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French Version

Byblos Festival offers a little something for everyone

Aside from being one of youngest summer music festivals in Lebanon, the Byblos International Festival - which began in 2003 where its rivals Baalbek and Beiteddine have decades of history - sets itself apart by its small size and spare choices.

Against the backdrop of the historic crusader city, the festival lined up just four concerts in 2003, five in 2004 and six (minus one cancellation) in 2005. This year, it is offering just five acts, each playing one night apiece.

The festival is opening on June 17 with the much-loved French songster Francis Cabrel, who constantly revisits Bob Dylan's decision to go electric at the Newport Folk Festival and folds it into 1980s pop.

Up next is opera singer Barbara Hendricks performing jazz standards with the Swedish Mangus Lindgren Quartet.

Then comes the heavyweight, bold-face anchor of the Byblos festival - Jamaican dancehall superstar Sean Paul, who was very much responsible for breaking the heavier and more hip-hop inflected form of reggae worldwide. While there is a certain novelty to reading the otherwise genteel Byblos organizing committee peppering their press release with terms like "punany ridim," the Sean Paul gig on July 15 is certain to be one of the high points of the summer season - rough, raw and wholly geared to the youthful masses.

After Sean Paul, Byblos is winding down with French-Moroccan comedian Gad Elmaleh and Canadian pianist Gonzales (who has some hipster credibility thanks to his collaborations with Daft Punk and his sabotaging of Jane Birkin's entire repertoire). He is performing alongside video projections by Berlin-based artist Ninja Pleasure.

Looking at the summer festival line-up as whole -Fairouz in the musical "Sah al-Naoum" at Baalbek, followed by Deep Purple and a reprise of the Dizzy Gillespie All-Star Big Band, and Liza Minelli, Magida al-Roumi and up-and-comer Souad Massi at Beiteddine, it is tempting to read the season as predictable, arbitrary and bleak all at once. But as the Byblos schedule illustrates, there is something for everyone - whether it is the nostalgia factor for francophone fans, a touch of jazz, a few laughs or some serious hip-hop. And what Byblos lacks in size, it makes up for in ancillary events, such as the annual Off-Byblos festival and, new this year, a collaboration with the Association de Development de Gemmayzeh to mount a "touristic" festival on the St. Nicholas stairs from June 14-25, featuring music, theater, cinema and dance.

Beirut,05 22 2006
Kaelen Wilson-Goldie
The Daily Star
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