Summer music festivals draw youth in Lebanon

August 13, 2017
Pop legend Sean Paul ope­ned the Byblos Festival on July 3 with a blend of high-energy dance music and R&B hits. (AFP)

Beirut - A craze of summer festi­vals is sweeping Leba­non. From Beirut to By­blos, Tyre, Beiteddine and Baalbek, diverse music events, dance performances and concerts kept the schedule of residents and visitors busy July through September.

In addition to the traditional international festivals featuring world-renowned artists, tens of smaller events were organised with the help of municipalities in towns and villages, on beaches and in mountain venues.

The highlight of this summer was UNITE with Tomorrowland, a premiere in Lebanon on July 29 on the beach of Blatt near Byblos. Lebanon was chosen as one of among eight countries to “unite” with the Tomorrowland concert in a live broadcast of festivities from Belgium, where the event is at­tended by hundreds of thousands of enthusiasts.

“Tomorrowland was a major cultural event that linked coun­tries from different parts of the world offering great animation for the youth,” said Louis Daher, a mu­nicipal council member of Blatt.

“Thousands of young people packed the place, including Arab youth from Jordan and the Gulf countries. They were dancing all night. It’s a great image for the country, especially given how tre­mendous the platform of Tomor­rowland is. It’s a great opportunity for those who can’t travel to Bel­gium to enjoy the festival itself,” Daher said.

The event in Lebanon took place on a 600-metre-long beach set up with a large stage and a gi­ant screen for the synchronised transmission in various locations — including Dubai, Spain, Malta, Germany, South Korea, Israel and Taiwan — united with Tomorrow­land.

Thousands of fans packed into the big festivals’ venues, such as the Roman Temple of Bacchus in Baalbek near the Syrian border, undeterred by security operations to dislodge Syrian militants from Arsal further to the north.

The oldest music festival in the region, which this year celebrated the 60th anniversary of its “Leba­nese Nights” concert, featured a wide array of Lebanese and global artists for six nights at its historic venue among Roman ruins in the Bekaa Valley.

“The ambiance and the attend­ance have been generally good, even with the trouble in Arsal,” ob­served festival committee member Elga Trad. “Many Lebanese expats planned their vacation in Leba­non to coincide with the festival’s schedule.”

The festival, which has previ­ously hosted music icons such as American jazz vocalist Ella Fitzgerald and British singer Sting, still attracts big names, including three-time Grammy award winner Angélique Kidjo, world-renowned trumpeter and composer Ibrahim Maalouf and French pianist group Trio Wanderer.

“They responded directly to our request,” Trad said. “The good reputation of the festival makes it easier to contract international art­ists because they know what to ex­pect when they come to Baalbek.

“We had a wide choice this year, which suited the taste of the young and older generations. However, we did not always have a full house because there are many festivals going on at the same time and the people cannot be every­where, they had to choose. None­theless, it was good.”

The Byblos International Festi­val, which has taken place in the ancient Phoenician city of Byblos since 1998, is gaining as much pop­ularity as more established festi­vals in Baalbek and Beiteddine.

After a full-house opening by pop singer Sean Paul, the festival featured German alternative rock darlings Milky Chance, Lebanese-born Spanish violin virtuoso Ara Malikian and French singer M. Pokora as part of his “My Way Tour” in tribute to the late French legend Claude François.

A special night was dedicated to celebrating the life and mas­terpieces of performer Nasri Shamseddine and composer Phile­mon Wehbe, two champions of the Lebanese folklore golden age.

“The festival is becoming very popular among all age groups and both francophone and anglophone audiences,” said Latifa Lakkis, head of the Byblos festival com­mittee. “Each event has a special audience because every artist has his own identity and own public.”

Besides its famous festivals, Lebanon has an array of lesser known, small events in villages or on beaches or mountain camps that cater to different tastes.

Wickerpark Music Festival in the coastal town of Batroun in north­ern Lebanon combines promising Lebanese talents with more estab­lished and experienced bands and often features both local artists and foreign guests.

Lebanon started tuning to the beat on June 21 with Fête de la Musique, which, for 17 years, has kick-started Lebanon’s summer music festival schedule.

Beirut was the first foreign city to adopt the event, which was launched in France on June 21, 1982. Organised and coordinated by the French Embassy’s Cultural Institute, Fête de la Musique sets up stages and concerts in parks and squares of the capital city. Fifteen other cities across the coun­try joined in this year.

“The youth consider the fes­tivals as a cultural heritage that is transmitted through generations and that they should continue. For them, Baalbek Festival should always exist because Baalbek is after all an emblem of Lebanon,” Trad said.