From Beirut to Belleville: How Hadi Zeidan brought the dance sounds of Lebanon to Paris

DJ's raves have become a rallying point for the city’s rich Arab diaspora

Beirut Electro Parade features live performances and DJ sets by regional artists. Photo: Beirut Electro Parade
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When walking the streets of the east Parisian neighbourhood of Belleville, it is hard to miss the flyers advertising one of the coolest parties in the city.

Emblazoned in a shimmering hue is the title Beirut Electro Parade, with dreamy background graphics evoking the nostalgia the event partly represents.

The rave, which returns to La Bellevilloise club on Saturday, features several stages with eight DJs playing electronic music rooted not only in Beirut’s eclectic music scene, but also channelling the chaotic and throbbing rhythms of the city itself.

From a small underground party in 2016 to regularly selling out its 2,000 capacity, the event is now a cultural rallying point for the city’s Arab diaspora.

Founder Hadi Zeidan, Lebanese DJ and producer, is involved in all aspects of the event, from booking the regional artists to the marketing.

This comes on top of performing on the main stage and touring internationally as a solo artist in his own right.

His choice to meet The National in a cafe near the venue is about more than convenience.

“For me, it is one of the only places that is still Paris in terms of cosmopolitanism," he says.

"Franchise businesses are not encouraged in the neighbourhood and there are not too many tourists. There are green spaces and a sense of community.

“It is the kind of place where you can live in Paris without being sucked into adopting a mind-set more French than the French themselves.”

A musical journey for self discovery

Beirut Electro Parade founder Hadi Zeidan. Photo: Jeremy Charbaut

The themes of identity and dislocation echo throughout Zeidan’s personal and professional life.

Born in Beirut, he moved to the southern French city of Montpellier in 2011 at the age of 18 to study international relations before relocating to Paris, where he was hired by a French news agency. His brief stint in journalism, however, triggered a bout of soul searching.

"There were only three of us, among 2,000 people, working in three languages, French, Arabic and English, and it just wasn't for me," he says.

"Music was my thing and when I was began DJing in these small parties in Paris it triggered my own search for identity and it made me realise that I am Lebanese.

“It was something I forgot about for a while and ever since I have been trying to express that in music."

Zeidan credits the near immediate success of his parties, from solo shows in the basement of his student accommodation to Beirut Electro Parade, for tapping a similar desire for reconnection shared by Arab expatriates.

It's also why the material played is familiar and experimental.

Beirut Electro Parade is not the place to dance along to the commercial tunes from the likes of pop stars Nancy Ajram or Wael Kfoury.

Instead, you hear the propulsive sounds of Lebanese disco and the funk-ified versions of 1970s and 1980s pop tracks from singers Azar Habib and Sammy Clarke, in addition to vintage belly dance music instrumentals.

As for the invited Lebanese DJs, from pioneering producer Zeid Hamdan to the collective Disco Dabke, the brief is clear: "I always invite those artists who are digging [collecting] music from the seventies, eighties and nineties and who are absolutely unapologetic and shameless in their love for Arab pop culture."

If it all sounds like a dream gig, you are not far off.

Zeidan describes Beirut Electro Parade as the ultimate chance to create an ideal world, even if it’s for only a few sweaty hours.

"Our space is inclusive and accepting. There are an equal number of women performing and ultimately I want it to be a place where Arab people, let alone the Lebanese, are not judged by their names but on the talent they have," he says.

“This is why we are resonating not only with the Lebanese community, who I count as only about 40 per cent of the crowd, but others who are tired of their own countries."

A sense of community

The UAE could be the next stop for Beirut Electro Parade.

Zeidan reveals to The National his hopes of taking the concept abroad.

Judging by the response to a recent club show at Dubai's Electric Pawn Shop, the city could be an ideal destination.

“It was a great crowd and they really got into the music and respected what I was trying to do. So I have been talking with people about ideas and opportunities, but it is still early stages,” he says.

“I think Beirut Electro Parade will work because it has now become known by all the Lebanese people working in the music business.

“While I am happy that it has become infamous and a reference point in many ways for those who want to book artists for other ambitious events or clubs, I am happy that it has become a place of communion for people.

"We just want to spread ideas about what it is to be cosmopolitan and being an Arab today and in the future."

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Updated: February 24, 2023, 6:06 PM