Evenings in Beirut during Ramadan have a special flavour as the city celebrates with the music of Umm Kulthum, Mohammed Abdul Wahab, Asmahan, Sayed Darwish and other past giants of Arab music, but sung by young Lebanese and Arab singers in what has been dubbed the “Ramadan Evenings”.
These performances, which unofficially began in the mid-90s, have become an annual ritual for all Lebanese, who look forward to spending evenings enjoying culture and music. In the past, most evenings during Ramadan were exclusively reserved for religious hymns and spiritual songs.
"Is there anything more beautiful than these performances during Ramadan?" said Yasmin Khafaja Khafaja, who was waiting for a friend in a large crowd outside the Babylon Theatre on Hamra Street.
She told Al-Shorfa that she planned to attend a performance called "Saher al-Ainain" by singer Nina Abdel Malik and composer Ziad al-Ahmadieh.
"We are getting to know a deep musical tradition rather than the fluff in today's music scene," she added.
She said Lebanese find these musical evenings an enjoyable way to pass their time between iftar and suhour. Previously, many people strolled along the corniche or frequented cafes to smoke hookah, she said.
For the fifth consecutive year the Babylon Theatre is offering a variety of cultural, theatrical and musical programmes throughout the holy month of Ramadan.
The theatre has organised 13 evening performances from July 25th to August 18th featuring Jordanian singer Makadi Nahas, Lebanese singer Sara al-Hani, X-Factor star Osama Petro, Ziad al-Ahmadieh and Nina Abdel Malik. Syrian singer Badia Hassan will give two performances in which she will sing songs of Sheikh Imam.
Theatre director Rashad Dbeissi said turnout at such events is good.
"Our performances are far removed from Ramadan tradition and are closer to tarab music," she said. "These performances have attracted a wide audience from all segments and age groups who leave the theatre ecstatically happy and overjoyed".
Renowned actress Nidal al-Ashqar helped launch the new ritual of musical performances in Beirut's theatres during Ramadan in 1994 at the Madina Theatre.
This year, three performances were scheduled at the Madina Theatre: the first with singer Mustafa Saeed, Sheikh Ihab from Egypt and the Asil music band, who presented Ramadan-inspired songs, and two other performances showcasing singer Suleiman Zaidan, the Maana music band and Ghada Shbeir.
"We are among those that started this Ramadan trend on stage," al-Ashqar told Al-Shorfa. "Since 1994, we have been presenting Ramadan performances by the most famous Arabic bands playing oriental music and artists and singers from the Arab world."
Al-Ashqar said the dwindling number of performances at the Madina Theatre is a result of current events in Lebanon and the Arab world. She said the Ramadan initiative is necessary "so the post-war Lebanese generation can listen to authentic Arabic music and songs".
"When we present tarab music and tawashih [Arabic poetry in stanzas] coming from Iraq, Syria, Morocco and Tunisia, we are contributing towards educating our youth, many of whom have been attending the Ramadan evenings at our theatre," she said.
"The Ramadan nights should be filled with happiness, joy, innovation, creativity, singing and jubilation," actress Hanan al-Hajj Ali told Al-Shorfa. "Cultural activities have been on the rise this month, which is a good thing, and I witnessed the importance of this through my participation in the play 'Atbet al-Alam Lada al-Sayyida Ghada' at the Dawar al-Shams Theatre, which ran the first 10 days of Ramadan."
"Turnout was high, which means that cultural events during Ramadan have their followers," she said. "But the important thing is that the performances have a deeper dimension."
Naima Atallah, director of the Dawar al-Shams Theatre, said the theatre's management had not considered dedicating performances to Ramadan before this year. The theatre held two performances this month.
The appetite for such performances this year might pave the way for creating a Ramadan programme in the future, according to Attallah.
"This is an experience the theatre might build upon in the future as there is a possibility of putting together a special programme for Ramadan," she said.