Fairuz: A Lebanese Legend
If someone had asked me the question, “Who is the most successful movie star in the world?” I might have said Angelina Jolie, Hollywood’s highest paid actress. Or I might have said Tom Cruise, an actor and producer. It would never have crossed my mind that the most successful movie star in the world is not an American or a Brit. In reality, the most successful movie star in the world is Indian: Shah Rukh Khan. Mr. Khan is an Indian film actor, producer and television personality. In India, they call him the “King of Bollywood” or “King Khan.” He has made more than 80 Bollywood films and has a following in Asia and in the Indian diaspora around the world. If this reveals anything about me, it reveals my lack of international exposure and my ethnocentric perspective of movie stars.
What if I asked you, “Who is the most famous and popular singer in the Levant (Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Palestine)?” Maybe a few of you would know. Let me share with you about a female singer from Lebanon who impacted my emotions at the deepest level for most of my life.
I want to start with my biased viewpoint by saying that Fairuz is one of the greatest singers in the Arab world, and I believe that she is the greatest singer in the history of Lebanon. I think that the Lebanese government should erect a huge statue in Beirut of Fairuz, along with her companions on the journey, Aasi and Mansour Rahbani.
As a family, we moved to Egypt when I was 34 years old and lived there for 15 years. Living in Egypt transformed me at many levels. For instance, Taha Hussein, one of my Egyptian heroes, made me fall in love with our classical Arabic language (the language we read and write but do not speak). I’ve read his autobiography at least seven times (it was translated into English with the title The Days), in addition to reading several of his other books. I wish I had met him in person before he died. Then the novels of Naguib Mahfouz got me connected with the Egyptian culture. His trilogy, Cairo Trilogy, is outstanding.
After living in Egypt for many years, I tried to read a book in Arabic written by the famous Lebanese author Jibran Khalil Jibran for the second time, and it felt foreign to me. That was when I realized that I had been incredibly impacted by the Egyptian culture and literature. That discovery amazed me. I realized how Hussein and Mahfouz had impacted me, and then I thought of other things from Egypt that influenced my life as well. For instance, I was influenced by the popularity of soccer in Egypt, as we watched the Egyptian teams compete. And of course, at the top of the list was the impact our many Egyptian friends had on our lives. But when it came to music, nothing could pull me away from the songs and musicals of Fairuz that I had listened to all my life. Many of my Egyptian friends loved Fairuz’s music, and a few of them memorized some of her song lyrics despite not understanding the meaning of some of the Lebanese-spoken Arabic words.
Fairuz was born in 1935 in Lebanon and lived all her life in her beloved country. Here in this link you can read a summary of her life and achievements.
Both Barbara and I love her music. We love it so much that we considered naming our older son “Shady” because of Fairuz’s song by that name. Then we decided to call him “Farid,” which means “a unique person.” He turned out to be truly unique. I asked Barbara to, among other things, play for me the songs of Fairuz, should I ever end up in a coma. Perhaps her voice can reach out to me even down there in that dark hole.
I have included some links below if you are interested in listening to some of her music.
The first link is about her love for Lebanon. This song was written during the civil war years in Lebanon. Many people left Lebanon during those years, but Fairuz insisted on staying and refused to take sides. When I listen to this song, I often shed some tears.
Song 3 is “Shady,” one of our favorites. No translation can do justice to the lyrics because so many of the words have double meanings.
Songs 4, 5 and 6 cover political themes. Many articles and books that I have read about the geopolitics of the Middle East spoke to my mind, but Fairuz’s songs spoke to my heart.
Songs 14, 15 and 16 are church songs, with eastern church music. My appreciation for eastern church music was enhanced by those songs. They mostly deal with the crucifixion of Christ and his resurrection.
The last link in my list below is the complete musical called “Shakhs.” Barbara and I invited my parents to watch this musical, and seeing the joy on my father’s face left permenant memories of that experience in my mind.
1. Behebak Ya Lebnan (I love you Lebanon)
2. Khidni w Zra'ni (Take me and plant me in Lebanon)
5. Old Jerusalem
6. We will return
7. Ya Shady al Alhan (A famous Egyptian song).
8. Andalusyat (An old classic song)
10. Shayef el Bahr (A love song)
11. Variety 1 (2 hours and 26 minutes)
12. Variety 2 (28 minutes)
13. Variety 3 (One hour and 14 minutes)
14. Church 1 (Al-Yawm) Crucifixion
15. Good Friday lamentation
16. Christ is risen
17. Habaytak bi Sayf (I loved you)
18. Dabke (ala Dalowna)
19. Dabke variety
20. Aatiny Naya wa Ghanni
21. Ya Tayr
Thank you for your willingness to read this blog even though it is foreign to people outside of the Middle East. I know that I will come back to this blog and access some of the songs. Perhaps my fellow Lebanese and Egyptian friends will come back to this blog as well and enjoy our Middle Eastern culture. For the non-Arabs, I encourage you to read the autobiography of Taha Hussein which is translated into English with the title: The Days. I mentioned earlier that I have read this book in Arabic about seven times.