Books & Beirut

Books to remind us of the Beirut and Lebanon that runs in all our veins... On days where it is the place of pundits and rhetoric. Let these novels take you on a journey through the best and worst parts of this magnificent city & country.

Heads up these are Amazon affiliate links, so you enjoy the books and we enjoy some pocket money. 
By Hanan Al-Shaykh
By Iman Humaydan

By Salma Abdelnour
Bloomsbury Publishing PLC

By Tawfiq Yusuf Awwad
By Iman Humaydan Younes

£22.04 £22.04
By Rabih Alameddine
By Zena El Kahlil

By Samir Kassir
By Khalaf

By Emily Nasrallah
By Elias Khoury

By Ghada Samman
By Zeina Abirached

By Hoda Barakat

By Nadia Tueni
By Mahmoud Darwish
By Jean Said Makdisi

Weekend Listening: Bahri Music

Kuwait is a coastal country, and the sea played a major role in its history, survival and culture. One of the cultural products of this relationship with the sea is Bahri or sea music. Below you have several examples of this style of music

Three bands in Kuwait are famous for keeping Bahri music popular to this day; the Mayouf band, the Bin Hussein band and the Amari Band.

This first musical performance by the Mayouf Band is presented by Ghazi Al-Mulaifi a Kuwaiti ethnomusicologist. Read a Brownbook feature about Ghazi and visit his website

At the end of the performance above the celebrated musician and musical historian Ahmad Alsalhi plays the oud and sings. You can hear/read an interview with him about Bahri music over at the Arab Music Archiving and Research foundation (AMAR). His famous website Zeryab has been providing us all with access to the best in classical and folk music from the Gulf and the wider Middle East for years. Follow him on Twitter and Soundcloud

Below is a Haddadi version of Bahri at the Bin Hussein Diwaniyya. This type of Bahri is the music that was played for entertainment as opposed to the music mostly heard above which functioned to provide rhythm, direction and encouragement for the work.

This third video below is also a Haddadi but a version more haunting by the great Salman Al Amari. He is one of the most well known Kuwaiti Sawt singers (a Kuwaiti town based music as opposed to desert or sea) and also a preserver and performer of Bahri music.

The musical cycle begins with the Nahham (the main singer, in this case Salman AlAmari) singing the Ijrihan (widely thought to be from the word jarh: Pain/ache) which is a solo expressing longing. The rest of the men acting as choir will start to respond vocally, without instruments, at the end of this part of the song. Then the instruments enter in the section called the tanzila.

In this following video you can clearly see the instruments used, some of which may seem like odd household objects, as is the case with the ijhala (water jug seen in minute 3:00) and the Hawin (Garlic beater seen in minute 4:13). These are the objects carried on boats that serve both a musical and functional purpose and also, unlike the Oud (lute), will survive the wet, salty, rough conditions at sea. The other typical instruments are the larger horizontal drum (Tabl Bahri) and the smaller hand held drum (Mirwas).

When the song moves into the third section which is the Nehma the choir hums while the Nahham sings or wails above it. This part also includes the dancing, as a circle is formed and the choir clap and hit the ground and a dancer jumps in possibly in the slippery fashion a fish might.

And now, enjoy:

Finally take a little jump back in time and listen to the legendary Awadh Al Dhoukhi singing the Ya Mal which is the work song with a nahham singing the mawwal while the rest respond with grunts and sounds implying a response in action and words when rowing or pulling out to sea. The words to this piece are a poem style known as a Zuhairiya and is thought to have been based on the story of a sailor leaving his dying friend alone on an island.


To learn about the music above the go to book is:

By Lisa Urkevich

Prof.  Lisa Urkevich is a musicologist / ethnomusicologist who has established herself as an expert in the field of Gulf music and has done much to bring the music to many outside the region.

For a shorter introduction to some of the cultural highlights of Gulf music the article by Sarah Alzouman is a delightful piece.

Villa Ambron

On the 19th of September 2017 the Villa Ambron, in Alexandria Egypt, was torn down after years of attempts to do so by the developer who owns the plot.

Villa Ambron was one of the fulcrums of Alexandria’s cultural life. Built and owned by architect Aldo Ambron – one of a then 70,000-strong Jewish community that has all but vanished – the house has been home to dignitaries including Italy’s exiled king Vittorio Emanuele III, and leading Egyptian painters Saad el-Khadim and Effat Nagui. “It was the place to be seen if you were an artist,”


In an interesting post about the house by Michael Haag we learn that:

Durrell and his Alexandrian girlfriend Eve Cohen - who would later become his wife and who also inspired the character of Justine - moved into the upper floor of the house - the Villa Ambron - with a number of friends in October 1943. Down below lived the owners, Aldo Ambron and his wife Amelia, and their daughter Gilda.
Alexandria 1944  Photo: Edwin Newman Collection San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive

Alexandria 1944

Photo: Edwin Newman Collection San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive


The Novel Lawrence Durrell Wrote in Villa Ambron

The novels set in Alexandria.

Haag's fascinating retelling of Alexandria's period of modern cosmopolitanism. Writers, culture and politics.

