Category Archives: Old Lebanon

The Old Beautiful Jounieh

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I think this is one of the best pictures I’ve seen of Jounieh back in the old days. It’s really quite depressing to look at this picture and imagine that someone decided to install a power plant in the middle of this beautiful bay, and super night clubs along the coast.

Cool Discovery by Project Revolver: Meet The Sea-Ders (The Cedars), Also Known As “The Beatles of Lebanon”

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I love digging out stories from Beirut’s pre-war glory days and I’m surprised that I haven’t heard about the Sea-ders band until now all thanks to ProjectRevolver‘s research. The Sea-ders, who started off with the name “Top 5″ during the 1950s are presumably the first ever rock band to appear on stage in Lebanon. They were inspired by the popular rock bands that emerged at the time, and went on to record a total of 10 tracks and land a major deal in London during the 1960s.

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They were called the Beatles of Lebanon, because they grew their hair to look like them when the Beatlemania swept across the world and used to perform Beatles songs at a cinema in Hamra for a period of 20 minutes before the movie started. They made a name for themselves in Lebanon as skilled “imitators, capable of replicating the Fab Four’s sound (and looks) down to a T”.

Once they moved to London after signing a deal with Decca Records, they started attracting some attention during a 3-month gig at PickWick, a club in Leicester Square, as they were using the buzuq instrument in their songs, which was strange to Westerners at the time. Apparently, Paul McCartney and George Harrison stopped by one night to see the band playing this weird instrument. The Sea-ders’ first single in the UK was “For Your Information” in 1967 (which was a big hit in Turkey back then) but the record never made it to the charts and the album was labeled as a failure.

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Performing at AUB

The Sea-Ders’ drummer Zouhair Tourmoche, better known as Zad Tarmush, talks about their album’s flop in the UK and says “it’s all about luck in the music industry and about knowing the right people”. Personally speaking, I think what they’ve done is beyond awesome specially with all the cultural barriers that they have to overcome at the time, and I enjoyed listening to their songs.

I strongly recommend that you read the full story of the Sea-ders [Here] as it’s an intriguing and captivating one. All the pictures and information are from [ProjectRevolver].

You can list to their songs [Here].

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Beirut, the early 1960s: a time of growing religious and political tensions in and around Lebanon… But something else was brewing then: the rise of rock & roll. Circa 1964, the Beatles erupted unto the international scene and the entire world, the Middle East included, fell for their music (and their boyish charm).

With the Fab Four’s breakthrough, Lebanese and Arab bands playing psychedelic and garage rock started to emerge in the 1960s and 70s: Dark Eyes, The Kool Kats, The News, The Nomads, the Vultures… catchy names that have since been forgotten, and whose music is sparsely found on the Internet today.

But one of them – the very first rock act to emerge in Lebanon as early as 1962, deserves a special mention. In turn called “Top 5” and “the Sea-Ders,” their music masterfully incorporates the Byrds’ psychedelic harmonies and the distinctive vocals of the Beatles’ front men… with an Oriental twist. This is the story of a band that broke cultural and religious barriers, landed a major deal in London during the swinging 60s and one day caught the eye (or ear, rather) of a couple of guys named Paul McCartney and George Harrison. This is the story of the Lebanese rock band that maybe, just maybe, could have made it big on the international stage. [Source]

[YouTube]

[YouTube]

Old Beirut: Hôtel Excelsior & Les Caves du Roy Night Club

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Hotel Excelsior was one of Lebanon’s most famous hotels back in the 1950s and 1960s and its nightclub “Les Caves Du Roy” was one of Lebanon’s hottest nightlife spots. Excelsior was located next to Beirut’s Palm Beach Hotel in Ain el Mreisseh and was featured in several scenes from Georges Lautner’s 1967 film La Grande Sauterelle. The movie includes a scene “where Lebanese restaurant and nightclub owner Pepe Abed sits at the famous pool reading a newspaper”.

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The Wilson Girls (3 English Girls) used to perform every night at Les Caves Du Roy and an old German band called Birth Control performed there as well. According to this article, Les Caves Du Roy was known for its crêpes and Chef Roulet’s famous L’escape Excelsior. The article says that the Shah of Iran may have visited the place.

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After the hotel closed due to the civil war, it was apparently reopened shortly for one night during Bachir Gemayel’s era. There are a lot of untold stories regarding Hôtel Excelsior & Les Caves du Roy Night Club and it’s quite unfortunate that it has been closed and abandoned for tens of years now. I’ve never noticed where Hôtel Excelsior was exactly in Ain el Mraisse but I found it on Google Maps and gonna see if we can visit it.

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All the info and pictures were taken from this [article].

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This picture was taken by Charles W. Cushman back in 1965 from the top of the hotel.

Thanks Lea!

The Rails That Built Lebanon

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Here’s a nice [article] by Nicolas Photiades on how the private railroad network helped boost Lebanon’s economy in the late 19th century, and how the best way today to bring back the trains is by re-privatizing the network just like the DHP (Damas-Hama Prolongement), the company that operated the railroads for both Lebanon and Syria back in the 1950s.

