Through thirty-five years of sectarian strife and brutal civil war in Lebanon, a former fighter and obsessive vinyl collector has provided a vital soundtrack of distraction.
Inside a nondescript building with a modest storefront on Beirut’s Armenia Street sits a tiny music store, Super Out Discotheque, with a long history. The small space is packed floor to ceiling with outdated but still-functional audio equipment, from a 1970s-era reel-to-reel tape machine and stacks of cassette decks to giant wooden speakers that are more than twenty years old. Thousands of vinyl records, compact discs and cassette tapes are wedged into the shelves, juxtaposed with Christian idols — Virgin Mary statues, photos and several crucifixes — as well as reminders of Lebanon’s 1975-1990 civil war, such as the yellowed photo of Super Out owner Roy Hayek’s brother, who died when his vehicle was hit with a rocket-propelled grenade in 1983.
Roy Hayek is a garrulous guy with a lit cigarette perpetually either in his mouth or between his fingers. He is always sharply dressed, thin black hair gelled back, with glasses perched on his nose and a fastidiously groomed matching moustache. On a Wednesday afternoon in May, the fifty-three-year-old music aficionado hums, sings and talks continuously while he burns CDs for his loyal customers. He swings back and forth in his weathered chair, moving from his computer to the wooden counter, the bell above the door ringing every few minutes with new traffic coming in from the street.
People come here primarily for Hayek’s customized mixes and copies of his extensive collection of early- to mid-twentieth century Arabic music. His shop is a neighborhood fixture now, as it has been since long before he took it over. For thirty-five years the space was his grandfather’s pub, until it closed in 1965 after he passed away. Hayek’s father wanted to continue a business there, so he converted the pub into a store selling Arabian sweets. In 1979, Hayek carried on the third generation of the family business by transforming the bar-turned-sweet shop into the music store it is today.
Lebanon’s brutal war destroyed much of the beautiful capital, leaving more than 200,000 dead and an estimated 17,000 more missing. During those fifteen years, the Green Line — a demarcation of the largely sectarian fighting — divided predominantly Muslim factions in West Beirut from the mainly Christian factions in the East. Once called the Paris of the Middle East for its cosmopolitan culture and world-class architecture, among other things, Beirut itself was severely damaged. Fighting between Israel and Hezbollah in 1996 again resulted in the destruction of parts of Beirut, as did the devastating thirty-four-day war with Israel in 2006. Despite the fact that Lebanon continues to be wracked by instability thanks to ISIS encroachment and spillover from the Syrian conflict, there are places like Super Out that have survived, and even thrived.