‘I am lucky to be alive' Nervecell drummer Bachir Ramadan on Beirut blast ordeal

The musician was working 800 metres from the site of the explosion

Bachir Ramadan is now recovering, left, but is keen to get back behind the drums as soon as possible. Courtesy: Nervecell
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One thing is for certain about the regional heavy metal music community: they know how to rally.

When UAE group Nervecell announced that their drummer, Bachir Ramadan, was one of the many badly injured in the Beirut port explosion on August 4, fans flooded the band’s social media pages with messages of support.

Speaking to The National, Ramadan, who is now recovering at home, says he was overwhelmed by the support. "I can't describe how it feels, but that is the metal community for you," he said. "I have been getting messages not only from the region but also from Europe and South America. I know I am lucky to be alive and I just feel grateful to be here."

With hope also comes fear because every time we are back on our feet something happens and there is another blow

Ramadan was born in Beirut and lived in Dubai for three years from 2006 before returning to Lebanon to complete his university studies. While in Dubai, he met members of the UAE band Nervecell and eventually joined the group. He still tours with it, playing the band's pummeling brand of metal to audiences in festivals in Europe, South America and South-East Asia.

‘A blinding white light’

With the pandemic having curtailed the band’s usual European summer tour, not to mention recording opportunities or rehearsals, Ramadan found himself at his day job – working for a light-fitting company – on the day of the blast. Located within a four-storey building, his office was only 800 metres from the Beirut port.

“It was a normal working day,” he recalls. “Then there was this blinding white light. I was pushed back against the wall. The glass in front of me shattered. There was this small library shelf on my left. That just went down. Basically, the whole building went down.”

With the staircase still accessible, a dazed and bloodied Ramadan ventured out on to the street. “I remember just walking and looking for any ambulances,” he says. “I was trying to hear the sounds of the sirens to see if there was anyone nearby. But no one was there.”

In one of the many impromptu acts of kindness that have come to define the Lebanese people's response to the tragedy, a stranger pulled up in their car and whisked Ramadan away to the nearby Lebanese Hospital Geitaoui.

"It was so full of injured people that they were not capable of treating everyone," Ramadan says. Then, a small moment of grace. "I actually checked my phone in my pocket and it somehow wasn't damaged," he says. "I called my parents and they were nearby. They came and got me and we got in a cab and went to the AUB [American University of Beirut Medical Centre]  and I went in."

Ramadan went through nearly three days of treatment, which included the removal of glass from his face and eyes and tending to several skull fractures and some nerve damage to his hands. "One of my eyes is a bit lower than it should be and initially part of my vision was distorted but I am OK."

'Beirut will be rebuilt, but we are at our lowest'

Ramadan returned home again over the weekend to begin his journey of recovery, which is set to include many bouts of physiotherapy. His family home, located in the suburb Corniche el Mazraa, a 15-minute drive from the Beirut port, remained unscathed while houses nearby were damaged.

“Thank God the house is fine because all the windows were open. My mum likes to have them open to get the breeze during this time,” he says. “If they were closed then the pressure of the blast would have caused severe damage.”

While grateful to be at home and basking in the love of family, friends and fans, Ramadan is keen to get back on his feet.

Beirut needs to be rebuilt, he says, and he wants to do his part.

“We have been in this position before where we were knocked down and had to get back up on our feet and that does give me hope,” he says.

“But at the same time with hope also comes fear because every time we are back on our feet something happens and there is another blow. At times it just feels like a vicious circle that I don’t know how we are going to get out of.

“Right now what we need in Lebanon is persistence because we are definitely at our lowest.”

Back on the drum kit

Ramadan says his love for music and performance remains undiminished.

With Chris Cornell’s soulful songs presently soundtracking his road to recovery, Ramadan promises he will return to the drums as soon as he is healthy enough to perform.

"I'm going to recover and I'm going to get back stronger than ever," he says. "I'm just trying to stay in a good mental state and keep strong and be positive.”

A Cornell song Ramadan keeps playing while in bed is 2014's Scar on the Sky. It is an apt choice. Not only does it epitomise Ramadan's resilience, but also that of a battered city emerging from the wreckage of a 'scar from the sky'.

"In these hills they wash the gold and graves away,” Cornell croons in the song. “To the valley under all of this I lay. And there you dig me out, unearthed and saved.”