Byblos Lines Up A Cocktail Of Cultures

Published July 3rd, 2000 - 02:00 GMT

Imagine a Greek-Australian Diva singing classic Rock ballads a la Bel Canto, supported by an Oriental takht. Savor the seductive ease with which the songs of Asmahan, Farid al-Atrash and Mohammad Abdel Wahab lend themselves to a salsa soundtrack.  

Watch in wonder as the legendary Tony Hanna, one-time ambassador of Lebanese song, mixes it up with the Yugoslavian Gypsy Brass Band.  

Unusual? Certainly. Risky? Possibly. Unappealing? Certainly not, especially when the man behind the mélange is promoter, producer, bon voyeur and club land host Michel Elefteriades.  

This is the first time he has officially worked with the Byblos Festival but not the first time he has held a festival in Byblos. Last year, Elefteriades organized a series of concerts in the Citadel by artists signed to his Mediterraneo stable and it should come as no surprise that this year, he has used Byblos International to showcase his well-known predilection for Cuban, Gypsy and Arabic music.  

“He did so well last year,” explained Festival committee chairman Rafael Sfeir. “It’s not easy choosing musicians and as he already had a concept that he’d been working on for several years, we wanted him to organize this year’s event.”  

That concept, a cocktail of seemingly clashing cultures, is set to unfold over three weekends, starting on Aug. 10 with Penny Pavlakis and the Oriental Roots Orchestra.  

“All the music is a fusion of Mediterranean and other cultures,” explained Elefteriades. “I’ve created the groups myself and all of them are having their launch at Byblos.”  

But this does not mean that audiences will be treated to absolute beginners. Penny Pavlakis is the Principal Resident Artist at the Australian National Opera, Marcelino Linares was one of the great figures of Cuban music in the 1970s while the Yugoslavian Gypsy Brass Band will be immediately familiar to anyone who has ever seen Emir Kustarika’s Underground.  

This year’s extravaganza marks a change of direction for the venerable institution, one of the three great prewar festivals which in its time showcased the likes of Dalida, Sabah and Charles Aznavour.  

Billed as Mediterraneo II, it marks the festival’s rebirth as a hothouse of fusion and to celebrate Byblos’ reputation as a city of seafarers, both the 140-square-meter stage and the 700-seat stands will be moored on the water beside the old harbor.  

The site is arranged in such a way that the old town, the ruins and the sea provide a backdrop for the performances, so those made leery by the lack of terra firma beneath their feet should feel compensated by the view.  

“It’s a fabulous concept and it should take the world by storm,” says an enthusiastic Pavlakis in a promotional video for the festival, “and it’s being featured here in Lebanon first.”  

As if all that weren’t enough, Byblos International is set to go global. In what can only be described as a PR masterstroke for both Elefteriades and the town itself, the performers will release CDs and video clips on Elefteriades’ label and all are booked to tour abroad once the festival ends.  

“Michel has created something especially for Byblos,” said Sfeir. “But afterwards, this music will be exported to the world and it will carry with it the stamp of Byblos—The Daily Star. 

© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)

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