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Monday, December 05, 2022

Lebanon’s music festivals make a modest return in Baalbek amid economic crisis

Lebanon’s international music festivals kicked off the weekend with a performance at the Roman ruins of Baalbek, the first performance there since the country’s economic crisis.

Under the title of “Baalbek Nights Return”, conductor Lubnan Baalbaki, whose first name means “Lebanon” and whose last name means “from Baalbek”, led the orchestra on Friday night together with his sister, singer Soumaya.

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The country once held several music festivals every summer, attracting international acts every weekend. This year, the modest reopenings feature almost exclusively Lebanese artists.

Audience members in Baalbek swayed and sang as Soumaya sang Arabic melodies on a stage set up inside the temple of Bacchus, her silver dress shimmering under the spotlights.

She performed traditional ballads and original songs written by Lebanese poets and composed by her brother.

For many, the evening was a welcome escape from the crises that have hit Lebanon in the last three years.

A financial collapse described by the World Bank as one of the worst since the industrial revolution has led to rampant power outages and drug shortages across the country.

The Lebanese have been hit hardest by the 2020 Beirut port explosion and various waves of the coronavirus pandemic.

“This is an exceptional day,” Soumaya told Reuters after the performance. “Despite all the difficulties that have overshadowed our work, we organized this festival. It is an act of defiance, an act of faith in this country, in its image as a nation of art, culture and soft power that creates change.”

It was his first performance in the city of the same name. Her brother last performed there in 2019, just a few months before Lebanon’s collapse began.

“Music and the arts were the most affected by the coronavirus pandemic. The artists were the first to stop working and the last to return. This moment is so important for musicians and in a
national level,” Lubnan said.

“The crisis has pushed us to return to Lebanese talent and real Lebanese voices. Tonight, Soumaya’s performance on stage in Baalbek reminded us how important and refined our music culture is,” said Micheline Abi Samra, audience member.

“We were very happy and the next few days will be even better,” he told Reuters.

Upcoming acts in Baalbek include Lebanese rock band Adonis, Franco-Lebanese pianist Simon Ghreichy, and Iranian dancer Rana Gharghani.

“We are living through very difficult circumstances and very dark days,” said journalist Ricardo Karam, who attended Baalbaki’s presentation on Friday. “They made them beautiful, they made them vibrant.”

Read more: UN Security Council calls for rapid government formation in Lebanon

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