Fairuz and her music
Fairouz; Legend and Legacy
A. Jihad Racy
More than just a singer's name, Fayrouz is a concept whose connotations are ethnic and nationalistic as well as musical and poetic.
Born and educated in Beirut, she began her musical career as a chorus
member at the Lebanese Radio Station. In the late 1950s her talent as
a singer became fully acknowledged. Met with unprecedented enthusiasm,
Fayrouz's early songs featured the singer's distinct vocal timbre and
lyrics expressing romantic love and nostalgia for village life. They
meshed with a delicate orchestral blend in which certain Arab instruments figured prominently but
which also subtly incorporated European instruments and European
popular dance rythms.
She also sometimes sang adaptations Arab folk tunes. By the early 1960s Fayrouz was already one of the main attractions of the annual Baalbeck Festivals and a celebrety not only in Lebanon but throughout the Arab world. The dissemination of hundreds of songs, many musical plays and several films had widened her audience to include Arabs living in Europe and the Americas.
During most of her singing career, Fayrouz was part of a three-member team which included the two Rahbani brothers. Generally, her lyrics were written by Mansour Rahbani, and the tunes were composed and arranged by his brother 'Assi, Fayrouz's former husband. Fayrouz's songs owe a great deal to the musical and poetic genius of these two Lebanese artists. In recent years they have also reflected the composing talent of Ziad Rahbani, Fayrouz's son. In addition, they testify to Fayrouz's broad musical background, which encompasses Christian liturgical forms as well as the secular traditions of Arab music.
The Fayrouz-Rahbani legacy is a peculiarly twentieth-century cultural phenomenon. During the early postwar decades, most urban communities in the Arab world underwent rapid expansion, partly because of an influx of population from the rural areas. The city of Beirut in particular had absorbed a substantial number of people whose ethnic and social roots went back to various Lebanese villages, especially those in the mountainous regions of central and northern Lebanon. Politically and socially influential, this segment provided fertile ground for the rise of a new artistic tradition - music, dance, poetry, fashions, handicrafts - whose context was unmistakably urban but whose ration was folk and rural.
Beirut was also experiencing the growing impact of modernizatior Westernization. These changes rendered indigenous artistic expressions less accessible and less appealing to many Lebanese. Furthermore, Beirut was becoming a highly cosmopolitan community. A significant number of the city residents had non-village and even non-Lebanese and non-Arab backgrounds. These developments and the extensive role of the modern entertainment media - radio, television, concert halls, public theatres - were conducive to the rise of an urban mass audience. They were also prerequisites for the development of the kind of modern musical language of wide appeal that is superbly manifested in Fayrouz's songs.
One further influence upon the Fayrouz-Rahbani legacy was the nationalistic sentiment that followed Lebanon's independence. Although not always articulated in specific ideological terms, this sentiment was shared by government officials and a number of influential writers, poets, and artists. This feeling, which profoundly affected Lebanon's music and arts, was based on a number of fundamental premises. One was that Lebanon was culturally and historically distinct from its Near Eastern neighbors and was in many ways compatible with the West. Furthermore, an important aim of the Lebanese government was to develop the country's cultural image and to increase its international recognition and prestige. On the artistic level, a conviction not unique to Lebanon was that (a) folk art of the rural communities conveys the true character of the nation and (b) as it exists in its natural setting, folk art is in a "primitive" and "unscientific" state. Therefore it has to be developed as a respectable national expression by skilled experts and advisors.
Such aspirations prompted the government to generate and sponsor a new folk-inspired artistic idiom generally known by the name "Lebanese folkloric." In addition to examining similar developments in several other Third World countries, the folklore movement in Lebanon studied the model of the Soviet national ensemble. In May 1965, the Russian choreographer Igor Moiseyev was officially invited to examine the dabkahs, or line dances, of the various Lebanese villages and to create modern interpretations based on these dances. Before leaving the country, the Russian visitor reportedly created new dabkahs and taught them to a number of local individuals who later became dance teachers and choreographers - professions relatively new to Near Eastern culture.
