Lebanese icon Fayrouz — the Arab world’s greatest living singer

Lebanese icon Fayrouz — the Arab world’s greatest living singer
Fayrouz performs in Beirut in 2011. (AFP)
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Updated 17 December 2022

Lebanese icon Fayrouz — the Arab world’s greatest living singer

Lebanese icon Fayrouz — the Arab world’s greatest living singer
  • For this week’s edition of our Arab Icons series, we profile one of the Arab world's most popular stars
  • The Lebanese superstar who shuns the spotlight remains an inspiration across the region for young and old alike

DUBAI: She is the Arab world’s greatest living musical icon, but Fayrouz remains an enigma. She retains a sometimes-infuriating aura of mystery, rarely giving interviews and ardently protecting the privacy of her family. On stage she appears devoid of emotion — motionless and expressionless. Those characteristics have themselves become iconic, with Fayrouz’s striking but emotionless features adorning everything from handbags and posters to Beirut’s city walls.

Born Nouhad Haddad in 1934, during the course of her career Fayrouz has recorded hundreds of songs, starred in dozens of musicals and movies, and toured the world. From 1957 onwards, when she first performed at the Baalbeck International Festival, she has become one of the Arab world’s most beloved singers. And in doing so she would unite her often-fractious homeland.

 

 

All Lebanese remember the first time they heard Fayrouz. For Tania Saleh, it was during a drive to Syria to escape the beginning of the Lebanese Civil War. She remembers one song in particular — “Roudani Ila Biladi” (Take Me Back To My Homeland).

“That song really marked me,” says Saleh, a singer-songwriter and visual artist. “My mother was crying while she was driving and the song created this really intense emotional moment. And I remember thinking, ‘How can a song affect someone so much? It’s just a song.’ But it affected me, too, in a manner that I didn’t understand back then.”




Fayrouz (C) performs at Beirut's Picadilly Theatre in 1975 with William Haswani (R) and her son Ziad Rahbani (L), dressed as Ottoman policemen, in the musical play Mais el-Rim, written by the Rahbani Brothers. (AFP)

Fayrouz remained in Lebanon for the entirety of the war and refused to take sides. Although she continued to sing in venues across the world, she did not perform in Lebanon until the conflict was over. This neutrality, and the patriotic nature of many of her songs, meant she was a rare symbol of national unity, with all sides listening to her music throughout the 15 years of civil war. She was, as Saleh says, an “emotional anchor for all Lebanese during the war,” regardless of religion or political beliefs. When she released “Li Beirut“ (arranged and adapted by her son Ziad Rahbani) in 1984, Fayrouz and Beirut became inseparable. More than ever she embodied the very essence of what it meant to be Lebanese.

None of which would have been possible without the music of the Rahbani Brothers. Fayrouz, who was a chorus singer at Radio Lebanon in the early 1950s, met Mansour and Assi Rahbani through the composer Halim El-Roumi in 1951. She went on to marry Assi a few years later and together the trio would revolutionize popular Lebanese music. The Rahbani Brothers fused musical genres, including Levantine folkloric traditions and the music of Latin America, and incorporated both Western and Russian elements into their compositions. It was Fayrouz, however, who gave voice to their musical vision.

 

 

Fayrouz sang of an almost mythical Lebanon. She sang of love and desire, but also of an idealized Lebanese mountain village, of olive trees and jasmine, of vineyards and streams. “Lyrically, they created the Lebanon we now love,” says Saleh of the brothers, who followed in the footsteps of writers such as Khalil Gibran and Mikhail Naimy, who helped to forge a romanticized image of Lebanon that many of its citizens still cling to today.

As the Palestinian poet and film director Hind Shoufani notes, Fayrouz represents “the village girl, the stories of love, the fetching of fresh water, the mountain, the resistance, the power of the people; that kind of simple, beautiful daily existence that is in harmony with nature.” As such, her songs have an additional, heartbreaking poignancy, because the Lebanon she sings of bears no resemblance to the Lebanon of today. She sings of a fading dream — one that is shared by much of the Arab world.




