Any thoughts that the Beirut Music Hall would take a while to find its footing were dismissed when a crowd of nearly a thousand attended at the weekend. The esoteric music venue, at Dubai’s Jumeirah Zabeel Saray hotel, has made its mark in the UAE’s entertainment scene by exposing revellers to fresh sounds denied to them in nightclubs and concerts.
Within the show’s first hour – which begins at 10pm – the crowd was serenaded with Cuban rhythms and Greek and Russian folk. This seemingly random musical approach is a Beirut Music Hall trademark. In a rapid-fire motion, up to 15 acts perform a maximum 10-minute set before the velvet curtain swiftly closes. The effect is akin to listening to a world fusion CD performed live.
Most of the performers are not actors playing dress-up. The venue’s Greek-Lebanese owner and musical curator Michel Elefteriades conducted a worldwide search and plucked out these musicians to play in both his Dubai and Beirut venues.
The show opener Campo Alegre may be unknown in these parts, but in the Americas they are renowned as the backing band for the leading Cuban singer Serena Gonzalez. Meanwhile, the Russian duo Slavutich are regular performers in village venues in the Russian countryside. The Andalusian singer José Gálvez had the crowd dancing on top of couches with flamenco favourites (yes, including the Gipsy Kings’ classic Bamboleo).
The stage is at least three times bigger than the Beirut venue, with a more sophisticated sound and lighting rig. The space allows for colourful backdrops for the performances: an Egyptian folk singer performed to large screens playing montages from classic Egyptian films, while a Jamaican reggae band received a more subdued lighting design – the warm colours of the Jamaican flag.
Elefteriades is not a total music snob. The crowd was allowed to indulge in disco favourites courtesy of a Boney M medley performed by a funk-tastic-looking quartet, closing the show at 2.30am.
Sure, some of the acts were a tad cheesy, but it was all so joyously unselfconcious – a quality sorely missing in the UAE club scene.
Beirut Music Hall is on Thursdays and Fridays at the Jumeirah Zabeel Saray Hotel, The Palm, Dubai, from 9pm-3am. Entrance is free with charges for tables and couches. For details go to www.themusichall.com or call 04 453 0000
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