In the ensuing years several folkloric ensembles were established in Lebanon. Among them was the Lebanese Folk Troupe, which presented newly created songs and dances and featured celebrated singers such as Fayrouz, Sabah, and Wadi' al-Safi. Government-sponsored, this particular troupe performed at the Baalbeck Festivals, which incorporated Western symphonic music, ballet, and drama and presented artists such as Joan Baez, Rudolph Nureyev, and Herbert von Karajan. During its height in the 1960s and early 1970s, the folklore movement in Lebanon attracted the talents of a significant group of composers, performers, playwrights, choreographers, dancers, costume designers, and producers, all from a variety of ethnic backgrounds and nationalities.
Ihe principal vehicle for the new idiom was the masrahiyyah, or musicalplay. In such a play the main plot focuses upon village events and in s ome cases upon notable incidents in Lebanon's political history. The costumes of the dancers and singers are based largely on the traditional dress of peasant communities in central and northern Lebanon. Spoken dialogue in colloquial Lebanese Arabic is combined with orchestral programmatic music and songs by a celebrated singer or singers are featured. Many of the feature-songs appear as accompaniment for folkloric dabkah dances.
Fayrouz's songs, many of which were originally sung in folkloric musical plays, were compatible with the political, social, and demographic trends in Lebanon, especially as they existed before the civil war. They represent a unique synthesis of elements derived from local folk songs, traditional Arab music, popular European forms, and, to a lesser extent, the musics of Soviet Russia, Armenia, and the Balkans. This synthesis, however, has not occurred in isolation from broader Arab issues and legacies. Fayrouz's songs have often expressed widely-shared Arab sentiments and used texts in classical Arabic by well-known poets such as Kahlil Gibran. Some songs have been based on the traditional muwashshah vocal form, whose roots go back to Moorish Spain. Others present modern adaptations of older classics by the early twentiethcentury Egyptian composer Shayk Sayyid Darwish and the contemporary Muhammed Abd al-Wahab.
In Fayrouz's repertoire as a whole, both text and music are marked by innovation. The lyrics generally focus less narrowly on the theme of unrequited love than do most Arab songs. Instead, they may range from mildly rebuking a forgetful lover or reminiscing about village life, to voicing passionate love for Lebanon and commemorating the city of Jerusalem. In all instances the subject matter is presented with an air of poetic tenderness to a degree seldom encountered in other Arab forms. Her special combination of lyrics, music, and vocal quality accounts Fayrouz's ethereal and widely accepted Arabic titles as "Neighbor of the Moon" and "Our Ambassador to the Stars." The vocal timbre of many traditional Arab singers tends to be slight ly nasal and gutteral. In contrast, Fayrouz's voice - commonly described as muk hmali, or "velvet-like" - is smooth and clear. She utilizes head resonance and her vocal style is relatively free of the ornamentation that characterizes much Arab singing.
Melodically, Fayrouz's songs are in the common idiom of traditional Arab music. Like other songs from Cairo, Beirut, and Damascus, they use various maqams or melodic modes. Moreover, they employ the Westem major and minor tonalities extensively. When folk songs are adapted and sung, the folk intonation of village singers is replaced with the common intonation of the cities. However, unlike a large proportion of traditional Arab music, Fayrouz's songs are essentially non-improvisatory. The highly informal ambience and the profusion of melodic and rhythmic nuances by the performer are usually abandoned in favor of all-precomposed tunes and well-rehearsed presentations.
The instrumentation for Fayrouz's songs and Rahbani's compositions con tributes greatly to the distinct flavor of the music. Rarely employed are the folk instruments of village music (such as the minjayrah, an open-ended small reed flute; and the mijwiz, a type of double clarinet played through circular breathing). Similarly excluded as a rule are the qanun, a type of zither; the 'ud, a shortnecked lute; and the nay, an open ended reed flute - instruments that give traditional Arab music much of its special character. However, extensive use is made of traditional percussion instruments, specifically the tablah, a small hand-drum, and the riqq, a small tambourine, both of which have close counterparts in the folk music of the region.