More Inspiration from the SALT Archives

The SALT archive never fails to impress. Here is "Gülsün Karamustafa, "Sabah Shopping in the Ancient City", 1982"

The Guggenheim describes Gülsün Karamustafa as follows:

One of Turkey’s most outspoken and celebrated artists, Gülsün Karamustafa has a forty-year oeuvre distinguished by installations, paintings, sculptures, and videos that examine the complexities of gender, globalization, and migration
— Guggenheim

Are you Vintage Kuwaiti or not?

Treasures in The Public Domain

Digging through the images found in the public domain is a joy like no other, and this time round we recommend you look at the SALT archive where you will find a treasure trove of Turkish architectural drawings, photos and manuscripts to spend your weekend with.

We are particularly happy to get our hands on the sketches and notes of Sedad Hakkı Eldem. Included among the documents are the following:

Zeyrek Social Security Complex Zeyrek Social Security Complex Zeyrek Social Security Complex

Built in 1970, the Social Security Agency Complex in Zeyrek won the Agha Khan award in 1986.

Eldem was particularly sensitive to the terrain and the surrounding buildings as can be seen in his notes and in the final product. 

Zeyrek Social Security Complex

in "Turkey: Modern Architectures in History" By Sibel Bozdogan, Esra Akcan the complex is said to :

For more please visit: Salt Online

Eldem's Wiki page


Film Recommendation: Someone Beiruti

Film Recommendation: Someone Beiruti I حدن بيروتي

It's not easy to make a film with talking heads captivating which is why this film is even more impressive than you can imagine. Touching, funny and heartbreaking you are taken on a journey of love and nostalgia and personal reflections.

Be ready to weep at some lovely moments. Happy viewing:

Follow the director on twitter  @JudeSChehab 

Quote of The Day From: Cities in the Arabian Peninsula

Aden was the second busiest port in the world after New York in the 1950s.
— Pascal Menoret

Read  Cities in the Arabian Peninsula Introduction

Here are some photos taken in the late 19th Century of Aden (with many thanks to the Qatar Digital Library):

Quote of the Day

Quote of the Day from "Apparatus of Capture - Architecture in Israel-Palestine, 60 Years On"

Patrick Geddes planned Tel Aviv in a manner which limited congestion and provided space and air, and at the same time deliberately cut it off from the Palestinian city of Jaffa

If you are made more curious about the topic after reading the article above then you can take a deep dive with these books

Heads up friends these are affiliate links, we have a disclosure policy you can read to put you at ease.
By Sharon Rotbard
By Daniel Monterescu
on the crumbling wall of Jaffa’s Kazakhane Muslim graveyard overlooking the Mediterranean, faded graffiti comprising a drawing of an orange reads in black and orange colors, “Jaffa, the city of the sad orange that will smile again”
- Jaffa Shared & Shattered
Land of Sad Oranges
By Ghassan Kanafani

Some past and present images of Jaffa & Tel Aviv:

Digitized Arabic Books for your Weekend Read

Reading the delightful and surprisingly easy al- Falsafah al-lughawīyah wa-al-alfāẓ al-ʻArabīyah (pdf) from the collection of over 15,000 Arabic books NYU is working on making available in digitized format online.

Another book worth spending the weekend reading is al- Muʻtazilah by Zuhdi Jār Allāh for those who are interested in a historical account of  the Mutazilites.

The dedication reads:

'To young Arabs calling for freedom, in every place and throughout time, I dedicate this dissertation on the history of the advocates of freedom of thought who came before them"

That alone makes it worth the read.


Reading: Portal9 Journal

As a journal of stories and critical writing about urbanism and the city,
Portal 9 blends creative writing, photography, and personal essays with academic scholarship, perceptive journalism, and cultural critiques.

With 4 beautifully designed issues so far, this young journal has been an interesting addition to the Middle East writing scene. Approaching single themes or genres via fiction, non-fiction, criticism as well as the visual arts allows for a nicely rounded experience of a subject once the issue is digested. Give it a try and maybe submit your own work. The main concern of the journal is the city and so it is a must on the shelves of architects, planners, designers as well as writers and general readers.

ISSUE #1 THE IMAGINED, the journal hit the ground running with the intangible theme of the "imagined":

To imagine a city is to express more fully its living character, rooted in its diverse experiences and its ongoing formation. “The Imagined” in a place creates another place, a refuge; it multiplies our capacity to live, transcending actuality and broadening its horizons.
— Fadi Tofeili - Portal9 Issue #1

ISSUE #2 THE SQUARE occupied itself with the Square (Saha/Maidan)  unsurprising in a Middle East that has recently played out its hopes and tragedies on the squares of its cities.


“In “Fiction,” we place the experiences of these new Russian writers alongside those from various Arab generations, all focused on breaking through the absurdity of ossified givens”
— Fadi Tofeili - Portal9 Issue #3

ISSUE #4 FOREST is a poetic contemplation of urban origins, nature and where we come from as well as where we are headed as a society.

Follow them on twitter @Portal9Journal