A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

a multi-faceted look at the middle east, and the middle west

Beirut: banding together

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on February 10, 2009

One of the many events currently taking place in New York’s busy cultural scene is a music festival called “Sounds Like Brooklyn“, which features musicians from – yes, you guessed it – Brooklyn. And the headliner band, which played a concert this past weekend, is called Beirut.

The first time I heard of this band was – appropriately enough – in Beirut, during drinks at Bardo. An incredibly lush piece came over the sound system (a nice break from the usual music played there) and B, whose blushing description of meeting his girlfriend’s parents belied my friend A’s description of him as “a total rogue”, smiled and said, That’s Beirut.

The song was “Scenic World”, and the lyrics are actually quite depressing – but the music is stunning. (You can listen to it here.) Does it sound Lebanese? Not at all – and that’s the rub.

Beirut-the-band has no connection to Beirut-the-city. No Lebanese musicians, no Lebanese musical influences, although the group does claim a strong interest in Balkan harmonies. I wish there were a deeper connection – as do the numerous journalists who have asked Zach Condon, the band’s founder, to explain its name. Perhaps its the fault of youth: Condon was only 18 or 20 when he chose the name, and (thanks perhaps to beer pong?) he seems to have thought nothing more than: “sounds cool”.

Of all the articles I found that addressed the group’s name, this one – a feature in the August 6, 2006 issue of New York Magazine – made me the saddest. I know where I was on August 6, 2006, and I know how I felt about “the Beirut situation”.

Here’s what Condon had to say:

Condon’s band has grown to ten members—just in time, it would seem, to defend its name. “You know, it’s ironic,” he says, addressing the “Beirut situation” before a rehearsal in his Bushwick loft. (Spackle covers everything, including the pots and pans. He and his roommates are trying to build individual bungalows, maybe buy a pool table.) “One of the reasons I named the band after that city was the fact that it’s seen a lot of conflict. It’s not a political position. I worried about that from the beginning. But it was such a catchy name. I mean, if things go down that are truly horrible, I’ll change it. But not now. It’s still a good analogy for my music. I haven’t been to Beirut, but I imagine it as this chic urban city surrounded by the ancient Muslim world. The place where things collide.”

I still like “Scenic World”, but I’ll wait to hear Beirut play live until they do a bit more research into their city.

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