Beirut: No No No

15 Dec

“Despite their name, Beirut had never performed in Lebanon until they appeared at the Byblos International Festival in August 2014.”

No No NoTo the unaccustomed reader, US band Beirut can be stunningly encapsulated in this quote from its Wikipedia page. Essentially the Indie Kings of Cultural Appropriation, the band has devoted nearly a decade of its collective instrumental and compositional talent to the pursuit of othering and objectifying marginalised cultures in the name of Western wanderlust.

Beirut’s “unique” sound is derived from “world” (mostly Eastern European) influences, which it repurposes in the construction of nostalgic ballads about love, longing, and the bored void left by white Western privilege and entitlement that only archaic and dehumanising caricatures of other people’s lives and cultures can fill.

To Beirut, names of places they have (often) never visited are merely catchy titles for songs (viz Track 1, “Gibraltar”), and nothing adds edge to an album title like a romanticised reference to distant conflict and suffering (viz 2006 debut album, Gulag Orkestar).

“One of the reasons I named the band after that city was the fact that it’s seen a lot of conflict. It’s not a political position. I worried about that from the beginning. But it was such a catchy name,” said frontman Zach Condon in a 2006 interview with New York magazine. “I mean, if things go down that are truly horrible, I’ll change it. But not now. It’s still a good analogy for my music. I haven’t been to Beirut, but I imagine it as this chic urban city surrounded by the ancient Muslim world. The place where things collide.”

All signs indicate that nearly ten years later, the band continues to be as ill-informed about the city whose “chic”-sounding name they appropriated as most of its fan base, who probably think it’s just a droll word the group made up, like Coldplay did with Mylo Xyloto.

Moving on to the guise of a music review I used to lure you onto this web page, No No No seems to be the band’s first vague attempt at presenting a distinctive sound rather than an insensitive Halloween costume. Upbeat “Perth” offers a fun synth riff (no cartoonish othering for Australia, obvs), and “So Allowed” also offers a pleasing peek into what Condon and Co sound like underneath their layers of appropriation (their band name being one).

My favorite track is “As Needed”, but this is mainly because this charming combination of acoustic guitar, strings and piano disguises itself as a lost Beatles track (although come to think of it, the Beatles did their fair share of cultural appropriation).

TL;DR, I try to become a little more woke every day, and it’s been 1 466 days since I reviewed Beirut’s last release. Is their discography still the soundtrack to my heartache? Sadly, yes – but this is now something I am critically interrogating, rather than boasting about on overpriced dance floors.


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