From filming sessions to promoting bands in Beirut, Beirut Jam Sessions has been keeping the Lebanese music scene alive in its own way, being the first organization of its kind in the Middle East. BJS hosts “Jam Sessions” where both an international and local act perform together (or often alone as well). One can easily linger on BJS’ YouTube channel discovering unique and intimate performances around the country. We were curious to discuss with Beirut Jam’s co-founder Anthony Semaan, the creative process in which the team goes through, the challenges they face as well as their vision for managing local acts.
You started Beirut Jams Sessions 4 years ago, and your contribution to the Lebanese music scene has been immense so far. Can you tell us how it all started?
I was partially living in Spain at the time, working at a Telecommunications company. I was in that field for a few years, but throughout that time and for a few years earlier I had been writing this “plan” of how I wanted to bring cool upcoming/unknown bands to Beirut at an affordable price to just throw cool gigs as often as possible. I also felt no one was really making the effort to promote the bands properly to give them the chance to leave the country or tour abroad. At the end I quit my job, spoke to a few friends to see who wanted to be involved and we went for it. That’s a short summary of it.
BJS has been known to film video sessions in exotic and unconventional places. How does a brainstorm session for location ideas look like? Are there any particular features you aim to have in your videos?
The main features are for the sessions to be spontaneous, raw or improvised. Very rarely has anything happened on our sessions that was so carefully prepared, especially when we mash up 2 artists because that’s when the real jamming starts. As for brainstorming, it’s pretty simple. Typically it involves myself and whoever is filming the session (we have to coolest team ever that shoots by the way) and we come up with some incredibly awesome and sometimes stupid ideas. To be honest, most of the discussions take place really late at night and obviously we aren’t in any rational state of mind when we decide what we want to do, but we do write the ideas down and go ahead with them…regardless of whether or not they make any sense in broad daylight.
Where would BJS dream of filming a session (but currently can’t)?
Not too sure, there are loads of cool places in Lebanon where we don’t have permission to film because Lebanon is cool like that. But if I had to choose I’d probably say on the middle of the highway during the peak of a traffic jam. That would be pretty special…and stupid.
Forecasting the challenges that your idea was going to face in Lebanon, what are the things that kept you pushing to make the project come to life?
From a personal point of view I knew it was going to take time. I still do believe that it’s a young project. When we tell people we’re 4 years old, people are like “Wow! That’s a long time”, but in truth, it’s still a young project. There are several challenges we face, but I’d rather not focus on those because it would feel like I’m nagging about what we can’t do rather than finding solutions for them. Lebanon has a growing music scene and we’re happy to play our part in developing artists and bringing cool acts to town.
Besides political and geographical instability, what are some of the weaknesses of Lebanon as a destination for music performers and how do you see the solution uncovering?
Lebanon isn’t an interesting market for any artists around the world. No band or musician thinks “Oh let’s go to Lebanon, it’ll help our careers”. It won’t. It’s just an “exotic” destination for artists on tour. Luckily for us, the artists, agents & managements we’ve worked with have all become friends and thankfully they always put in a good word for us whenever they come – so it helps when we approach other artists. All the people we’ve worked with have been, without exception, super cool people and they’re playing a far bigger role in helping us and the music scene here than people imagine.
The Lebanese Indie scene has been growing in the past few years. How do you see its future and what would advice would you give to up and coming artists?
I think there are far too many things I would love to say to up and coming artists in Lebanon especially because I know there are talented musicians out there who need some guidance in one way or another. But it isn’t always easy getting a message through to artists here.
The videos you produce are published on YouTube which has been for years now the go to place for video publishers. What do you think of the rise of Facebook video and how are you planning to deal with it?
I’m actually surprised that YouTube haven’t reacted yet given how much Facebook have been bombarding us with Video content. The thing is it’s affecting the way people perceive YouTube videos and it’s also affecting the way brands perceive projects too. However the numbers remain, a Facebook “view” is counted after 3 seconds and on Facebook videos getting autoplayed when you scroll over them. On YouTube a view is counted after 30 seconds. So the user can choose – either fast content which is made for numbers to go up or qualitative content which is made for people to actually watch. The internet has turned into a Facebook/Instagram vs Youtube/Google war. I know I’ve chosen my side.
Besides BJS, you also manage local acts, can you tell us a bit more about your work there?
Beirut Jam Sessions currently manages Postcards and has been doing so for the past 3 years. We also act as booking agents for several artists (Lebanese and International). In the coming months there will be announcements about this aspect of our work which I’m pretty excited about. Can’t reveal anything until it’s actually finalized.
You won a competition where you get to choose any 2 acts in the world and get them to collaborate for a BJS session. Who are the two acts, where would you film them and what songs would you want them to perform?
That’s a very hard question, but I think I can be biased on this. Of all the artists in the world, I’d choose Postcards & Beach House together.