Raya Saksouk
Last updated: 18 June, 2013

Zouk Mikael festival brings music to the Lebanese countryside

High on a hill, slung between Byblos and Beirut, Zouk Mikael holds quiet vigil over the Mediterranean to its west. The small coastal town is a place rich in local charm, and this summer it will be reprising its role as host as it welcomes a group of world-class musicians for the sixth Zouk Mikael International Festival (ZMIF).

The lineup for ZMIF this year boasts an eclectic mix of artists with Frenchman Pascal Obispo opening the festival on July 23, followed by performances from Ziad Rahbani on the 25th, Jonathan Batiste and Monica Yunus on the 31st, and blues-guitar legend Otis Grand on the 5th of August. Performances will take place in the city’s Roman-styled amphitheater, with room for 2500 and ticket prices as low as $20 (and, for those willing and able, as high as $400).

Here, just as one might see in Byblos or Beirut, the past coexists with the present. The Old Souk, one of the city’s most famous destinations is the perfect example. Once a preeminent trading center for silk and artisan goods, the Souk was completely forgotten in the chaos of the Civil War until brought back to life in the late 1980s. Today, it stands as an emblem of the city’s rich Ottoman history just as it exemplifies its modern-day revival. It seems only natural that for many Lebanese the biggest name on the ticket this year is Ziad Rahbani, son of Middle Eastern music legends Fairuz and Assi Rahbani. History is cumulative, and Ziad is the product of cultural icons.  

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Ziad has always been something of a musical prodigy. He debuted his first musical at the age of seventeen and he was behind some of his mother’s most famous songs. Since then, he has written a number of solo albums and musicals, all while maintaining a unique “cult of Ziad Rahbani” which, it seems, continues to thrive in the Lebanese popular consciousness.

Pascal Obispo, another popular name (and, for the record, an anagram of “Pablo Picasso”), will be performing songs from his new “best of” album Millésimes. This means audience members can expect old French pop classics like “Tombé pour elle” and “L’important c’est d’aimer.”

On the festival’s third night, American artists Jonathan Batiste and Monica Yunus will be fulfilling their promise of “high energy jazz with a diva’s twist” (as described on the official ZMIF website). Batiste, winner of the Movada Future Legend prize, has garnered a lot of attention for his influence on the New York City jazz stage. Monica Yunus has had similar success as a renowned soprano singer.

Closing the festival will be Otis Grand, otherwise known as the Gentle Giant of Blues. Grand is a British musician lauded by Guitarist Magazine as one of the world’s foremost blues guitarists. To his audience at Zouk Mikael, the Gentle Giant will be bringing twenty-five long years of experience and an impressive international reputation.

There’s something rather remarkable about a music festival held in a Roman amphitheater, surrounded by the same sea and rolling hills lived by the generations before you. It seems this year’s Zouk Mikael International Festival promises an experience well worth repeating.

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