Beirut – Global week for Syria

by stevenkamperman on 24/04/2016

IMG_5637What is that smell when we get out of the plane at Beirut airport the night we arrive? At first I think a child before me in the row might have shit in his pants… But when I pass by him, it does not get any better. When we leave the building – after the visa officer went several times meticulously through my passport to see whether I really had not been in Israel – we smell it even stronger: an intense odour of what turns out to be garbage. Big parts of the city suffer from it: for half a year there has been no real solution for what to do with it. In some parts the garbage is just packed in piles, though I don’t see them anywhere, and apparrently a lot of it gets dumped in the sea…. A continuos problem that does not get resolved, due to a complicated system of power balance in the government since the civil war 25 years ago.

IMG_5698Ok, it stinks in some parts, and there are several power cut-offs every day (so the elevator stops), and an espresso in our popular – but not even that posh quarters Hamra – costs easily 5$. But wow, how great it is to be in Beirut again! The sun is shining, the city is super green, and the people are radiant. That is what I remember from the last short visit, and it still holds true for 100%.


It is monday, the first day of the Global week for Syria Festival in Beirut, organized by Hannibal Saad, who really does a great job, bringing interesting different styles and views together. At night I will play with my friend hurdy-gurdy-player Valentin Clastrier in Metro al Medina.

IMG_5625That’s a very nice club with a young appearance and a great crew. Since it is the opening night of the festival together with guitarist Eivind Aarset, we get interviewed by several tv-stations, who also record the concert. Always funny to see how much attention Valentin generates with his amazing instrument. Our concert starts with a little improvised meeting with Syrian sufi singer Diab, of which I later see a television recording.


IMG_5622Next two days we are not officially in function. Tuesday we have a lazy breakfast, and extensive coffee with the very nice guitarist Florian Zenker and his wife singer Gjertrude Lunde and check out the lunch restaurant and have one of those amazing Lebanese dishes: stuffed eggplants covered by yoghurt, nuts and pomegranate seeds. Incredibly delicious!

The atmosphere is great, so apart from drinking another espresso, we don’t do much that day. At night I am invited to improvise with some Syrian musicians, and that turns out fantastic. Also we meet two French young people – Camille and Fabian – and we have a great time with them, we will encounter them many times later that week, to our great joy.



IMG_5626Wednessday we are invited for a lunch at the Dutch embassy, where we eat good Indonesian food (wonder why they don’t serve ‘hutspot’ there, the typical Dutch recipy of mashed potatoes, oignons and carrots :-)) We also get to know better two charming ladies of the festival team, Abeer and Zena, and we enjoy their company very much. The day ends with interesting experimental computer music composition by Marcel Wierckx and the nice concert of Florian and Gjertrude in radio Beirut, a popular club in another part of the town.




IMG_5641Thursday, we feel an urge to see more of the city than just nice people and great plates with food. We are supposed to give a concert at the French institute at night, but anyway cannot enter there before 18.00, so we have some time for tourism. We walk to the famous American University (founded in 1866 already and still a very important impulse to the country), we visit the beautiful museum of archeology there, and later we continue to walk to the seaside, where we hang out a bit. On relaxed days like these I always decide to become really relaxed at home too, and just enjoy the sun and the life of leisure. Of course at home there is always little sun and very much work, so these wished always quickly disappear, but I enjoy how it feels here.


IMG_5683The concert with Valentin at night has somewhat of an unfortunate start. The sound guy is really late, and when he arrives all the set-up still has to be done. So soundcheck starts way over time, and there is stress with the organizers. One minute before our concert, it is decided to begin with the other group, since we still did not have a soundcheck. There are no drinks in the break either, so quite some people already leave before our concert starts, and we have to shorten our program, because everybody has to get out of the building before 23.00 (which will become past 24.00 in the end). But, we take it as it is, and the concert turns out fine. After the concert, Basil, one of the very local nice musicians I met, hugs me intensely, with tears all over his face, deeply moved. What a present. Then you remember what it is all about…


IMG_5731Friday, I get in a car together with Florian Zenker and Dutch bass player Tony Overwater, who just arrived, and we go for a rehearsal at the same French Institute for a meeting that night with Syrian and Lebanese musicians, as an example of Tony’s Salon Joussour-meetings in Holland (Salon menas ‘bridge’). Everybody is very well prepared, and we put together a program of one long set. After our late lunch, there is still an interview with Tony and me about our experiences mixing western and oriental music. In small circle, but nice

At night we start strictly on time (!), and lots of people turn up (amongst which Lebanese vocalist star Rhima Kheich). The percussionist perhaps stays a bit on the safe side, but Mohannad the oud player and Ghassan on quanun largely compensate. Great players, and we all really manage to ‘play’ at night: there is an interaction, a musicality, an understanding. And Tony really did a great job forming and keeping it together. Then we have a farewell party with great Lebanese mezze, and we go to bed to have a quick two hours of rest before the taxi takes us to the airport. I love this city and their beautiful people, and I am definitely going to become really relaxed at home too, and take lots of leisure time…


View on the sea from the campus of the American university


On our way to the beach some nice old buildings


So, most of the garbage seems to be disposed in the sea. What are these guys going to do with that fish?


Always traffic jams everywhere


Just everywhere green



Previous post:

Next post: