Beirut Christmas music event gets touch of soul

38374_mainimg1.jpgBy Alex Taylor
The Daily Star
Performance included classics from The Beatles and Bob Marley.
BEIRUT: The 2011 Beirut Chants Festival, hosted by Solidere, welcomed the London Community Gospel Choir Friday night at St. George’s Cathedral downtown, adding some soul to this year’s holiday music event.

The choir’s founder and director, Bazil Meade, greeted the packed cathedral with words of peace and love before launching into a spirited concert featuring traditional gospel songs, Christmas tunes and even a few popular hits from The Beatles and Bob Marley.

“We have a passion for seeing communities coming together,” Meade told the audience. “Music is a tool of unity. We believe our presence here is part of rebuilding the community in this beautiful country.”

The London-based choir has a history of performing for different communities around the world, most recently on behalf of the British Council in Zambia and Zimbabwe. They have performed for Nelson Mandela and Queen Elizabeth, as well as contributed to Disney’s soundtrack for “The Lion King” and backed up live vocals for artists including Madonna, Celine Dion, Diana Ross and Tina Turner.

Their performance Friday night, at times, brought tears to the eyes of audience members during emotional numbers such as “Amazing Grace,” and “Away in a Manger.” Livelier music in the set moved everyone to their feet to sing along with renditions of Bob Marley’s “One Love,” and gospel favorite, “Oh Happy Day.”

Beirut Chants Founder, Micheline Abi Samra, expressed delight over the success of Friday’s concert but emphasized that the festival, in its fourth year, is about more than music and shows the “a human face of Solidere.”

“Our message is … love, unity and tolerance,” Samra explained. “Especially a message of bonding between all the communities of Lebanon.”

The varied program for this year’s Beirut Chants Festival, which began Dec. 3 and runs through Dec. 25, features a free concert every night at different venues that have been reconstructed since Lebanon’s Civil War.

From individual jazz vocalists, to performances of Syriac and Byzantine music, each night features distinct artists and choirs to celebrate the holiday season in symbolic, reconstructed environments.

Samra hopes that holding concerts in churches that were ruined during the war, and have since been reconstructed, will promote a message of “bonding between communities so that we can go on rebuilding.”

Meade expressed hope that the choir’s songs about love and peace, as well as its diverse foundations with members of different races and origins, could inspire “people of different faiths to join with one voice.”

“Music is a very powerful tool to bring healing.”

For a full schedule of the festival visit www.beirutchants.com.

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(The Daily Star :: Lebanon News :: http://www.dailystar.com.lb)