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International Programs Student, Charbel Ghanime, Performs Concert to Nearly Full House in Beirut

By Jeannine Mercer, visiting assistant professor, Center for International Programs

October 17, 2013

 After a nearly two-year hiatus from the Lebanese music scene, 21-year-old, Charbel Ghanime, a student in Empire State College’s Lebanon residency program, performed a concert to promote new songs for his upcoming album with a sub-label of Universal Music Group to an almost full house in Beirut Sept. 3. The turnout at the concert was significant, because it occurred 12 days after a car bomb killed more than 40 people in the region and during talks of possible US involvement in rising conflicts in neighboring Syria.

In addition to being a musician and singer, Ghanime is studying advertising at Empire State College. When asked what made him decide to go to school while working on his music career, he said that just because he is a musician, that isn’t all he cares about. “Music is an integral part of who I am, like eating and drinking,” he explained. “I love advertising, that’s why I’m studying it. And now I have more ideas of how to sell myself as an artist.”

Ghanime also is a lover of words, and he chooses them carefully. For example, he doesn’t use his given name as his stage name. He’s known instead as Belime. “I wanted something original so I took the last three letters from both my first and last names and combined them,” he explained. And then, to make sure it actually was original and didn’t have any strange connotations, he “Googled” it. “It was a word that disappeared [from our vocabulary] in the 18th century, and meant to trap birds.”

And so, in good form, Ghanime, or rather “Belime” named his first album “Trap.” And as an afterthought, he wrote on his CD cover: “I don’t want the cheese. I just want out of the trap.”

The trap for Ghanime is not the bird trap in the tree, but the provincial thinking and small town mentality which surrounds him in Lebanon, where he lives. “And it did get me out of the trap,” he remarked about the CD. “It got me on MTV. It got me on the radio, and it led me to where I am now.”

 Ghanime is especially excited about performing in the US since he views Lebanon, also, as a trap. “Musicians are trapped in Lebanon,” he explains. “Lebanon has four million people. From that number, how can you build a fan base when your music style is underground, or, like me, you are performing in English?”

Ghanime got his start playing in a kid band called “Cherry Creek” which caught the attention of Walid Al Massih, a music producer in the audience. After the show, Mr. al-Massih came up to Ghanime and asked him, “Who sings that song you sang—Apples?”

Confused, Ghanime answered, “I do.”

“No, no. I mean, who sang it originally?” asked al-Massih.

“I do,” Ghanime said again. He had written both the music and lyrics to the songs performed by the band.

“[Mr. al-Massih] was surprised, especially since I was only 15,” Ghanime explained.

‌Under the guidance of Mr. al-Massih, the solo artist Belime emerged. They started working on Belime’s first CD, and he began performing and working with an Arabic pop starlet, known as Maya Nehme. This gave him exposure and got his feet wet in the music business, at least in Lebanon.

 Now, however, Belime is ready to flee the trap of the Lebanon cedar tree, and move on to the American music scene. And as he eagerly waits to finalize his record deal and start producing and performing his songs in the States, he does not plan to abandon his studies at Empire State College. “If I have to tour, I can still take my online classes. That is why Empire State College is so appealing to me,” he says about its flexibility. “Education should not be compromised for anything else, especially at Empire State College, which can accommodate any lifestyle.”

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