Sunday, May 29, 2011

“Meen” start to Lebanon festivals

Meen in concert at Beirut Souks
Going to Beirut for just four days, as I did for work last Monday to Thursday (May23-26) is an exhausting, albeit enjoyable, experience. There is so much to do and partake in – except that work hinders most leisure activities!

The festival season in Lebanon has kicked off in earnest and I hope I will be able to attend some of the planned entertainment.

The fans at the Beirut Music and Art Festival
One event I couldn’t miss on May 24 (though it meant being on my feet for more than 10 hours that day) was attending a concert at Beirut Souks by my friends Meen the Band. The concert was part of the first edition of the Beirut Music and Art Festival (BMAF).

BMAF launches the spring and summer festival season from May 27 to June 12 with a combination of local musicians, international performers and all forms of art.

Organized by the Ministry of Tourism in cooperation with Solidere, the private company licensed to rebuild downtown Beirut after the civil war, BMAF aims to “put culture back on the daily agenda.”

The event planners are Beirut Jazz Festival co-organizer John Kassabian, Beirut Hamra Street Festival co-organizer Fadi Ghazzaoui and businessperson Imad Darwish Hussami. They join forces and bring years of marketing, PR and managerial experience to organize what they hope becomes an annual event.

BMAF, in Downtown Beirut, is split over two venues. Three bands perform every night at the Music Village in Beirut Souks, with over 45 local acts and a few international musicians joining in from May 18 to June 3. The Grandstand at the New Waterfront District (BIEL) is host to nine nocturnal performances by international bands and artists from May 27 to June 12.
The Grandstand seats 4,000 and among those performing there is Earth Wind & Fire, Sister Sledge, Ilham al Madfai Band, Lena Chamamyan, Marcel Khalife, Rami and Bachar Khalife.

Meen the Band performed at the Beirut Souks Music Village as did Eileen Khatchadourian, the Arthur Satyan Organ Trio with special guest Larry Coryell, Adonis, Nadine has got Soul, Who Killed Bruce Lee, Zeid and the Wings, Tha-gha-ra...

My first Meen CD
I had the pleasure of meeting Meen the Band founder Toni Yammine at Beirut’s first Geekfest in February 2010. He then gave me their first CD, which I still listen to in the car. I have been a fan since.

Toni and Fouad Yammine
Meen is a Lebanese rock band founded by Toni and his brother Fouad Yammine, with four friends. Toni, who plays acoustic guitar, and Fouad, the vocalist, are the minds behind the Arabic catchy lyrics and tunes. Ralf Choueiri plays drums (he was absent on the night and replaced by Alain); Makram Aboul Husn, base guitar; Bernard Najm, keyboards; and Joe Hammam, electric guitar.

Makram Aboul Husn and Joe Hammam

Bernard Najm
Listening to their CD, a live recording of a May 2009 concert, was captivating. But it didn’t prepare me enough for Meen’s electrifying presence on stage, their interaction with the audience, the devotion of the fans and, above all, the incredible music, especially from guitarist Joe Hammam.

Belting Nasheed el Banadoura, fathe Tomato Anthem
They belted some of the band’s classic hits, including Pussycat, Wil Khasr Yhizz, Nasheed el Banadoura, Imm George, Jongar, which had the audience in stitches and demanding more.

Each band member is cheered by name and Fouad has a way of engaging the public, song by song, as well as his bandmates. He has such a thrilling presence on stage while his voice carries you along word by word.

Yasmine Hajjar and Maya Zankoul among the Meen fans
I didn’t think I would enjoy rock in Arabic, but Meen had me bouncing and dancing around in front of the stage, with friends Yasmine Hajjar, Maya Zankoul, Mher and Christine Krikorian, Ibrahim Nehmeh, Nadim Abou Alwan, and all the other fans.

I came away from the concert converted and more of a Meen admirer. I look forward to their next CD, which the band announced will be released imminently.

For a $10 entrance fee, the Music Village is set up with tables, chairs and sofas, where you can spend the whole evening enjoying drinks from the bar, a shawarma sandwich or some popcorn, from different stands.
Who Killed Bruce Lee on stage
We were lucky to catch Indie and electrorock band Who Killed Bruce Lee before Meen’s performance. They too were a great discovery for their passionate performance and excellent music.
The Lebanese group -- composed of Wassim Bou Malham (lead vocals and guitar), Hassib Dergham (keys and synth), Pascal Sarkis (bass guitar and backing vocals), and Malek Rizkallah (drums and backing vocals) -- is writing and producing their first album.

I’m disappointed to be missing Marcel Khalife, in a first performance with his sons Rami and Bachar on June 11 at the BAMF Grandstand. Their artistic work began in 2000 when both Rami and Bachar joined Al Mayadine Ensemble that Marcel set up in the late 1970s.

The BMAF program promises that “the oud, piano, and percussion engage in a conversation of melody, playfulness, noisemaking, or love -- elements the three artists have long explored -- traversing their entire range of dynamic extremes, from shouting to whispering, from an outpouring of passion to a diffident reserve… to the last note.”

Another event I couldn’t fit in was the Garden Show and Spring Festival. It opened for four days on May 24. It is held at the Beirut Hippodrome, which according to my cousin Lillian, who visited on May 24, is transformed into a green oasis of sweet-scented flowers and exotic plants and stalls selling garden accessories and local crafts.
Coming up next will be Beiteddine Art Festival from June 24 to August 5 in the courtyards of the Beiteddine Palace, in the Chouf Mountains.

Byblos International Festival starts June 28. The ancient port and UNESCO World Heritage Site becomes the meeting point of east and west with a lineup of Arabic and world music through July 3. (See Lebanon’s piece of history: Byblos – May 22, 2011)

Baalbeck International Festival is also on the agenda. It is the oldest and most famous cultural event in the Middle East. It has been held in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley since 1955. The annual, much-anticipated extravaganza is a mixture of classical music, dance, theater, opera, and jazz as well as modern world music performed in July and August in the ancient Roman Acropolis, one of the largest and well-preserved Roman temples ever built.

All of this is much art forms to take in, but at least I started well with Meen’s performance. I hope to take in more acts on my next trips back to Lebanon.

Join me here for the Meen concert in pictures.