The Music in the Wall

Live gigs in Beirut

Lara Mekkawi

At around 8 pm on a weeknight, an empty street begins to fill up. Everyone seems to know each other. Then the guitar string hits. It’s time for sound check. Cigarettes are lit, and the drinks start coming. The street falls silent, as the people enjoy the musings of the artist inside.

In this calm atmosphere, the faces familiarize, and I am able to recognize some of the regulars: Ziad, Marilyn, and Nour are all there. Zee is inside strumming his guitar; it is on a night like this that I heard Ramzi playing for the first time, at the same place, same time. Quickly, I realized there was something special about this hole in the wall.

”Hole in the Wall” on Monot street has become known as a live music hub for over five years now; the place itself has been around for almost 20 years, eventually nurturing rising musicians and giving them a space to expand their talents. Marilyn Kasparian, Nour Nimri, and Ramzi Karkabi are three well-established names in the live music scene around Beirut today, and they are three of the regulars at “the Hole”.

  • Marilyn Kasparian
    Photo: courtesy of the artist

As we sit outside on a wobbly table, Marilyn comes over with a beaming smile and hugs me. Marilyn sings cover songs ranging from acoustic to pop rock to alternative to indie rock and plans on working on her originals. I ask her about the general live music scene in Lebanon. She describes it as a space full of untapped potential, amazing people and talents: “Every time I go somewhere new, I feel very competitive like I know I’m surrounded with people who have a lot more to offer than I do and maybe what’s nice is that we are different from one another; plus, I believe that we are very supportive of each other… I know a lot of people that come and watch me and feel the same way I feel when I come watch them. And it’s honest admiration.

Woman like a man (Damien Rice cover)
Zee feat. Marilyn

“Hole in the Wall” is one of the places that has offered Marilyn such support. She describes it as a place where she can play for herself and not for the people, because the audience that comes knows her and wants to see her performing: “There is this connection: the people are quiet the whole time, but you always see them singing along. I never end a song and the people are not with me, and it’s so comforting” she adds. Another important factor she mentions is that the artist feels respected by the owners and the staff: “Let’s say if anything is not making me comfortable, they don’t care about what people think or feel because they understand that the people are supposed to comfort the band and you’ll never find this anywhere else; it’s beautiful, it’s like our second home. It’s really hard to leave it; if you’d noticed, there is a lot of continuity in ‘Hole in the Wall’, so you have artists like Joy who has been here for 5 years, Nour has been here for 3, Ramzi and I for 2 years. It’s like you don’t leave ‘Hole in the Wall’. It is not consumer oriented at all: it’s more like they want you to feel at home.

Nour Nimri
Photo: courtesy of the artist

At this moment, Nour Nimri joins us. Nour has been an artist for over 4 years and has been performing at “The Hole” every Saturday for 3 years now. He describes his involvement with the place as “a lucky coincidence”. He was playing at the place in front of it when he heard someone singing from “Hole in the Wall”; curiosity got the best of him, and he went in and saw a live band playing that was really good. He ran into a couple of friends and was invited to sing a song, and that was that. The next day, Ziad, the manager, called him and suggested to set some fixed dates for him to come sing. Gradually but surely, Nour’s Saturday night gig became one of the liveliest nights in “Hole”, crowding up the – otherwise empty – street on a regular basis. Nour describes “Hole in the Wall” as one of the biggest supporters for his music because it allowed him to gain a bigger number of followers; lots of people met him and discovered his music through it; Nour smiles and says: “it is a very small place, but it has a big effect on me. It is one of my favorite places to play at.

So how did “The Hole” start up? I later sat with the owner and manager of the place, Ziad. “Hole in the Wall” was created by Kamal Aziz in 1999, who operated the bar for 4-5 years while Ziad was a student working at a nearby club and used to go to Hole for a drink and dinner before work. He was in love with the place so much that he always used to tell the owner that one day he would buy his place. That day finally came when the owner decided to sell it to Ziad. As the new owner, Ziad made little changes to the place, which had regular live DJs, the popular style of the time. Live music was not introduced to “The Hole” until 2012, when Bernard Najem joined the team. At that moment, the trend of going out had shifted from Monot street to Gemmayze, and Ziad wasn’t able to follow. Therefore, he had to find a solution outside the box to keep people interested in “Hole in the Wall”. Since he was close to the musical scene, he got them involved. The buildup took years, starting with one band, then two bands, then finally a band each night.

Stay with me cover
Nour and Bernard

Even though live music in English and French has really picked up over the past few years, with many restaurants and pubs offering live music, there are few places that compare to “Hole”. Though it is small, it offers a good setup for acoustic music, with a sound system that gives additional life to the music. Nour stresses this issue as one of the main problems for live music in Lebanon: “There’re always nice music but the problem is with the venues. We don’t have ready venues for live music. Most venues want to have live music but are not equipped for it. But they are trying hard and lately live music is something that’s more respected and more considered among most places; so I’m happy how it happened, because 2 to 3 years back no one cared about it. But I still think that there is no one place that is equipped for ‘underground’ artists like me: we’re not super stars, we’re not on TV, we just play for the people, play the music we love and we don’t have proper venues to make it.

Marilyn Kasparian & Ramzi Karkabi
Photo: courtesy of the artists

Apart from “Hole in the Wall”, Ramzi, Marilyn, and Nour agreed that “The Next Whiskey Bar” and “Lockstock” are good places to enjoy an entrancing live music experience. And if you’re ever at a loss for a good plan, “The Hole in the Wall” is there to welcome you.

  • Nour Nimri
    Photo: courtesy of the artist

You can follow Zee, Nour and Marilyn on their official Youtube and SoundCloud pages:

Zee Karkabi:

Nour Nimri:

Marilyn Kasparian:

The Hole in the Wall - Beirut:

The Next Whiskey Bar - Beirut:

Lockstock - Beirut:

Photos: courtesy of the artists