by any means. Writers, musicians, filmmakers and so on have a compulsion to create during difficult times, to make sense of them, and we call agree we’ve had more than our fair share. But the city lacked a certain public art scene, pervasive and visible.
That has changed over the last couple of years. The city has seen a plethora of art galleries opening their doors, as well as non-profit entities like the Beirut Art Centre and the Beirut Exhibition Centre. Some galleries, like The Running Horse, are pushing the boundaries of what we normally see in Beirut. It’s fun and easy and intellectually stimulating at the same time.
I’m writing this whilst sitting at Bread Republic in Hamra, and there’s a wall in front of me literally plastered in posters for art exhibits, dance performances, concerts and so on. Not only are these posters informative, they’re part of a visual landscape. So even if you never end up going to whatever show it is, you’ve seen the poster. You’ve been affected by it. You’ve given the poster at least a second’s fleeting thought. And we shouldn’t underestimate how important that is.
When it comes to music, there’s no shortage of talent. There was a time in the 1990s when the only alternative to Wael Kfoury was Soap Kills. That’s far from the case today. Bands and solo acts are springing up faster than you can say “The Lead Singer is in it for the women”. Bands like Mashrou’ Leila, Scrambled Eggs, Lumi, Slutterhouse and many more, make textured, layered and appealing music. Music with subtext and context and, as the kids say, killer beats. They have lyrics that speak to a generation disillusioned by their surroundings. The most engaged and engaging are the hip-hop artists. Fareeq Al Atrash and Zeinedin deserve their place in the pantheon of masters of the Arabic language just as much as Said Akl.
This month sees a renewed flurry of cultural activity. First off, there is next week Reel Festivals (9-15 May), which I’ll be covering for hibr.me. The festival pulls off the petty unique feat of creating a cultural exchange between Scotland, Lebanon and Syria. Cue jokes about haggis and hummus. But a cursory look through the program reveals a hell of an interesting line-up covering poetry, music and film.
Then from May 18 to June 12, there’s the Beirut Music and Arts Festival. I’m happy to be involved with the organisers to help spread the word about this event. I’ll be going to some of the concerts and live tweeting photos to the BMAF blog, as well as covering stories in and around the performances. The almost month-long festival promises to bring international and local musicians and artists to the heart of downtown Beirut. And anyone who’s walked through downtown Beirut recently knows how much it needs an injection of sincerity and life. The ascepticized fakeness of Downtown, its forced prettiness will be infused with something real for once.
I’m particularly looking forward to seeing Sarajevo-born Goran Bregovic and Marcel Khalife live for the first time. I’m also very excited about the Band Village, which will feature 45 local bands. A lot of my friends are in local bands, and I’ve often been to lazy to make it to their gigs (my bad) and this means I get to see them on a stage worthy of their talent.
The festival will also include the Mayadeen art show, details of which will be made available soon.
As if those two events didn’t already guarantee that I was going to turn into a pompous know-it-all culture vulture this month, I’ll also be helping out with promoting the Lebanese Cinema industry through a 35mm de Beyrouth, a Tourism Office initiative, as the team head out to the Cannes Film Festival.
Oh, and I almost forgot to mention this next bit. I’m happy to announce that I’m signing a book deal with a regional publisher to bring this blog and some of my photography into physical form. To celebrate this happy event (yay) and since this month seems to be dominated by music, art, poetry, and film, I’m dubbing May “Culture Month” on Our Man in Beirut. I’ll try to keep it as interesting as possible for everyone!
The Beirut Music and Arts Festival runs from May 18th to June 12th
Find more info at the BMAF Facebook Page
Follow BMAF on Twitter
The Reel Festivals runs from May 9th to May 15th
Check out the Reel Festivals Facebook Page
Check out the a 35mm de Beyrouth Facebook page and help promote Lebanese Cinema at the Cannes Film Festival