As usual, the roads were jammed with cars ascending toward Beit Eddine, a city perched at an elevation of 850 meters in the Shouf region of Lebanon . A huge crowd of spectators proceeded to the palace, built in the 19 th century by Emir Bashir al-Shahabi II. They came from Tunisia , Kuwait , Saudi Arabia , Egypt , Syria , and Palestine . They came from all of Lebanon , representing a cross-section of Lebanese society united in the desire to hear the voice of Fairuz, or what remains of it.
They came driven by nostalgic feelings which Ziad Rahbanni skillfully manipulated with his choice of the songs for this year's program. Two concerts, yesterday and the day before, were the essence of Beit Eddine's Festival for this year.
Fans flooded in by the thousands trying to escape the decadent artistic present, clinging to a rich heritage coming from a different time, from an imaginary land, the land of the operetta and the Rahbanni village, the “lie of Rajeh” and the “Lebanese formula.” This was the “ Lebanon ” of a different era, a different country, exceptional among Arab states, that has now been lost forever. “What a loss! What a loss/ She ( Lebanon ) was good with all her flaws/ She was good while she lasted.” These were the absurd words of Ziad Rahbani, his airy, light, and sarcastic music inspired by a traditional Kurdish melody.
As usual, we waited long for the concert to begin; the cue would come from a large orchestra of 50 musicians directed by the Armenian maestro Garin Digharian. To the right were the wind instruments, the trombone that colors Ziad's melodies and compositions. A comet illuminated the sky of Beit Eddine as Ziad Rahbani made his entry and sat at the piano to the far left; later he would often leave his piano and return. At moments, he seemed to act like Rashid, a theatrical character from his “Long American Film.” This rebellious son of the Rahbani musical institution finds it hard to resist the pleasure of acting or commenting on his microphone.
Ziad Rahbani offered a marvelous, amazing, and original program that did not resemble any of the previous Fairuz concerts. He was reflecting on the years gone by, digesting the past and revisiting it. He was searching the Fairuz heritage and rereading it, which was apparent from the choice of songs and their order throughout the show; he arranged them according to a specific dramatic logic. He mixed new and old songs, the songs of his plays and the songs of Fairuz, his melodies with the melodies of his father Assi and others. When the revered singer Fairuz disappeared behind the curtains, the chorus would take her place.
The program included selections from the play “Fakhr Eddine” by the Rahbani brothers and other selections from the play “Nazl al-Sourour” that earlier depicted the creative talent of Ziad Rahbani, and his own vision of political reality. Songs, melodies, and musical pieces composed by Rahbani the son prevailed in the program. Ziad chose much of the traditional “Fairuz Repertoire” of the Rahbani brothers with its excitement and vibrance, but left the lion's share of the program for his own musical compositions. Along with the nostalgic pieces of the Rahbani brothers, which delight in sweet basil, the moonlight, the crossroads, pleasant evenings and beautiful women, there were songs that Ziad wrote for Fairuz such as the “Olives Were not Like This.” Ziad's special poetry and different melodies break away from the Rahbani tradition as much they complete it or become part of it. Without doubt, the climactic point in the Beit Eddine Festival were the new songs of Fairuz written by her son Ziad. As usual Ziad surprised his audience with compositions that give new dimensions to the voice and personality of Fairuz.
The words of Ziad--deeply rooted in his daily and immediate poetry, his feelings, his sarcasm, his sensitive and poignant despair, his music full of bitterness and blues among many other things--prevailed in the program.
Many came to Beit Eddine with these questions: What has become of Fairuz the song, of Fairuz the legend? Many came to meet Fairuz only to find themselves spending a special evening with Ziad Rahbani.
This essay is adapted from a longer Arabic version which appeared in Al Hayat newspaper. The author has granted Al Jadid the right to translate, edit and publish this article.
This essay appears in Al Jadid, Vol. 9, No. 44 (Summer 2003), and it is translated from the Arabic by Al Jadid staff
Translation Copyright © 2003 by Al Jadid