After opening in 2003, Beirut Music Hall quickly established itself as an integral part of the Lebanese capital's throbbing nightlife. With its kitschy design, evoking the cabaret period of Berlin in the 1930s, the venue made a name for itself for what it isn't: there are no cover bands or headline acts. The names of the performers are not announced - they waltz on stage and perform a set no longer than 10 minutes. A typical night consists of up to 15 acts, with a DJ playing in between.
"When I created Music Hall, my idea was to DJ - but in a live music kind of way," the owner Michel Elefteriades explains. "We want people to come and enjoy the night, not have the feeling of just watching the show."
Thankfully, these are no dodgy 1980s cover bands, trance beats or commercial hip-hop. Music Hall's reputation centres on original artists playing world music styles ranging from traditional classical Arab songs, reggae and bossa nova to gypsy music from the Balkans. However, artists can cover a pop song or two as long as it subverts the original. In a trip to the Beirut venue last year, this reporter saw a performer seamlessly blend REM's Losing My Religion into one of the arias of the classic opera Carmen.
Elefteriades promises the music at the Dubai venue will be even more eclectic to cater to the city's cosmopolitan crowd: "There will be some new acts that have never played in Beirut. There will be some Indian music at a later stage, and there will also be a Russian folk music band performing."
For a venue celebrating international music, Elefteriades says it made sense to expand the brand globally. With interest expressed from various locations, including Istanbul and Barcelona, the challenge was in deciding which city fits Beirut Music Hall's ethos. Elefteriades explains it was Dubai's tenacious spirit that convinced him in the end. "There is something miraculous about Dubai," he says. "The city is doing well while the world is in crisis. A lot of people thought Dubai would never be the same after the financial crisis, but what happened was the opposite - the city is continuing to grow while others, especially in Europe, are still suffering."
Another factor that drew Elefteriades to Dubai was the venue's large stage and specs. At 500 square metres, it is much larger than the one in Beirut and Elefteriades is looking forward to making use of all the space it affords.
"A big stage without creativity is not art and a small stage with creativity leads to frustration," he explains. "Dubai will allow me to be more creative in the lighting and projections. I can really create something good here."
From the set designs to the seating arrangements, Dubai's Music Hall is similar to the one in Lebanon but technically better. The stage is draped in red velvet curtains and crowned by gilded, hand-sculpted roses. The venue accommodates up to 1,000 seats, with 20 couches and tables; the special VIP area has 20 couches and five private balconies. With the Jumeirah Hotels & Resorts executive chef Neil Foster at the helm, the international cuisine will feature French, Italian and Japanese dishes, which can be shared tapas-style on the couches. Those in the private balconies will be offered caviar and seafood platters.
Elefteriades admits the first months of the Music Hall will be dominated by acts he is familiar with or who've performed in Lebanon, but says he will eventually scout for local talent. Aspiring performers should be warned, however: Elefteriades will mess with your music. Whether changing your folk piece to a funk anthem or adding a bouzouki to your torch song, Elefteriades - a successful producer and songwriter in his own right - knows what he wants from his Music Hall acts. "The only visa to my stage is talent," he says. "But I do all the scores and staging for the show. So if someone has talent, I want to work with them."
Beirut Music Hall opens each Thursday and Friday at the Jumeirah Zabeel Saray Hotel, The Palm, Dubai, 9pm-3am. Entrance is free; there are charges for tables and couches. For details, go to www.themusichall.com or call04 453 0000