Fayrouz and her husband Assi Rahbani (second from right) arrive at Orly Airport in France in 1975 and are met by French impresario Johnny Stark (R). (Getty)

That vision was rooted in Lebanon’s golden age, with Fayrouz intimately linked to the formation of a national cultural identity in the years following independence from France. As the acclaimed indie-music producer Zeid Hamdan says, Fayrouz would carry that identity “with elegance and depth like no other singer.”

Fayrouz and the Rahbani Brothers changed popular Arabic music forever. Umm Kulthoum, another icon of the Arab world, sang songs of love that could last for up to an hour and were deeply embedded in the tarab tradition. The songs of Fayrouz and the Rahbani Brothers, however, were far shorter, utilized the Lebanese dialect, and embraced new melodic forms.

“As a musician, I am very inspired by the dialect that Fayrouz sings,” says Hamdan, "arguably best known as one half of the trip-hop duo Soapkills. “It’s not only classical Arabic, it’s often modern Lebanese, and the Rahbanis — from Assi to Ziad — used the Lebanese dialect in a very clever way throughout their repertoire.”




Fayrouz performs at Kuwait's Ice Skating Arena late 03 May 2001. (AFP)

Hamdan was introduced to Fayrouz in the late 1990s by Yasmine Hamdan (no relation), his Soapkills partner. Encouraged by her, he bought a double K7 cassette of Fayrouz’s “Andaloussiyat” and immediately fell in love with three tracks, one of which was “Ya Man Hawa.”

“The lyrics are simply incredible,” he says. “It’s a form of poetry that is several hundred years old called muwashshah and I wish I could do justice to the beauty of the words.” Another was “Yara El Jadayel,” on which, at a certain point, Fayrouz “sings at a very high pitch and very softly, the melody almost whispered on a piano arpeggio”.

It is the wonder and versatility of Fayrouz’s voice that continues to entrance audiences across the world. El-Roumi thought her voice so beautiful that he gave her the nickname Fayrouz (Arabic for turquoise) and went on to become the first person to compose for her.

 

 

“Fayrouz has one of the most distinctive voices in the Arab world,” says Egyptian-Belgian singer Natacha Atlas, who has worked with the likes of Peter Gabriel and Nitin Sawhney. “One can always tell that it’s (her) voice. It is as delicate as it is beautiful and strong, and her voice’s ability to (carry) such strong emotions is always extraordinary. She is one of my greatest influences. When I hear her, I often melt in tears at the sheer beauty of her voice and how it also evokes a deep nostalgia in me for the Middle East as it once was, and how everything has changed almost beyond recognition.”

Fayrouz’s fame outside of the Levant can also be traced back to her support of the Palestinian cause. As early as 1957, Fayrouz and the Rahbani Brothers released “Rajioun” (We Will Return), a collection of pro-Palestinian anthems. This was followed in 1967 by the release of “Al-Quds Fil Bal” (Jerusalem In My Heart), and as recently as 2018 she was still dedicating songs to Palestinians killed on Gaza’s border with Israel.

When her husband’s health began to fail in the 1970s, Fayrouz began to collaborate more closely with her son Ziad — the eldest of her four children. One of the albums composed and arranged by him was “Wahdon,” which was released on the Zida record label in 1979 and includes the song “Al Bosta.”

 

 

“I cherish and love her experience with Ziad,” says Saleh. “The albums that she did with him took her to jazz and bossa nova and sometimes to funk. This gave Fayrouz another dimension — that of the risk taker. She went out of her comfort zone, and that is very rare.”

This helped to cement her reputation with a younger generation and she continues to evoke a deep sense of nostalgia, not only among the Lebanese, but across the Levant and North Africa. Many Lebanese still start their day listening to Fayrouz’s songs and, despite family disputes over royalties, her controversial performance in Damascus in 2008, and accusations of plagiarism directed at the Rahbani family, her status as a cultural icon endures. When the French President Emmanuel Macron visited Lebanon in 2020, he chose the home of Fayrouz as one of his first ports of call, not those of the country’s political leaders.

“They described this beautiful Lebanon and they made us dream that this is our country, which was actually just a picture they had created,” says Saleh of Fayrouz and the Rahbani Brothers. “We were looking for it: ‘Where is this Lebanon you are talking about guys?’ We were always trying to find it but we never did. But thankfully they did create this image, because the bond that we have with our country is mainly because of them.”


