Sitting with Nasser Shorbaji, the Syrian-Filipino rapper otherwise known as Chyno, and Anthony Semaan, co-founder of Beirut Jam Sessions, you might never guess that these two fixtures of the Beirut music scene were once working in the banking and telecom sectors. Stifled at the prospect of working another day without making or facilitating music, they left their corporate careers behind to make their musical marks, albeit in different ways.

“Four years ago,” said Semaan, “if someone told me that this is how it would be, honestly I would have never believed it.”

Four years ago, Beirut Jam Sessions planned to start as concert-organizers with a YouTube channel featuring collaborations between musical artists. Today, they’re booking agents, managers, and tour-organizers, with local and international acts performing year-round. They’ve worked with acts like the Wanton Bishops, Lumi, Postcards, Gurumiran, and Karim Khneisser, to name a few. Most recently, they had Is Tropical and Time For T come to Beirut from the UK.

And on Thursday, June 9th, they’ll celebrate their 4th year anniversary with performances by Chyno & Rajul Al Hadidi and the UK’s Heymoonshaker.

Chyno, who was living in Barcelona when Beirut Jam Sessions first started out, connected later with the group after his single O.P.P. dropped. The music video (below) depicts the rapper working in an office and contemplating the life of the suicide bomber.

For Chyno, the song was also a way to talk about the outbreak of the Syrian war and his old home.

“You have this certain urge to represent where you’re from,” he said, “or tell stories about where you’re from when you’re away.”

His latest album, “Making Music To Feel At Home,” is a way to do just that, especially for an artist who can’t necessarily pinpoint a place to call home.

“[I]n Syria, I’m not Syrian to them, I don’t look Syrian, in the Philippines I don’t look Filipino,” said the rapper, “so it doesn’t really matter where I stand in those places because I’m not accepted regardless.”

Still, Beirut has been a place that has fed his musical inspiration even while he was living abroad. “I think my coming of age was here in Beirut more than anywhere else,” he said.

After the video dropped, Beirut Jam sessions signed Fareeq Al Atrash, the hip-hop band which Chyno is a member of, to perform at the Wickerpark pre-party with the Lebanese band Safar. The result of their jam session was iconic for the organization.

“Until today,” said Semaan, “we have at least 100 videos we’ve worked on, and if someone ever told me use one song to define your whole channel, I use that song. It has everything that I would look for. And the best part of it is when Chyno goes into rage mode. He’s turning around and spinning, and you can hear the message so well.”

It’s these types of live performances that convince Semaan an artist is worth sharing with the public.

“For me, that’s the key to anything, because if I book an artist I have to make sure I’ve seen them live first. Now for Heymoonshaker, I saw them live two months ago. I literally was blown away.”

The UK band is a duo who combine bluesy guitar riffs with beatboxing to produce something completely unique and raw. Their gritty sound and an infectious chemistry makes for an intense live performance.

“I went up to them right after the show and said guys this is the date,” said Semaan. “You’re coming to Beirut.”

Still, Beirut Jam Sessions’ journey hasn’t been without its disappointments. The challenges of Lebanon’s image, especially with the recent waste crisis, coupled with the difficulty of convincing the public to come out and see new acts, has caused some bumps along the way.

“Those were the key moments for me because it puts everything all my work into perspective,” said Semaan, explaining that the financial hit can cause a hard blow. “It’s an endless learning curve.”

Chyno, who just returned from touring, also sees the challenges as fuel to fan the flames. After touring, he said, rather than feeling complete gratification, he felt the need to work harder.

“[T]his is a constant hustle to make it lucrative for you,” he said. “I really have to say that I’m middle class and below, I literally do music to live…And that’s my decision. I could be at a bank, making a few thousand dollars a month and that’s alright, but that’s my decision and I love it.”

For Semaan, that hustle is what helped create Beirut Jam Sessions. “Failure isn’t an option because otherwise you’re sleeping right here,” he said, pointing to the sidewalk.

Thursday, a celebration for Beirut Jam Sessions, promises to be a night of energy for the crowd.

“Dave Crowe [of Heymoonshaker],” said Chyno, “he’s just a lot of charisma on stage, a lot of control of the crowd…And I’m just all up in your face all the time.”

Semaan agreed. “Both acts are literally people who will grab the crowd by the balls, to put it nicely.”

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