MusicHall maestro Michel Elefteriades in Dubai

Meet Greek-Lebanese musician behind iconic Beiruti concept

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Michel Elefteriades isn’t known for living the quiet life. Alongside his careers as a music producer, visual artist and entrepreneur, Elefteriades’ CV also includes stints as a soldier, a political activist who reportedly survived two assassination attempts, and the founder and ‘Emperor’ of a new theoretical nation called Nowheristan. Notorious for charged statements and glib asides, whether the 42-year-old Greek-Lebanese celebrity courts controversy or not, it’s clear he enjoys exposure: his showy jet-setting life sees him living permanently in a hotel suite (‘I just love the feeling of fresh sheets every night’), while he drives a custom-made car not dissimilar to the Batmobile (‘just Google it – so many people like to take pictures of my car’).

Not afraid of blowing his own horn, Elefteriades’ online profile also lists his achievements as being the author of four novels, an ‘obscure interpreter defying the rules of singing’ who’s written more than 150 songs, ‘none of which became an international hit’. He’s also a filmmaker behind ‘two good documentaries and 11 lousy ones’, and a ‘businessman gifted for generating fortunes in realistic projects, only to spend them
on surrealistic ones.’

It’s not quite clear which camp the Beirut nightclub he founded falls into. Perhaps, as MusicHall marks a double celebration this week – the tenth anniversary of the Lebanese original, and the birth of the second venue in Dubai – the club has officially moved from the ‘surreal’ to the ‘realistic’ realm.

MusicHall works on the distinctive ethos of having more than a dozen different musical acts performing in a single evening, each for just a few minutes. Elefteriades says it was a love of the artists, not the audience, that led him to the concept. ‘I always dreamed of having a good venue where artists can perform on a regular basis, which isn’t possible in the Middle East. You have hotels, where they put artists in a corner, or private events. But real artists want to be positioned as real artists, not entertainers. I said, “I’ll have to create my own [venue].”’

The club he created took up an old theatre in the centre of Beirut, and was quickly established as both a unique concept and one of the city’s premier venues, attracting celebrities including Sting and Kevin Spacey.
On any given night, dozens of performers from across the globe take to the stage, performing everything from salsa grooves to African rhythms or Indian tabla to disco pop.

Elefteriades is adamant this heady cultural mix will not be watered down when the 1,000-capacity venue opens at Dubai’s Jumeirah Zabeel Sarary, and promises that about 50 musicians will take to what is the region’s largest stage on the two evenings a week the club opens. Each of the artists are cherry-picked signings from his own label, and hail from as far afield as Chile, Russia, Cuba, Spain, the USA, France and Italy. ‘When you go backstage it’s like the Tower of Babel,’ jokes Elefteriades.

The cultural mix he brings is undoubtedly inspired by his cosmopolitan life. Born in Beirut in 1970, the son of a Greek guitarist and a Lebanese pianist during the Lebanese Civil War, Elefteriades was briefly a solider in a militant group (‘I was a very good solider – I learned discipline from the army’). At 18 he embarked on ten years of travel, studying fine art in France before living in Cuba and eastern Europe. Returning to Lebanon in the late ’90s, he continued a prolific career as a music producer, known for mixing ethnic and Arabic musicians together to create novel fusions, notably captured in 1999 group Hanine y Son Cubano which teamed Cuban players with an Arabic female vocalist. Among his proudest achievements is pairing 80-year-old singer Wadih El Safi (known as ‘The Voice of Lebanon’) with young Spanish gypsy guitarist José Fernandez. And in recent years he’s begun a series of live albums recorded at the MusicHall, a practice that will be replicated with the Dubai venue. It’s the first in a larger plan to roll out the brand globally, with São Paulo, Istanbul, and locations in Latin America on the cards.

‘You never get bored at the MusicHall,’ adds Elefteriades, with a certain flair of arrogance. ‘You have something very light, but you have something that is heavy enough. You can consider it fun, but if you absorb it, it’s also very artful. What people lack today is being amazed – we all see so many shows and concerts but it’s so difficult to get people amazed. They should come to MusicHall.’
The MusicHall’s invite-only launch party takes place on Thursday January 24; the venue will open to the public on Friday January 25. Jumeirah Zabeel Saray, Palm Jumeirah, www.themusichall.com (04 453 0000).

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