Executive Magazine - - Executive Life - Words by Olga Habre

baal­bek was known as He­liopo­lis, or city of the sun, dur­ing the Hel­lenis­tic pe­riod. De­spite cen­turies of changes in ruler­ship and re­li­gion, ex­ter­nal and in­ter­nal con ict, not to men­tion three ma­jor earthquakes, Baal­bek’s tem­ples are still some of the best pre­served ru­ins in the world. Now a UN­ESCO world her­itage site, it’s (lit­er­ally) one of the pil­lars of Le­banese tourism, and the ma­jes­tic lo­ca­tion of the Baal­bek In­ter­na­tional Fes­ti­val.

Cel­e­brat­ing its 60th an­niver­sary last year, the fes­ti­val was the rst of its kind in Le­banon and the re­gion, in­spir­ing count­less sim­i­lar ini­tia­tives. It’s an an­nual cel­e­bra­tion of mu­sic, the­ater, and dance set among magni cent an­cient tem­ples, but it’s also a sym­bol of cul­tural re­sis­tance. Like the stones it’s set in, the fes­ti­val has been through thick and thin with the rest of the coun­try, su er­ing years of clo­sure dur­ing Le­banon’s Civil War, be­fore re-launch­ing in 1997. A few years ago, due to tur­moil in the Bekaa, sev­eral per­for­mances had to be re­lo­cated to Beirut.

This year from July 7 to Au­gust 15, the fes­ti­val com­mem­o­rates another an­niver­sary — that of The Le­banese Nights, the fes­ti­val’s sup­port for home­grown tal­ent. Over the years, many Le­banese icons have graced the Baal­bek stage, and now the next gen­er­a­tion — Ramy Ay­ach, Aline La­houd and Brigitte Yaghi — will fol­low in the foot­steps of the likes of Fay­rouz, Sabah, the Rah­ba­nis, Umm Kulthoum and Wadih elSa with a per­for­mance on open­ing night, singing a

se­lec­tion of old fa­vorites as well as their own songs. Fes­ti­val Pres­i­dent Nayla de Freige prom­ises a fes­tive, col­or­ful show with a live orches­tra, dances, and pro­jec­tions — a real Le­banese-style birth­day party.

The fes­ti­val con­tin­ues with one of Africa’s big­gest singers, An­gelique Kidjo. Not only a highly re­spected mu­si­cian, she is also a UNICEF am­bas­sador and was named by Forbes as one of Africa’s 100 most in uen­tial women. With her pow­er­ful voice and stage pres­ence, Kidjo and her orches­tra will pay trib­ute to the mu­sic of icons Celia Cruz, Nina Si­mone, and Miriam Makeba, as well as per­form­ing her own songs.

Another high­light is the Le­banese-French trum­peter and com­poser Ibrahim Maalouf, who has drawn crowds of 20,000 in Paris, and has a large fol­low­ing in Europe, not to men­tion his list of pres­ti­gious awards and nom­i­na­tions. His per­for­mance comes a er al­ready mak­ing an im­pres­sion at Baal­bek as part of the “IlikYaBaal­bek” show in 2015, when he brought lo­cal dabke dancers on stage, as well as per­form­ing at the fes­ti­val’s gala din­ner last year, where he had an emo­tional on­stage re­union with his then-es­tranged father, Le­banese mu­si­cian Nas­sim Maalouf. This year, he’s ex­pected to play a special ori­en­tal trum­pet cra - ed by the elder Maalouf.

The only act that will be staged in­side the Bac­chus tem­ple is Trio Wan­derer, a French piano, vi­o­lin, and cello group, who are cel­e­brat­ing their 30th an­niver­sary. They are play­ing a clas­sic reper­toire of Rach­mani­nov, Dvo­rak, and Schu­bert in the in­ti­mate space, renowned for its in­cred­i­ble acous­tics, and which ac­com­mo­dates only 500, as op­posed to the other lo­ca­tion on the tem­ple’s steps, which can hold over 3000.

A er the suc­cess of Sher­ine Ab­del Wah­hab’s con­cert last year, or­ga­niz­ers de­cided to in­cor­po­rate more Ara­bic pop, this year with Samira Said. De Freige says that some peo­ple were sur­prised to see the genre at the fes­ti­val, but she feels that if they can host Western pop artists, they should in­clude lo­cals, and this is prov­ing to at­tract more at­ten­dees from the area.

The grand nale is an ex­cit­ing one — iconic rock band Toto are per­form­ing in Le­banon for the rst time. A er 40 years to­gether, the band is still one of the top sell­ing, tour­ing, and record­ing acts in the world, with clas­sic hits like Africa, Hold the Line, and Rosanna.

The mix of pop, jazz, clas­si­cal, Ara­bic, Western, and world mu­sic re ects a con­scious de­ci­sion by the fes­ti­val to be di­verse, like other large fes­ti­vals in the coun­try. De Freige says that the fes­ti­val’s 100-per­son com­mit­tee works on the pro­gram with ex­pert con­sul­tants in each genre.

Per­form­ing at Baal­bek is a dream for many artists. “You can’t compare Baal­bek to any­where else,” says de Freige, re­count­ing meet­ing artists who have pre­vi­ously per­formed there. “Of­ten they say ‘ it was one of the big­gest con­certs of our lives,’ you can’t for­get it.” But she adds that it’s a dou­ble- edged sword. “Baal­bek makes you big­ger if you are big, but it can kill you if you are small. It’s so grand that if you are not at the stan­dard of this huge place, it makes you look very small by com­par­i­son.”

The fes­ti­val’s di­verse pro­gram is ex­pected to at­tract at­ten­dees from all walks of life and all parts of the coun­try and re­gion.

Cara­calla 2016

Jean-Michel Jarre 2016

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