As the audience hushed while others milled about trying to get a better view of the stage, a young Lebanese poet began reciting: “Out of a machine, out of a paper, out of a dream … improvisation becomes a must and a pleasure,” says Assem Bazzi. “My friend being judged is already free, his preparation, his work, and his dream came to be in front of living eyes.”
Bazzi’s spoken word performance tell the story of his friend, also an artist, whose work came alive although he wasn’t there to see it. “Last month I worked on a play adaptation of Arthur Rimbaud, the French playwright who went insane before he could watch his own play,” Bazzi told NOW. “The director – a friend of mine – could not be there to see it. He was busy with a court case. Inspired by the real life experience, I wrote about it.”
Bazzi was among many other artists celebrating “The Haven Trifecta,” Haven’s third anniversary, at Beirut’s Art Lounge venue on Saturday night. Haven, a local initiative, works to provide a stage and support network where a variety of musicians, poets, and artists can showcase their talent to their peers.
The theme, Haven organizers told NOW, is indulgence: to express passion and innate instincts that evoke a story. Artists taking part in the gathering, they explained, were given no instructions except to express “what moves them and what makes them do what they do.”
“Sometimes, we just pause and look at each other,” organizer Cynthia Hasbani told NOW. “It’s hard for us to grasp where we are today. We have come a long way.”
Haven’s initiative to support emerging talent began with one musician and one poet on a staircase in a small pub in Gemayze three years ago. Soon, artists began joining from many different backgrounds, including sound design, cinematography, theatre, and photography. Their focus is to help artists grow and to raise awareness of their presence and talents within the community, relying only on the contributions and collaboration of participating artists and unaffiliated art supporters.
“During the first year, it was only Dayna Ash, and Haven was her baby,” Hasbani explained. “She wanted to be able to enjoy a multitude of artists in one place at a reasonable price without having to commute. The rest of us joined at the first year anniversary. We embraced Dayna’s baby and groomed it for a broader grasp of the arts.”
“Last year we introduced the visual art aspect by exhibiting Rami Chahine’s ‘The Ant Step Process,’” she added. “It slowly became second nature to collaborate and bring them all together more and more for what we now call our ‘art gatherings.’”
Artists with complete and utter freedom performed to a crowd immersed in everything around them.
“It is liberating to perform knowing that the crowd will not judge you or tell you that they don’t like your work, but [instead] show you their appreciation, even if they differ in interest,” says Raja, the drummer for emerging blues-rock band Ruby Roads.
The group’s lead singer, Layal, also describes herself as an early “havener.” “I was a guest at one of the gatherings once, almost two years ago,” says Layal. “But today is the first time we all perform together as a band playing our original music.” The market for rock and blues is rather small in Lebanon, the vocalist told NOW. But as the music scene expands and flourishes and with initiatives like Haven, “we are now playing what we want to play as opposed to what we should play,” she said.
Haven’s media spokesperson explained to NOW that the group’s expertise in the technicalities of various art forms allows them to view work with a critical eye. “We believe in art as a tool for expression,” she says “and its ability to move us, so we search for the potential of being moved by the artist.”
“The first time we performed, people were asking who we were,” said Jad Taleb, half of a two-man musical/visual project known as FLUM. “They liked it although it is relatively new.” Taleb performed with Haven almost six months ago at one of their venues. During the event, they were able to introduce FLUM’s music, which comprises of new-wave electronic rock diffused with synthesizers, bass, and drums.
“Our music is indie, its personal, it’s about what I want to hear as opposed to what others would like to hear,” says Taleb. “It’s pretty chaotic, the melody is not traditional, it is based on repetitive rhythms to put the listener in a trance. The progression is fast, but people are liking it.”
With the belief that there’s an artist in every person, Haven’s incubating concept strengthens and grows. “We should be registered and fully operational as an NGO by the beginning of summer,” Hasbani told NOW. “It will open a lot of doors for us, and for the artists, such as prime locations, more opportunities, and the means to publish, record, and exhibit the artists here and abroad.”