Three melodic instruments are essential to the Rahbani ensemble One instrument is the accordion, which in this case is specially prepared to produce the "neutral" intervals found in Arab music. Another instrument is the buzuq, a long-necked fretted lute furnished with metal strings and associated with itinerant gypsy musicians of Lebanon and Syria. The third instrument is a small fipple flute or record er made from wood and comparable in construction and sonority to the kaval of Turkey. Playing in unison and at the octave with occasional drone effects, this combination provides a bright cluster of timbres and a lively, rustically zestful tempo typical of Rahbani's music in general. The part played by these melodic instruments is usually reinforced by several violins. Less conspicuously, the piano outlines the melody and fills the spaces between the melodic phrases with arpeggios and melodic and rhythmic ostinatos. In Fayrouz's songs, polyphony is not uncommon, especially in her more Westemized songs of the early and middle 1970s. In these songs the accompanying instruments often include the electronic organ and the trap drums of the Westem dance orchestra.
The literary-musical legacy of the Rahbanis and Fayrouz has been accepted by many Lebanese as a nationalistic, cultural, and political symbol. At the same time, it possesses artistic qualities that extend its appeal to listeners from a diversity of social, national, and even ideological backgrounds. Fayrouz has been regarded by many educated Arabs as an emblem of modemity and an exemplar of the self-respecting, dignified Arab artist. During the past quarter century Fayrouz's music has not remained static. This artist's versatility and insight have enabled her to respond to various social and musical trends. In the last few years the dwindling mystique of village lore, the revived interest among young Arabs in traditional Arab music, and the expansion of the pan-Arab mass audience have all had noticeable effects upon her repertoire. In tum, Fayrouz's arti stic legacy has profoundly influenced contemporary Arab music and culture.
The Baalbeck International Festival
Before the outbreak of civil war, performing companies presented at the Baalbeck Festival included The English Open Air Theater Company and The Prospect Theater Company from Britain, the Hamburg Symphony Orchestra and The Gewandhaus of Leipzig Orchestra from Germany, The Alvin Ailey City Center Dance Theater from the U.S.A. and the State Symphony Orchestra from the U.S.S.R., The Chamber Music Orchestra of Jean Francois Paillard and The Comedie Francaise from France, The Kathakali Popular Theater of India, The Belgian National Ballet, The Mexican Folkloric Ballet and the Lebanese Folk Troupe, among other international performers. The Festival has also presented diverse soloists, among them pianist Claudio Arrau, pop singer Joan Baez, cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, jazzman Miles Davis, dancer Rudolph Nureyev and Lebanese singer Fayrouz.
A major factor in the founding of the Festival is the town of Baalbeck itself, located in the Biqa' valley and distinguished by ruins of ancient Roman temples. Built by the Phoenicians and conquered by the Greeks, Baalbeck became a Roman colony under Augustus, and it was at this time that the temples were constructed. They survived transformation into churches by the Christians, and subsequently into mosques at the time of Islam, to become fortresses during the Crusades. During the thirteenth c tury, earthquakes destroyed a part of the temple complex, but the remains were preserved as citadels against Mongol, Tartar and Ottoman man invaders until the middle of the eighteenth century, when earthquakes again demolished all but parts of the Temples of Jupiter and Bacchus.
In its eighteen years of existence, the Baalbeck Festival has taken place in three different locations: the inside of the Temple of Bacchus for the Chamber Music, in front of the Temple of Bacchus for the ballets and the theater, and the great courtyard of the Temple of Jupiter for the folkloric spectacles such as the musical plays in which Fayrouz has been the center of attraction.
