Ladies and Gentlmen, welcome to Beirut, December 1991
We were not prepared for anything like this at all. I bear witness.
French band Les Negresses Vertes were about to release, or had just released their Famille Nombreuse album. The management, comprised of Assad & Jacques organized a concert at venue within the American University of Beirut. How do you say, ‘hostilities between factions had ceased’? The eighteen year long uncivil war had come to pass, and this was to be the first performance by a ‘Western’ band in the country since the first bullet took a life. I was the band’s UK Press Representative at the time, and the NME’s Stuart Bailie, photographer Steve Pyke and the Observer’s Philip Sweeney agreed to cover the venture. At some point I ignored a directive from the Virgin boss Ken Berry: As the company’s insurance would not cover me or any of the personnel in a ‘conflict zone’, I was not to go. “Sorry, didn’t get the message Ken.” This was a unique opportunity not to be missed.
For most of us on the trip, it was our first proper real time facing a bullet and rocket scared city and it’s population. The sheer destruction encompasses you full 360°. It is painful to see what some will do to others. People sacrificed regardless of postcode. People, families, and those strangers no longer, lived among the rumble, dust, bomb-induced craters in the streets, passing through militia checkpoints.
“This is the place where Terry Waite was taken hostage.” said our guide, pointing to a nondescript pavement by the road along the coast as the bus took us to Martyr’s Square. Several of the windows on our bus were penetrated by bullets. What happened the previous occupants of these seats? On my return to the city several years later, I was informed that the owner of the hotel we we stayed at first time around, was “taken outside and shot, boom, dead.” Silence for a moment.
My colleague at Virgin France, top AnR person, Maya Masseboeuf is Lebanese, she was on the trip as well, and I recall, as we entered the airport there was a portrait of Syrian’s President Assad, not the current one, his dad, hanging proudly. “Hey Maya, what is his portrait doing there?” I said a bit too loud for her liking. “Not now.” I was learning.
During a day trip we came upon a block of flats across the road, the fourth and top floor was totally destroyed, concrete and steel hanging precariously, no surprises would it tumble right there and then. Maya had family living in that building. It was Maya that sent the link to the TV report, thank you.
The concert itself hit a cruising altitude of several thousand feet, those in attendance onstage, the audience, everybody unified to celebrate the a richness that had been kidnapped, separated, tortured, abused, murdered, sent into exile and so on.
The relevance of this period in time and what is unfolding right now could not be underestimated.
Négresses vertes á Beyrouth – French TV Report
The Special AKA ‘War Crimes’
Total Destruction: DJ Scud & Nomex