Home to some of the world’s most preeminent collectors of Middle Eastern records, Beirut is definitely the spot if you fancy digging for some hidden gems – whether that’s perfectly preserved Lebanese psychedelic disco records, or dance floors in warehouses on the outskirts of the city.
The city’s reputation as one of the most ethnically and religiously diverse areas of the Arab world is in part due to the historic push and pull of Eastern and Western influences. Its musicians, like its venue owners and record collectors, know the value of such a rich heritage, and continue to draw on traditional folk music forms like Tarab and Dabke.
Beirut’s resilient alternative scene is counterpointed by collectors who really champion the region’s musical heritage, and one ardent protector is record-store owner and internationally celebrated DJ Ernesto Chahoud. We asked him for his top tips on getting a taste of the city’s music (and how to take a little bit of it home with you, too).
You need to plan ahead to catch the magic at this popular music venue – the stripped-back former war bunker is now only open on Fridays. Situated in up-and-coming Mar Mikhael, it was one of the first venues to open in the area and was initially strictly for live bands performing original music. Now, Ernesto hosts his long-running club night The Beirut Groove Collective here, playing the best of his record collection to those looking to escape the jet set and sink into rare Arab grooves. Expect to hear anything from deep funk and Northern soul to Ethiopian stompers and 60s garage.
Mar Mikhael el Nahr
If you want to enjoy a chilled-out drink in a relaxed atmosphere with beautiful furnishings unchanged from the 70s, make a beeline for Internazionale. The second place to open in the revitalised Mar Mikhael area after The Back Door, it’s now one of the city’s worst-kept secrets. Go in the early evening to grab a seat outside and enjoy a beer before it gets crowded with hipsters – or arrive later and enjoy the packed-out atmosphere and quality cocktails.
Armenia Street, Mar Mikhael
Over in East Beirut is Yukunkun, an unpretentious little club in Gemmayzeh, an area once sluggish but now packed with spots to get coffee, have lunch or just hang out. Situated inside an old war bunker, think walls laden with street art, an international crowd (both behind and in front of the DJ decks), and one of the best sound systems in the city, playing a range of electronic sounds from techno, EBM and post-punk to drum and bass.
Rue du Liban, Gemmayzeh
Whether you’re a vinyl junkie or not, you can’t leave Beirut without a visit to Chico record store. Established in the 1960s by Khatchik Mardirian and now run by his sons, Paul and Diran, the store is internationally renowned for its collection of Middle Eastern music. Chico moved to its current home near the American University of Beirut in 2004, where the two brothers continue to uphold their father’s reputation for incredible service, and take immaculate care of rare Lebanese releases as well as 60s and 70s records of all genres. A much better bet than getting ripped off in a Beirut flea market.
Sadat-Sidani intersection, Hamra
On a tiny cobbled street in Bourj Hammoud, Ernesto Chahoud has transformed his grandfather’s former shoe factory into Darsko record store, complete with weathered jukeboxes and rare vinyl on constant rotation. Buzzing in the day and quieter in the evenings, the area of Bourj Hammoud is a different place to when Chahoud first opened up shop here. But regardless of the city’s changes, the DJ continues to do what he does best: selling records cherry-picked from his 10,000-strong collection and chatting to everyone who comes in. Stop by, have a drink, and enjoy a musical education.
Maraash Street, Bourj Hammoud