Interview with the King of Rai: Cheb Khaled’s fervent homage to Beirut

Algerian singer and musician Cheb Khaled has released a brand new song in tribute to Beirut in the wake of the devastating explosion in the city. (Supplied)
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Updated 07 September 2020

Interview with the King of Rai: Cheb Khaled’s fervent homage to Beirut

  • Funds generated from new song will be donated to the Lebanese Red Cross
  • Negotiating with Lebanese government possibility of organizing a big concert

PARIS: Algerian singer and musician Cheb Khaled has released a brand new song in tribute to Beirut in the wake of the devastating explosion in the city on August 4 and which claimed the life of at least 171 people.

In solidarity with the Lebanese people, Cheb Khaled said that the money generated from his new song — titled “Elle S’appelle Beyrouth” (Her Name Is Beirut) — and its music video will be donated to the Lebanese Red Cross.

The single and music video were released on August 18, two weeks to the day after the terrible explosion hit Beirut.

Q. You have teamed up with the Lebanese musician Rodge whose studio has been hit by the huge blast of the explosion. Tell us about this cri du cœur...

A. I discovered the disaster while watching television with my children. I wondered what I could do to help. We then contacted Rodge, whom I had met on the set of a music video in Beirut four years ago. We finished this title in four days. First, he sent me several beats and then we remotely built the song together.

For the lyrics, I collaborated with an Algerian poet living in Paris. One can achieve a lot through the twists of fate. We really worked everything together getting close as a family in our support of Beirut.

Q. What does Beirut mean to you?

A. When I was young, I dreamed of going to Beirut, which is considered by us Arabs as the Las Vegas of the Middle East. It was the city of cinema, joy and culture. I have seen many black and white films, including Egyptian films, filmed in Beirut.

I was first invited to Lebanon, a country I wished so much to visit, in 1993. The war just ended and the city was shedding off slowly the damages inflicted by the war, still apparent to the eye. I ended up in a recording studio in the fifth basement, but fell in love with the people!

Q. What do you like about them?

A. I have seen a people with the will to live, a people similar to mine in Algeria. My mother used to say, if you do not have the strength to kill your enemy, kill him with a smile. Despite everything they have been through, I have encountered a lot of joy. Quite a resilient people.

Q. Do you confirm that all profits will be donated to the Lebanese Red Cross?

A. We have renounced all rights and all the benefits will be donated in full to the Lebanese Red Cross.

Q. Do you follow the situation on the ground?

A. Of course I do. I see people protesting peacefully, which is great. I believe Algerians have paved the way for them in this regard. It is different from the Yellow Jackets, although I do respect that...

People now understand that when someone wants to defend their rights, there are always parasites and thieves aiming to ruin and break things thus not allowing the message to pass. However, the Lebanese, like the Algerians, are demonstrating peacefully, calmly, and against the stupidity of man.

Q. Will we see you again on stage soon or is it difficult because of the health crisis?

A. We are in the process of negotiating with the Lebanese the possibility of organizing a big concert soon, alongside the location where the disaster took place. We are actively looking for sponsors and would like to invite all interested artists, from Lebanon, France and other places. I hope our dream will come true.


Farm to table: Lebanese initiative ‘From the Villages’ celebrates local talent 

Updated 20 October 2020

Farm to table: Lebanese initiative ‘From the Villages’ celebrates local talent 

DUBAI: In an act of solidarity with Lebanon’s villagers, farmers and local artisans, a group of innovative Lebanese graduates are operating an online platform that provides a wide array of their homemade products and crafts to those residing mainly in Beirut, as well as other cities across the country. 

At a time when a number of businesses were closing down, “From the Villages” was born from the COVID-19 lockdown in May. It all started through a fateful conversation between a few individuals who wanted to share good quality produce and foods from their southern, fertile village of Deir Mimas with others.

“Because people in their villages don’t find markets to sell (at), we thought why don’t we sell this food online?” the e-platform’s managing partner Hani Touma told Arab News. “By using technology and having a platform, they can sell their products and reach a wider range of customers.” 

The team designed their website and launched a couple of days later, with a few available items. Today, its offerings have expanded and clients can access a variety of 25 product categories, which include herbs, dairies, jams, olives, syrups, distillates, soaps and pottery. An eco-friendly project, all of the products are minimally packaged and locally made by nearly 50 artisans and farmers, living in 20 villages, mostly from the south.  

“We’re working with real household people,” said Touma. “Some of the ladies that we work with are 60, 70 years old and this is their only job. It started as a fun project and now it’s growing. We’re helping a lot of the suppliers and they’re having regular income, although it’s going up and down because of the economic situation in Lebanon.” 

Prior to the spread of COVID-19, Lebanon was already suffering from decades-long mismanagement and a financial crisis, in which citizens couldn’t access their bank savings, unemployment and inflation spiked and the Lebanese Lira devalued exponentially. 

In addition, Lebanon stands far from its full potential when it comes to local agricultural production as it imports more than 80 percent of its food items. The efforts of Touma, his business partner Sari Hawa, along with their tightly knit team of experts, are amongst the latest aiming to cultivate a culture of homegrown food concepts through grassroots initiatives.  

“Now, even the products imported have started to be missing from the supermarkets,” explained Touma. “I think this was why ‘From the Villages’ grew very fast, because people were not able to find some of their food – like jams, for example. They were all imported from outside. But now, you have a local product available directly at your doorstep.”

Following the deadly Beirut port explosion on Aug. 4, the “From the Villages” team suspended operations for a month and is currently slowly picking up again by carrying out deliveries twice per week. “Everything is working against us,” said Touma, “but we’re trying to stay on the ground and fix everything.”