Canadian model Winnie Harlow spotted at Formula E Diriyah E-Prix in Saudi Arabia

Canadian model Winnie Harlow spotted at Formula E Diriyah E-Prix in Saudi Arabia
Winnie Harlow attends the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. (Scott Garfitt)
Updated 29 January 2023

Canadian model Winnie Harlow spotted at Formula E Diriyah E-Prix in Saudi Arabia

Canadian model Winnie Harlow spotted at Formula E Diriyah E-Prix in Saudi Arabia

DUBAI: Canadian model Winnie Harlow was spotted in Saudi Arabia this weekend attending the Formula E Diriyah E-Prix.

 The model was part of the thousands of fans who watched on as 22 of the fastest electric race cars ever built raced for the second time this weekend.

 “The experience at Formula E is unmatched and I’ve really enjoyed the vibe, people, atmosphere, and racing. I’ve been to Saudi Arabia a few times and always have a great experience, so I love that Formula E is in Diriyah,” Harlow said in a released statement.

“Living in a more sustainable world and being able to enjoy motorsports at the same time is incredible,” she added. 

Harlow rubbed shoulders with the likes of John Legend, Martin Garrix, Miguel and French Montana, who performed at the event’s after-race concert series.

Netflix series “Emily in Paris” star Lucien Laviscount was also in attendance.

“I’m a massive fan of motorsport and anything to do with cars. Seeing the new GEN3 race car on track for the first time was insane,” he said in a released statement. “It looks like a fighter jet on wheels and sounds like it’s from a sci-fi movie. Formula E are leading the world in electric car innovation. I’m in line for an electric vehicle and this has really given me a taste.”


Review: More dungeons and more dragons — ‘The Legend of Vox Machina’ season two is a ‘critical’ hit  

Review: More dungeons and more dragons — ‘The Legend of Vox Machina’ season two is a ‘critical’ hit  
Updated 29 January 2023

Review: More dungeons and more dragons — ‘The Legend of Vox Machina’ season two is a ‘critical’ hit  

Review: More dungeons and more dragons — ‘The Legend of Vox Machina’ season two is a ‘critical’ hit  

DUBAI: It would not be an understatement to say that we are living in the golden age of television when it comes to sheer diversity in terms of content. That much is evident when a Dungeons & Dragons game that started out in someone’s living room is now a full-blown animated series on a massive streaming platform — and it has returned for a second season.   

 “The Legend of Vox Machina” is based on the hugely successful D&D actual play series Critical Role, in which players livestreamed themselves playing the tabletop game. The adult animated series made fans in its debut season for its ability to carefully balance juvenile humor with immense character depth, set against a lore-heavy fantasy setting.   

Season two builds on that promise and comes back even stronger with greater character arcs for its seven main characters: Half-elf rogue Vax’ildan (Liam O’Brien), his ranger twin sister Vex’ahlia (Laura Bailey), half-elf druid Keyleth (Marisha Ray), gnome bard Scanlan (Sam Riegel), goliath barbarian Grog (Travis Willingham), his BFF gnome paladin Pike (Ashley Johnson) and human gunslinger Percy (Taliesen Jaffe). This is an impressive feat to achieve given that the episodes have a run time of under 30 minutes.   

The new season picks up exactly where season one left off — with a group of large and ancient dragons attacking the city of Emon. Our motley crew of mercenaries/heroes, clearly underqualified for the job of defeating these powerful beings, must now go on a continent-hopping jaunt to retrieve magical artifacts that will help them in this mission.   

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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It is helpful here to remember that “TLOVM,” unlike any fantasy series or movie that you may have watched so far, is not based on a book or video game: It is based on a story created by a group of friends as they played a game over several years, albeit with an audience watching on Twitch and YouTube.   

And, hence, what makes the animated show such an engrossing watch, despite having a story that may seem familiar to most fans of fantasy media, is that “TLOVM” manages to accurately capture the bond between the players and translate it into endearing television.   