The Lebanese Folkloric Ensemble
Tawfiq al-Basha is one of the Arab world's most renowned musical composers and conductors. Born in Beirut, al-Basha has made a distinctive contribution to contemporary Lebanese music. He began his career as a conductor for the Lebanese Radio Orchestra and later conducted the Near East Radio Orchestra at a time when radio stations were the center of musical talent in the Middle East. In 1957, together with Zaki Nasif, 'Assi and Mansour Rahbani, al-Basha helped establish the Baalbeck International Festival, leading the orchestra of The Lebanese Folkloric Troupe at the festival in the years 1957,1959, 1967 and 1974. Al-Basha has also conducted his orchestra in other major Lebanese musical festivals including The Byblos Musical Festival and The Cedars Festival. As composer, Tawfiq al-Basha has written the music to some of the most popular songs across the Arab world. He has composed music for the leading Lebanese singers including Wadi' al-Safi, Najah Salam, Nasri Shams Eddine and Sabah. His association with Fayrouz goes back three decades to when he accompanied Fayrouz on one of her earliest live broadcasts on the Near East Radio station. Over the years, al-Basha composed for Fayrouz numerous songs that have become overnight hits.
Al-Basha's compositions are not confined to music for Iyrics; he has also written instrumental works in a unique style. As early as 1951 and during 1952 al-Basha composed the entire program for the Near East Ballet Ensemble under the direction of Nella Clark. Concurrent with the development of his own style of arranging and orchestrating Arab music, al-Basha has been a pioneer in introducing polyphony to the maqam system of Arab music, which incorporates neutral intervals.
Al-Basha's musical education began at a very early age. As a child, h e had been drawn by his uncle , violinist Khalil Makniyyeh, to the Andalusian tradition of Arab music. Later, he dedicated much of his musical career to studying and reinterpreting works of the period. In his studies of the arts of the muwashshah, he concentrated on the works of Lebanese and Syrian musicians who at the turn of the century were, like Sayyid Darwish in Egypt, concerned with reviving and recreating local styles of music. Abu Khalil al-Qabbani of Damascus, Muhammad al-Waraq of Aleppo, Wadi' Sabra and Salim Hilu of Beirut, who were innovators in their own right, were to become al-Basha's prime sources of inspiration. Al-Basha orchestrated Andalusian tunes in an unprecedented manner, adding a modern zest and flavor to the ancient sounds. Many of these compositions are now available for the first time on LP recordings. They include: Le Tapis Magique (LP-GVDL 318), Fantasie Orientale (LP-GVDL 319), Asqi-l 'Itash (LP-GVDL 320) and Suite Andalouse (LP-GVDL 325).
Performances have taken al-Basha across the Arab world and beyond to Iran and India. During the last three decades of his career, al-Basha has conducted in Beirut, Cairo, Damascus and Baghdad. Outside the Arab world, premier performances of his works were received with rousing enthusiasm by audiences in Tehran as well as in New Delhi. Al-Basha has taken the Firqat al-Anwar Orchestra on a special European tour, conducting his compositions and arrangements of Andalusian themes in Frankfurt, Vienna, Paris and London.
The Fayrouz Grand Tour of the United States and Canada brings Tawfiq al-Basha for the first time in contact with audiences in this continent.
The eldest son of Fayrouz and 'Assi Rahbani, Ziad studied under Boghos Jalalian, the prominent Arrnenian pianist, while becoming versed in the many complex instruments of Arab music. His current compositions make use of both traditional and modern elements, taking the music of the Rahbani brothers one step further into the realm of modern music. "Their esthetics," he explains, "are a different order; I myself see art as an activity that asserts itself parallel to the reality of everyday life, starting with the problems of the people up to the point where their future outlooks converge."
Ziad Rahbani writes and produces a variety of plays for his own theater group; these are mostly musical reviews that reflect the social and political themes of our time, sarcastic and witty at times, and always humorous. But, "my real field is music," Ziad comments, "and I might not go back to the theater."
During the last decade, Ziad Rahbani's musical plays, which were received with considerable acclaim, have included Sahriyyeh (An Evening, 1973), Nazl Assouroor (The Inn of Joy, 1974), Bin 'nisbeh Laboukra Sho (What About Tomorrow, 1978), and Film Amirki Tawil (A Long American Movie, 1980). His records include: Mahrajan al-Rahbani (Rahbani Festival, 1973), Khutwat Samar (Pleasant Walk, 1974), Bil-Afrah (Merry Times, 1976), Abu 'Ali (Ali's Father, 1979), and Wahdon (Alone Together, 1979).
