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'Beating for Beirut': An online concert to help Lebanon rebuild Open in fullscreen

Paul McLoughlin

'Beating for Beirut': An online concert to help Lebanon rebuild

The concert will be broadcast online on 20 September. [Getty]

Date of publication: 10 September, 2020

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Musicians from across the world will take part in an online concert, with the proceeds going to First Aid Renovation to help Beirut residents rebuild their homes.
Sally Hammoud's phone was ablaze with calls in the moments after the 4 August Port of Beirut explosion, which destroyed or damaged around half the city.

She turned her car towards her home in Achrafieh - one of the neighbourhood's hardest hit by the explosion - as cars raced past in the opposite direction towards hospitals and clinics.

As Hammoud entered the district she saw the injured pile onto the streets, bloodied and bruised from the thousands of shards of glass emitted during the explosion, but one dazed man stood out among the melee. 

"He was wearing just shorts and a towel wrapped around his neck and was holding a woman's handbag, probably taking a bath when it happened. All over him was blood," Hammoud, a media and communications academic, told The New Arab.

"I stopped my car and told him I could take him to the hospital - which was only two minutes away - but he said, 'no, no, no'. I asked him 'where are you going?' and he said, 'to the airport'. He was obviously traumatised, it was something that really broke my heart."

Rebuilding

It took Hammoud time to process the harrowing scenes she had witnessed but soon she joined the brigades of broom wielding Beiruitis who helped clear the streets of debris and glass in the initial days.

It was a spontaneous act of unity that symbolised both the strength of civil society in Beirut and the slow response of the Lebanese government, which most in the country blamed for the blast.

"We in Lebanon have been facing a decline in every aspect of our lives - be it economic or political - and people were very angry. When the blast happened, people were instinctively brought together in solidarity and they wanted to do something," Hammoud said. "But there is still anger."

Hammoud assessed the damage to her home, noting the windows that needed to be sealed and doors reinstalled, but realised there were many more in Beirut without the resources to renovate their homes.

So Hammoud teamed up with her students and colleagues, friends and family to form the First Aid Renovation, one of a number of relief initiatives to emerge in response to the Beirut blast.

The volunteers visited damaged homes in Achrafieh, Gemmayze and Bourj Hammoud, asking residents if they needed doors mending or window frames replaced and later began fixing wooden furniture, such as chairs or beds.

Apprentices and workers offered their time and expertise to help the initiative get off the ground, including one contingent of carpenters from Tripoli who are being hosted in university dorms as they carry out the volunteer work.

The team has set up camp in a basketball court to better respond to the crisis, but know it is a race against time before the rain and cold make it unviable for the volunteers to remain in the tents.

Donations have piled in from people across the world helping First Aid Renovation scale up their operations with the idea of moving from just mending and replacing wooden fixtures to also reinstalling glass windows, before the winter sets in.

When the blast happened, people were instinctively brought together in solidarity and they wanted to do something
- Sally Hammoud

Hammoud said that the blast destroyed not only homes and lives, but also ripped the heart out of one of Beirut's most vibrant and historic districts.

"We as youth are not happy, we don't have security, but at night when we met in Gemmayze for a drink at happy hour it gave us a sense of endurance. But these places have just suddenly vanished," said Hammoud.

"Many of my friends have lost their homes or their offices were destroyed. It felt like I was in a lucid dream, I wasn't asleep, but I wasn't awake either, and this was feeding my anger. Thank God I was able to channel this into something productive, but Beirut now is just heart breaking," Hammoud said.

Helping Beirut

Volunteers have helped with the initial relief efforts, but one month on and Beirut is obviously a city still in trauma.

Christelle Madani has provided psychological support to those affected by the disaster, both in her job as a psychologist and as a volunteer.

"There was this myth about Lebanese people being very resilient and this idea of the phoenix rising from the ashes. After the explosion people don't want to hang onto this myth anymore," said Madani.

"We've spent a long time trying to overcome, but we are not ok, and we don't want to be ok at this moment. I understand that."

A key contingent in the post-blast relief efforts have come from Lebanon's many creatives - both at home and abroad - who have used their skills and networks to help raise funds for Beirut.

"I see there are many initiatives around that are encouraging musicians and artists to create art for this purpose, or maybe some just want to express themselves after the explosion. I also know many who are not in the mood for this and don't feel inspired, and don't want to be inspired by such a tragic event," said Madani.

"So there are both ends, there are those trying to bring music and art to the scene and lift people, but there is also grief and it will take time. Some people who just need the space to overcome."

'Beating For Beirut'

Madani, who is also an amateur singer, spoke with musician friends and family about contributing to the relief efforts via an online concert, and chose First Aid Renovation and the UK-based Smile Olive Foundation to partner with.

The concert, "Beating For Beirut", will be broadcast online on 20 September and will see artists from different parts of the world dedicate their time and talents for their love of Beirut.

It will include performances from Attab Haddad on oud, Mohammad Antar on nai, Peyman Heydarian on santur, and Francesco Iannuzzelli on oud, among other musicians and poets.

I reached out to musicians I had played with and friends and family who are also musicians and told them about this idea of raising funds through an online concert
- Christelle Madani

"I reached out to musicians I had played with and friends and family who are also musicians and told them about this idea of raising funds through an online concert," said Madani.

First Aid Renovation is dedicated to helping Beirutis rebuild
wooden fixtures. [First Aid Renovation/Facebook]

"Many of them responded positively and so we created a WhatsApp group and discussed this idea. It was all very organic."

Other musicians have decided to step back from the music scene for the moment in order to come to terms with what has happened.

"Those who want to use music for this moment then it's there, but those who don't feel ready to play or hear music at the moment also have that space."

Teaming up with First Aid Renovation has allowed Madani to connect with an on-the-ground initiative, while those donating know it will go directly to helping Beirut communities rebuild.

"People are fed up with the political struggles, the economic crisis, the coronavirus epidemic and now this huge blast in Lebanon, but these relief works have brought people together and shown the solidarity and compassion that is among the people," said Madani.

"These grassroots initiatives are essential, and they are the core of the whole thing. If we are going to stand back on our feet, then this is what will do it."

To learn more about Beating For Beirut visit the website.

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