Meet Karim Ghattas, Zenith Music Festival’s charismatic founder
A visionary and a go-getter, Karim Ghattas has been one of the most influential personalities in Lebanon’s cultural scene. As the founder of LibanJazz, in a music career spanning two decades, he has befriended, produced and managed some of the most talented musicians from the Med, while leaving his own vibrant, enduring imprint on the music scene. Now based in Athens, he launches the first ever Zenith Music Festival featuring the legendary Paolo Fresu at Spetses on September 24.
If proof were needed of his passion for jazz, watching his cobalt green eyes light up while talking about the soulful melodies of Paolo Fresu, who will be opening the first Zenith Music Festival, is all you need. There is weariness too. Of having hosted a festival against all odds, in a complex political and economic climate in his native Beirut, and of having to move on to a new chapter of his life away from Lebanon. Like most of his compatriots in the creative community, the impact of the Beirut blast last year went way beyond the initial explosion. Karim believes that life is like jazz, ‘you need to constantly improvise.’ And so, LibanJazz reinvents itself as the Zenith Music Festival. But it retains the intimacy of a small jazz festival, with high-quality acts in atmospheric venues.
The stunning amphitheatre of the Anargyrion school in Spetses (modelled on Eton and founded to groom Greece’s ruling class) hosts this year’s festival. Karim Ghattas speaks to Athens Insider on the eve of the concert.
Karim, after a successful career hosting concerts, music festivals (including the long-running Liban Jazz) and managing talent, you moved from Beirut to Athens to host the first Zenith Music Festival on Spetses. What new sounds can we expect from Zenith?
A balanced mix of traditional and innovative Sounds of the Mediterranean! Zenith in Spetses will be the crossroads of all kind of music from our region.
Why was it important for you to host an open-air music concert in the midst of a pandemic? Do you think that the spell of live music to comfort and uplift is all the more needed in our isolated times?
For months we all have been more isolated, fearing the outside in someway, and eventually, we’ve lost a part of our creativity. It’s important to dream and try to realize some of them. I believe it’s the best way to make a move towards the others. This is what a live performance is about: Experience and interaction! Did I chose this venue or did the venue choose me… I fell in love with an island and this particular amphitheatre of the A.K.S.S school. Whether it is indoors or outdoors, I look at a venue as a « decor » to live an experience. The theatre is on top of a hill, surrounded by trees and nature and the stage back drop is the sea! Perfect spot to listen to music and let your mind fly away…
Paolo Fresu’s quartet will be opening the Zenith festival on September 24. What is it about his music that moves you?
It’s a mix between traditions and a futuristic approach. Paolo comes from Sardinia and his roots are somewhere behind every note he plays! He has a very singular approach to his instrument (trumpet) and to music in general. He uses many innovative effects to make the sound of his trumpet so recognizable. He’s often compared to Miles Davis or Chet Baker. I think he’s unique and ahead of his time which most probably justifies the comparisons with the legends.
At a personal level, do you find similarities in the Beirut and Athenian way of life?
Similarities hahaha… Athens and Beirut are the same! Not only the architecture or the people. In both cities you have to improvise to survive. This is also why Jazz and World Music fit so well both cities: It’s all about improvising and anticipating the troubles hiding around the corner.
What has been your most surprising discovery of living here?
Living in a big city the same way you live in a village.
What do you see from your balcony?
The Acropolis, the sea and when the weather is clear I can see Beirut!
An off-the-beat experience you’d recommend any visitor to have.
Come for vacations and stay for a lifetime
Three adjectives to describe Athens
Athens is a paradox!.. Unpredictable, sweet and tough at the same time.
The first Zenith Music Festival hosts its first concert on September 24 with Paolo Fresu. Free Registration at https://www.zenithmusicfestival.com/
on September 24 at 9 pm. Doors opens at 8 pm. Please show vaccination records as proof. At the AKSS amphitheatre, Spetses.