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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And while the personal stakes are dialed up to 11 this time around, the larger plot is not ignored either. As big as the emotional punches are, they are matched in intensity with the beautifully realized action scenes and set pieces, which will again feel familiar to anyone who has ever played a role-playing game with their friends.   

With Critical Role announcing that they will also be animating their second campaign, Mighty Nein, for Amazon, and if you are a fan of all things magic, camaraderie and epic battles, there has never been a better time to tune in and let “Vox Machina” enthrall you. 


‘Star Wars’ C3PO actor Anthony Daniels to attend MEFCC 2023 in Abu Dhabi  

‘Star Wars’ C3PO actor Anthony Daniels to attend MEFCC 2023 in Abu Dhabi  
Updated 29 January 2023

‘Star Wars’ C3PO actor Anthony Daniels to attend MEFCC 2023 in Abu Dhabi  

‘Star Wars’ C3PO actor Anthony Daniels to attend MEFCC 2023 in Abu Dhabi  

DUBAI: The force is strong with “Star Wars” fans in the Middle East.   

British actor and mime artist Anthony Daniels, best known for playing the lovable golden droid C3PO in the “Star Wars” franchise, is headed to the Middle East Film and Comic Con, set to take place in Abu Dhabi from March 3-5.   

He is the only actor to have either appeared in or been involved with all theatrical films in the series, having starred in 10 “Star Wars” films, apart from being involved in several TV shows, video games and radio serials.   

It has also been heavily hinted at that British actor, writer and filmmaker Andy Serkis will be in attendance in Abu Dhabi at the three-day event. Serkis is best known for his performance capture roles comprising motion capture acting, animation and voice work for computer-generated characters such as Gollum in “The Lord of the Rings” franchise, Caesar in the “Planet of the Apes” reboot trilogy, and Supreme Leader Snoke in the “Star Wars” sequel trilogy   

He most recently portrayed Kino Loy in the “Star Wars” Disney+ series “Andor.”  

However, Serkis’s attendance has not been confirmed by the organizers as of yet.  


UAE’s Blackpink fans enjoy birthday surprise at Abu Dhabi concert  

UAE’s Blackpink fans enjoy birthday surprise at Abu Dhabi concert  
Blackpink performs onstage at the 2022 MTV VMAs at Prudential Center on August 28, 2022. (AFP)
Updated 29 January 2023

UAE’s Blackpink fans enjoy birthday surprise at Abu Dhabi concert  

UAE’s Blackpink fans enjoy birthday surprise at Abu Dhabi concert  

ABU DHABI: Fans of K-Pop supergroup Blackpink were treated to a concert and surprise birthday celebration for band member Rose at the group’s performance in Abu Dhabi on Saturday night.

The chart-topping group hit the stage and performed a number of their greatest hits — including “Pink Venom” and “Lovesick Girls” — before Korean-New Zealand singer Rose, whose birthday is on Feb. 11, was surprised with a multi-tiered cake on stage. She is set to turn 26.

Bandmember Jennie was also spotted visiting Abu Dhabi’s Grand Mosque before the show.

Abu Dhabi is the second Middle Eastern stop on the “Born Pink” world tour after the group performed in Riyadh on Jan. 20.


US singer John Legend closes out Diriyah E-Prix 2023 with a bang 

US singer John Legend closes out Diriyah E-Prix 2023 with a bang 
Updated 29 January 2023

US singer John Legend closes out Diriyah E-Prix 2023 with a bang 

US singer John Legend closes out Diriyah E-Prix 2023 with a bang 

DUBAI: US singer-songwriter John Legend made a resounding comeback to the Middle East with his performance at the final day of the Diriyah E-Prix races in Saudi Arabia. 

From up-tempo, dance tracks like “All She Wanna Do” to his famous ballad “All of Me,” Legend had the packed audience screaming for more and singing along to every word. 

Moroccan American rapper French Montana and Egyptian singer-songwriter Mohamed EL-Hamaki also took to the stage on Saturday night. 

Returning for its ninth season and after a two-week break following an opener in Mexico City, the Diriyah E-Prix kicked off on Friday in the Saudi capital with two days of racing on the Diriyah Street Course.