Lebanese music festivals made a modest comeback with a performance at the Roman ruins of Baalbek this weekend, marking the country’s first-ever show after the financial crisis.
Under the title “Baalbek Nights Return”, conductor Lubnan Baalbaki – whose first name means “Lebanon” and whose last name means “from Baalbek” – led the orchestra on Friday evening alongside his sister, singer Soumaya .
The country once held several music festivals each summer, attracting international artists every weekend. This year, the modest reopenings feature almost exclusively Lebanese artists.
Baalbek audience members swayed and sang as Soumaya hummed Arabic tunes on a stage set up inside the Temple of Bacchus, her silver robe shimmering in the spotlight.
She performed traditional ballads as well as original songs written by Lebanese poets and written by her brother.
For many, the evening was a welcome escape from the crises that have plagued Lebanon over the past three years.
A financial meltdown described by the World Bank as one of the worst since the Industrial Revolution has led to widespread power cuts and drug shortages across the country.
The Lebanese have been further strained by the Beirut port explosion in 2020 and several waves of the coronavirus pandemic.
“It’s an exceptional day,” Soumaya told Reuters after the performance. “Despite all the difficulties that have clouded our work, we are organizing 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 generates the change.”
It was his very first performance in his eponymous city. His brother last performed there in 2019, just months before Lebanon’s collapse began.
“Music and the arts have been hit hardest by the coronavirus pandemic. Artists have been the first to stop working and the last to return. This moment is so important for musicians and nationally,” said Lubnan.
“The crisis pushed us to return to Lebanese talents and real Lebanese voices. Tonight, Soumaya’s performance on the Baalbek stage reminded us how important and refined our musical culture is,” said Micheline Abi Samra, member of the public.
“We were so happy and the days ahead will be even better,” she told Reuters.
Upcoming artists in Baalbek include Lebanese rock band Adonis, Franco-Lebanese pianist Simon Ghreichy and Iranian dancer Rana Gharghani.
“We are living in very difficult circumstances and very dark days,” said journalist Ricardo Karam, who attended Baalbaki’s performance on Friday. “They made them beautiful, they made them vibrant.”