Radio Beirut is an internet station and performance venue founded to provide a space for the city's local music community.
Inside the Middle East

Dropping beats not bombs: How one man swapped minesweeping for music

Chris Giles, CNNUpdated 3rd August 2017
Beirut, Lebanon (CNN) — Jihad Samhat counts himself lucky. For 15 years he risked his life working for the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS).
"It happened quite a number of times that a friend or colleague was killed," he says. "Fortunately I still have my fingers and toes."
Samhat cleared mines in the south of Lebanon, the home nation of his parents before they moved to Los Angeles, California, where he was born. He also supervised teams in Sudan, Cyprus and Kosovo.
Jihad Samhat.
Yet away from this perilous work, Samhat was grafting at another passion that has since become his life -- dropping beats for music fans across the Lebanese capital, Beirut, and promoting local musical talent.
Even when he was out in the field his mind was never far from the turntables.
"Nearly half the job was being on the road driving to minefields, crossing the countryside in south Lebanon and listening to music along the way," he says casting his mind back.
Samhat would set himself apart as a DJ in those days by slipping in tracks from local bands and producers, many of whom he says struggled to get an airing on Lebanese radio alongside popular international acts.
Before long, however, he discovered people were more intrigued by the tracks of the local musicians he would include in his sets.
"I was DJing at a friend's bar and playing a track by a local musician and some people asked me: 'Hey this is great, what is it?' And I said: 'this is an artist from Beirut,'" Samhat recalls. "It clicked in my head and I thought a lot of people don't know about this and it'd be really cool for my friends to be listening," he adds.
Samhat soon developed an idea to cater for those with an interest in the local scene: Radio Beirut -- a venture he says is the Middle East's first radio cafe and live music venue.

A hub for local music

Although it took five years to save money decommissioning landmines to set things up, Radio Beirut was born in 2012.
The station airs online and via an app 24 hours every day while Samhat now dedicates himself full time to its operation after leaving his work in the minefields behind last year.
Sitting just off Armenia Street, Beirut's hub for artists and creatives, Radio Beirut has become a hotspot for emerging talent. It's compact space plays host to a cafe/bar, a stage for live performances as well as a studio that broadcasts live from the venue to listeners online.
While there are numerous 24-hour radio stations in Lebanon, including some that host shows focusing on the local music scene, Samhat is unaware of any others grounded in a space that hosts live performances while simultaneously broadcasting to an outside audience.
It's not surprising then that Radio Beirut has established itself as one of the go-to places for the city's aspiring bands and musicians. "There are so many local bands that have debuted at Radio Beirut. We're very proud that we've provided a space for artists to grow," Samhat tells CNN.
Lebanese blues rock band The Wanton Bishops made their debut at Samhat's venue in 2012. Now they're touring the world-over. The Postcards and Loopstache, meanwhile, are two more to sow seeds at Radio Beirut before achieving success further afield.

Cultural reinvention

A cosmopolitan and lively city situated on Lebanon's Mediterranean coast, Beirut has long been renowned as a party city. Yet a devastating civil war between 1975 and 1990 saw much of it and the country reduced to ruins. While those days are long gone, conflict in neighboring Syria has seen Lebanon become a haven for over a million refugees in recent years.
Lama Salam -- wife of former Lebanese Prime Minister Tammam Salam and chair of the group behind Beirut's first ever Cultural Festival in 2016 -- told CNN last year that Beirut was looking to reclaim its dormant sense of cultural identity.
Radio Beirut, along with a host of other outlets in the city, are doing their bit to contribute towards that aim. Samhat highlights other venues such as Onomatopoeia, L'Appartement and Mezyan as promising upstarts on the live music scene.
While famed nightclubs such as B-018 have long drawn big crowds and electro aficionados, Samhat maintains Radio Beirut was among the pioneers providing space for the likes of local rock, indie music and hip-hop artists.
The venue also regularly opens its doors to performers from across the Middle East. And word of its highly charged gigs has traveled far. Lebanese-French hip-hop artist and documentary-maker Salim Saab told CNN of his own raucous experiences.
"Two weeks ago I was performing in Radio Beirut and the electricity cut-off, but we stayed on stage and some of the guys started beatboxing and performing without a mic and people stayed there and started to applaud. It was really cool," Saab says.
Saab has just released a documentary exploring the city's hip-hop scene called "Beirut Street" -- a nod to the first American hip-hop film "Beat Street." He compares Radio Beirut to the Roxy NYC, which was the home of the early hip-hop community in New York in the 1980s.
Given Lebanon's unique and often painful recent history, however, Radio Beirut has also come to serve another purpose -- providing a window into the latest cultural happenings within the country to those living abroad.
Millions of Lebanese who fled the country during the civil war period have settled as expats in the likes of Europe, Australia and the Americas.
"Radio Beirut is one of those stations they can easily tune into for some sonic nostalgia and stay updated," Samhat says.
If he has anything to do with it, those sounds will increasingly be finding their way into the mainstream in Lebanon and beyond.
By continuing to browse our site you agree to our use of cookies, revised Privacy Policy and Terms of Service. More information about cookies.