He has written the lyrics and music for many recent songs performed by Fayrouz, and for this current tour he has prepared the entire program and wrote the music for the Gibran lyric s sung by Fayrouz.
Born in Jaffa in 1922, Sharif graduated from Freres Brothers College in Beirut in 1941. He bega nhis career with the Near East Broadcasting System (Iza'atal-Sharq al-Adna), a British radio station where for many years he held the position of Director of Music and Art, with the exception of a brief sabbatical in 1953 during which time he studied radio and television production in London. In 1960, Sharif joined the Jordanian Broadcasting System in Amman as the Director of the Commercial Section. During his long association with them, he wrote a series of well-received musical programs and a historical series on Arab culture for the Royal Jordanian Television System.
His services have been sought by other countries as well. Between 1955 and 1972, Sharif directed and produced performances by the Lebanese Popular Folkloric Troupe for Lebanese television; he also directed and produced performances of the same Troupe at Lebanese festivals and the Damascus International Fair as well as at their appearances in Jordan, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Canada, the United States, England, Brazil, and Argentina, accompanied by the celebrated Fayrouz.
He was also the director and producer of the Folkloric Lebanese Performing Ensemble from 1957 to 1974; their work during this period included performances at the famous Baalbeck Festivals, again featuring Fayrouz.
Three of Fayrouz's films, Bint al-Haris, Bayya ' al-Khawatim, and Safar Berlek were directed by him.
His contributions to Arab art and culture have not gone unnoticed or unrewarded during the past 40 years. In 1957, President Chamoun of Lebanon and Mrs. Chamoun awarded Sharif the Medal of Honor for his contribution to the arts and particularly for his work as producer and director of the Baalbeck Festivals. For his role in founding the Lebanese Popular Folkloric Troupe in collaboration with the Rahbani brothers, he was honored with the Cedar of Lebanon Medal "Chevalier."
In addition to his many achievements, Sharif has participated and lectured at many conferences around the world on the history of Arab music.
Houda Haddad Ziade'in 1959 Assi Rahbani (her brother-in-law), the great composer, tested her voice, since he believed that there should another beautiful voice in the family and he was right.
Assi taught her the art of singing, dancing and acting, because of v.. nature of the musical shows he presented.
Houda accompanied Fayrouz all the way through since 1959, and participated in all the musical shows. She also had a television series of her own, produced by the Rahbani brothers. She is known as a soloist ever since she started.
The spectacular costumes for Fayrouz and her ensemble were designed by Jean-Pierre Delifer, a Lebanese artist in his forties who designed the costumes for her first American tour in 1971. Delifer brings a striking blend of Middle Eastern and Western techniques to his work, drawing on both traditions for his lines, colors, and style.
After completing his studies at the Academie des Beaux Arts in Beirut, Delifer went to Paris, where he studied at the Ecole des Beaux Arts and at the fashion house of Christian Dior. In order to place his costumes within the framework of their natural and historical environments, he has traveled extensively throughout Europe and the Middle East.
He has designed the costumes for many of Fayrouz's appearances at the Baalbeck International Festival in Lebanon, as well as a complete line of evening dresses for the Bal des Debutantes. His works were featured in an exhibition of folklore-inspired evening dresses for Artisanat Libanais at Pharaon Palace and in an exhibition of theatrical costume drawings at the Theatre Recamier in Paris.
Badi'a al-A'war became Fayrouz's dressmaker when they met in 1952, but the relationship between the two women extends far beyond the professio nal details of costume making. Badi'a al-A'war is a friend and confidante to Fayrouz, accompanying her on all her tours, local, national, and intemational, always at her side to support, to encourage, to laugh and to share the exhilaration of each performance. "I'm always with the lady," she says. "Not for one minute do I leave her. Even when she went to the United States in 1971, I accompanied her."
Badi'a is the last person to dress Fayrouz before the singer makes her appearance on stage, her nimble fingers making adjustments until the final second, mak ing sure that every pleat in the costume, every drape in the fabric, is in place.