PARIS (AFP) — Rock star Sting on Saturday reopened the Bataclan, the Paris concert hall where jihadists massacred 90 people, with a hugely symbolic show to mark the first anniversary of France’s bloodiest terror attacks.
“We will not forget them,” the British singer told the crowd in French after a minute’s silence for the 130 people who lost their lives in a night of gun and bomb attacks across Paris on November 13, 2015.
“Tonight we have two tasks to achieve: first to remember those who lost their lives in the attack, and then to celebrate life and music in this historic place.”
Sting began the emotionally charged concert with his song Fragile, singing: “Nothing comes from violence and nothing will.”
Many in the crowd wept during the first song, but the singer then got the place on its feet clapping and stamping with Message In a Bottle.
“I’ll send an SOS to the world,” he sang. “Only hope can keep us alive.”
As Sting was due to arrive at the theater from New York, Georges Salines, who lost his 28-year-old daughter Lola at the Bataclan, said the concert was “almost a taking back of the space for music and fun from the forces of death.”
Salines, who heads the group November 13: Fraternity and Truth, was among between 250 and 300 survivors and victims’ families present.
The wave of Islamic State attacks on Friday, November 13, 2015, profoundly shook France but Prime Minister Manuel Valls vowed Saturday that “Islamist terrorism” would be defeated once and for all.
“Terrorism will strike us again,” warned Valls in a statement.
“But we have in ourselves all the resources to resist and all the strength to beat it,” the prime minister added, as flowers and candles were left outside the Bataclan amid tight security.
On Sunday, the actual anniversary of the attacks, French President Francois Hollande and Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo will unveil plaques to the victims outside the Bataclan, the national stadium where the carnage began, and the bars and restaurants the gunmen targeted during the night of horror.
One year on, nine people out of the around 400 injured in the rampage are still in hospital.
France remains under tight security after a string of attacks that have spurred a security crackdown, while terrorism and the place of Islam have also emerged as key themes six months before French presidential elections.
Sting’s hour-long concert to reopen the legendary theater sold out within minutes of going on sale Tuesday.
“It is important that (the Bataclan) starts again, that it remains a concert venue. We need to go back to normal life,” the 65-year-old told French media.
“The whole world is going to see the Bataclan live again,” said Jerome Langlet, of the venue’s owners Lagardere Live Entertainment.
While reopening the doors will mean reliving painful memories for many, Jules Frutos, who has co-run the venue for the last 12 years, told AFP: “We had to go on after such horror and not leave a mausoleum, a tomb.”
Families, psychologists and counselors will be on hand to support survivors, organizers said.
Frutos said he rang Sting himself to ask him to play after the British singer told a journalist he was keen to help, having last appeared at the Bataclan with The Police in 1979.
He admitting that the weight of the occasion had been too much for many top French acts.
The singer said he will donate the proceeds to two charities set up to help survivors.
The Bataclan has been a temple of rock music since the 1970s, drawing stars such as Lou Reed, Genesis, The Clash, The Cure and Prince.
Since the attacks, the hall’s devastated interior has been completely replaced, from the seats to the floorboards, with identical fittings.
“We wanted to change everything so nothing would remain of that terrible night,” said Langlet, who told reporters “several million euros” has been spent on refurbishing the building in identical style without losing the venue’s intimate atmosphere.
“We decide to change everything so nothing would change,” he added.
Survivors, including members of the US group Eagles of Death Metal who were on stage when the gunmen burst in, will gather outside the venue again on Sunday morning when Hollande and Hidalgo unveil a plaque inscribed with the names of the victims. No speeches are expected.
“For the victims, it’s their day of mourning, their day to come together,” said Caroline Langlade, president of the Life for Paris association.
Several small-scale gatherings and tributes are planned across the French capital to mark the anniversary.
The Bataclan will remain dark on the anniversary itself, before opening again on Wednesday for a series of concerts by British singer Pete Doherty, Senegalese star Youssou N’Dour and British Sixties legend Marianne Faithfull.