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Democratic Republic of Music

Posted: Jul 01 2011

Democratic Republic of Music

Time Out Beirut chats to Ghazi Abdel Baki and Meshal Al Kandari to find out more about Beirut's new concert hall.

There have been hushed rumours over the past few months, but Hamra’s latest venue has been a well-kept secret until the last moment. Now, out of the dust of an unmarked building site appears an ambitious new concert hall with an industrial look, all greytones and exposed pipes. Forward Music – marking the tenth anniversary of the independent label’s position as one of the strongest in the region – have grand ambitions to become the leading destination for music in Lebanon.

Marketing director Meshal Al Kandari explains ‘What we’re trying to do is revive the music and cultural scene in Beirut, through Hamra. Hamra was always the place where all these trends were born and flourished. Jazz came out of here, blues. It faded away for a while, now it’s coming back.’ Their logo has the feel of an Alexander Rodchenko collage, topped with a red communist star.

Al Kandari tells us ‘we’re leftists in the sense that we don’t like what’s around us and we want to change it.’ The idea behind DRM is that of a concert hall without pretension, a place for music lovers to go and hear local and international artists with a high quality of sound. Ghazi Abdel Baki – the founder of Forward Music, explains ‘We saw the need for a specialized venue for music, where the elements are under control, like the lighting, the sound and the whole experience. This is difficult to have in a venue that you rent out in a week to do something.’

So the sound - one of the common complaints of musicians – has been really focused on. Abdel Baki – a musician and producer himself – has designed the acoustics of the building by building a box within a box, reducing reverberation. The venue is also kitted out with recording equipment, meaning live performances can be recorded on stage and then streamed online, allowing fans to book tickets and see the concert live, online. 

Unfortunately, it seems all that tech has reflected upon the ticket prices. Despite DRM’s worthy sentiment to provide a venue for music lovers without the pretension, their concerts have a hefty price tag, with Stanley Jordan and Tony Allen knocking in at $75 (without dinner). It seems this is the price to pay for bringing over a full nine piece band, but makes the concerts close to unaffordable for many of the music lovers they’re hoping to attract.

DRM’s schedule though, looks promising, as they bring over an array of talents with their own full bands, covering everything from blues and jazz to afrobeat, hip hop and rock. Some of the first international musicians to grace the stage include Stanley Jordan’s trio – featuring the American jazz guitar virtuoso, Tony Allen – the pioneer of afrobeat, the legendary jazz organist Joey De Francesco, the Johannesburg-based hip hop band Tumi and the Volume and the Jamaican reggae musician Clinton Fearon, among others. Locally the concert hall will provide a regular venue for the musicians that Forward Music represent, including Toufic Farrouk , Charbel Rouhana, Soumaya Baalbaki and Fareeq el Atrash.

The music and sound isn’t the only thing that DRM have focused on. They’ve brought in a food consultant, along with a handful of chefs from the hospitality industry and have opted out of the static dining experience with a menu that evolves with the musical styles of the evening. Added to this, the ground floor of the concert hall will be a deli café-cum-Forward Music news hub. Abdel Baki predicts the success of DRM, saying ‘I’m sure it’s going to be a venue for a lot of people because having a place that’s adequately constructed and geared towards music is something that the country lacks,’ and Al Kandari sums up: ‘It’s not pretentious, it’s simple. Ladies and gentlemen, serving ladies and gentlemen.’


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