LEBANON: Snoop Dogg brings West Coast style to East Beirut
First Obama went to Cairo.
Then Snoop Dogg came to Beirut.
The famed, foul-mouthed rapper performed before thousands of enthusiastic fans Thursday night at the Beirut Forum, one of Lebanon's largest concert venues.
Rap is huge in the Middle East, especially among the young, some of whom have woven its beats and attitude into rhymes that capture their own lives.
Snoop Dogg's visit followed a 2006 concert by rap megastar 50 Cent. A month later a war between Hezbollah and Israel devastated Lebanon's economy and drove away tourists as well as hot international acts. Both started trickling back last year.
This summer's tourist season is sizzling, with visitors from the Persian Gulf countries and Lebanese expatriates pouring in at an unprecedented rate. According to official statistics, a million visitors descended on Lebanon in June, about the same as in all of 2007.
Where there's cash to be made, an entrepreneur such as 37-year-old Long Beach native Calvin Broadus, Snoop Dogg's real name, will want to get paid.
Standing-room tickets for the show started at $50, out of reach for many Lebanese.
"This is a very elite sort of affair. Very few people get to see it," said Timur Goksel, a lecturer at the American University of Beirut who once proposed that the U.S. government should sponsor acts like Snoop Dogg as a public diplomacy tool. "An event has to be steered toward a larger audience to have any public diplomacy effect."
At a news conference before the concert, the rapper reportedly shrugged off tricky questions about the Middle East's tangled politics and Lebanon's recent troubles.
But you can't help wondering whether he was being just a little coy. Snoop Dogg rarely makes it out to the Middle East. He canceled a performance in Israel last summer, citing contractual difficulties.
At one point toward the end of Thursday's 75-minute concert, he rapped, "East side! West side!" as he ran back and forth across the stage in a bright yellow jersey.
Of course, it's a song about shuttling between the richer and poorer sides of Los Angeles.
But in a country where the Christian East and Muslim West sides of the capital were at war until 20 years ago and continue to eye each other suspiciously, it carried a special resonance.
"Both sides!" he cried out as he held up the Lebanese flag.
-- Borzou Daragahi in BeirutTop photo: Snoop Dogg holds up the Lebanese flag during the concert. Credit: Bilal Hussein / Associated Press. Below: Fans at the show. Credit: Borzou Daragahi / Los Angeles Times.