Back in the mid-19th century, the so-called French Road was the only way inhabitants of Beirut – numbering about 60,000 – could trot or gallop their way to Damascus and trade goods with its 150,000 denizens. Then the only paved road in the near East, the route won international renown for its essential role in driving economic growth in the two cities and the Levant generally, cutting the amount of time it took to travel between them to 13 hours from four days. The Sublime Porte conceded the road in 1856 to Count Edmond de Perthuis, a former navy officer who was living in Beirut, for him to exploit and operate for 50 years. At the time, Lebanon’s road link to neighboring countries was very poor and inefficient, and a traveler would take huge risks when journeying to relatively far-away places such as Damascus.

But the French Road soon reached maximum capacity, and as the 50-year lease was nearing its end, the highway and the Port of Beirut that it helped prosper came under threat by the Ottomans’ first rail concession in the region, which was granted to a British firm for the Haifa-Damascus line. This prompted the French, who feared that the British initiative would rob Beirut of its place as a regional commercial center in favor of Haifa, to ask for their own Beirut-Damascus rail concession. Hoping to avoid being beaten by their British rivals, who had a few months’ head start, the French forced their workers to slave round the clock and through the winter in the snowy mountains to finish the rail line quickly. The first trains on both lines – and the first in the region – made their inaugural journeys to Damascus in August 1895, likely within months of each other. That further trimmed the 147-kilometer trip from Beirut to Damascus to less than nine hours.

The new lines brought about significant benefits. They stimulated commercial and industrial activity throughout the regions where the rails passed and gave Beirut’s port huge importance as a regional hub. Rails were also at the origin of the development of the Bekaa wine industry, with the French Brun family becoming the first to establish its wineries there. The rail also helped significantly boost tourism and put Lebanon on the map worldwide as one of the most modern and innovative countries in the Middle East.

Later on, during the Second World War, Lebanese railways were extended to include a coastal line from Haifa to the Syrian border in the north, going through Tripoli. With this latest addition to the existing network, it became possible for Lebanon to be linked directly to the rest of the region and to Europe. It was this new line and its link to the Orient Express that allowed my uncle to travel to Nazi-occupied Paris in 1944 to present his doctorate thesis on railways in the Levant. [Link]

Hashem el Madani, Akram Zaatari and Saida’s Studio Shehrazade

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All Photos taken by Madani – via BBC

Lebanese Photographer Hashem el Madani has been taking pictures of Saida’s inhabitants over five decades and his archive contains some pretty unusual portraits like the one below. Apparently, it was common in Saida and probably in Lebanon in the 1950s to reenact movie scenes like a fight or a kiss, as long as it’s a kiss between two people from the same sex as the society was a conservative one. In the 1960s and 1970s and following the turbulent politics of the time, it became popular to pose with a gun. Madani even says that following Egyptian President Jamal Abdel Nasser’s death, it became fashionable to take pictures while acting sad. Baqari’s wife is one of the few pictures that caused Madani trouble.

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This pretty awesome archive was picked up by Lebanese video artist and curator Akram Zaatari, who described Studio Shehrazade as a “trove of buried treasure” and decided to partner with Madani and show his photographs to the whole world. He feels that he’s writing history through Madani’s pictures. Zaatari is also a co-founder of The Arab Image Foundation who contains more than “600,000 historic images of daily life in the Middle East, North Africa and the Arab diaspora”.

Madani is now 86 years old but doesn’t believe in retirement.

“Staying at home makes you bored and tired,” he says. “During the day I go to my studio and reminisce about the past. I am nostalgic and I want to relive those days. I much preferred it back then. I used to sleep for about four hours a day, and the rest of the time I would be working”. He still occasionally takes photographs, now on a digital camera.

He is proud to have been chosen for Zaatari’s research and happy that his work continues to be seen. He has accompanied the artist to major international exhibitions, but the project that has meant most to him personally is the Hashem el Madani Walking Itinerary in the old city of Saida where framed portraits of shopkeepers taken in the 1950s were “returned” to the original shops. “I would have liked to photograph all the residents of Saida, because this is where I live,” he told Zaatari.

Two young men from Aadloun. Studio Shehrazade, Saida, Lebanon, 1966. Hashem el Madani 2007 by Akram Zaatari born 1966

I am from a village near Saida yet I have never heard of this place. I will ask about it next time I visit and I hope they will turn Studio Shehrazade into a museum. If you are interested in checking out more pictures, click [Here].

You can check out the full BBC article on Madani and Zaatari [Here].

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Baqari’s wife (Here’s the story behind it: She took pictures without her husband’s permission. As a result he asked Madani to destroy the negatives but he only scratched them. Sadly though, the wife killed herself few years later, and the husband came back asking for prints from the photo shoot)

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Madani and Zaatari