Beirut & Beyond: Lebanon music festival postponed in support of protesters

The festival was due to run in December

Regional indie music festival Beirut & Beyond has been postponed owing to ongoing protests in Lebanon. Speaking to The National, festival director Amani Semaan said the annual event, which was slated to run from Thursday, December 5 to Sunday, December 8, has been put on hold in solidarity with protesters.

The country is in political and economic turmoil after three weeks of nationwide protests that prompted prime minister Saad Hariri to resign on October 29.

“In light of what is happening in Lebanon at the moment, we have made the decision to postpone this edition of Beirut & Beyond until further notice,” she said. “We have decided to strike in support of the arising movement in Beirut.”

The uncertain period that Lebanon is going through, Semaan says, also poses a range of challenges when it comes to running an international music festival. “Each year we invite more than 50 artists and professionals from outside Lebanon,” she said. “We found ourselves in the obligation of suspending the activities now as it will also be very challenging on different levels, such as security, administrative and logistics.”

Semaan, who is a Lebanese citizen herself, said the country’s arts and culture industry has suffered by what she views as the rampant government corruption that has fuelled the protests. In such a climate, she says, organisers often need to think creatively and be prepared for disappointment.

“The arts and culture sector is affected a lot by the corruption in Lebanon. The cultural sector in our region is challenged all the time with [lack of] security, and on political and economic levels. So we know the risks we are taking when working in arts and culture events in Lebanon, and we are aware that sometimes we need to have alternative plans. Sometimes we also need to stop, postpone or cancel. But at the same time, we are resilient; we use all our engagement, power and determination to go on.”

Launched in 2013, Beirut & Beyond quickly established itself as one of the best showcases for the Arab world's thriving independent music scene. Modelled after the Oslo World Music Festival, which is the organisation's partner, Beirut & Beyond features concerts and seminars discussing the issues and challenges facing the regional scene today.

The artists who have performed at the festival over the years are among the who's who of the Arab independent music scene, including Lebanese music stalwarts Tania Saleh and Yasmine Hamdan, Egyptian singer Maryam Saleh and Sudanese group Alsarah & The Nubatones.

While the festival has yet to announce its new dates, Semaan is confident that it will return bigger and stronger. She is already seeing the inspiring effects the present turmoil is having on local artists.

“Some artists are being inspired to produce music on the streets, record what is happening and use their music or any art to act as an influence,” she said.

“We see that during such [difficult] times that arts and culture can have an influence on the street, by creating pressure, by expressing demands, by impacting people ... We are hopeful that the structural change will happen, and in the light of the updates, we will be able to set and announce the new dates for Beirut & Beyond.”