a breath of Lebanon in the City of Angels
Concert is arguably greatest manifestation
of Arab culture in US this year
Special to The Daily Star
LOS ANGELES: It is no longer possible to write objectively about
Fairuz, so intertwined has our biography as Lebanese become with
her voice. Was that she who was singing at Los Angeles’s
Shrine Auditorium on Oct. 18, or was it the soundtrack to our
lives? Fairuz knew that a lot was riding on what is arguably the
greatest manifestation of Arab culture in the US since the Sept.
11, 2001 events. So did the diva disappoint?
Following the orchestral intro, the choir opened with Bhebbak
ya Libnan, a safe choice that was assured to set the house on
fire. Fairuz then entered the stage joining the song, her voice
drowned by deafening applause and screams of “We love you!”
from an audience filled with desire for this rare concert.
Before you could judge her appearance, her poise and her voice,
you had to feel your heart, catch your breath, brush aside 50
years of listening to her and ignore countless personal moments
that resurfaced in you because you have come to associate them
with certain songs.
And, just when you felt closer to achieving the necessary distance
between critic and artist, came another charged masterpiece that
she had sung, of course, just for you, erasing the illusion of
distance, and turning any possible criticism of the performance
The evening became a mine field of beauty and memories, with you
tiptoeing among intense emotions elicited by such landmark songs
as Shadi, Btitloj al-Dini, Sawa Rbina, and Salemli Aley, trying
not to be too harsh on the lady for fear of hurting your own feelings.
Certainly the voice has changed but in a way that announces a
delicious new phase rather than an end or a decline. Gone are
the vocal gymnastics, true, but what remains is the more haunting
essence, a luxuriously sad state that resonates with warmth and
humanity. The throatier timber makes for a more intimate, sexier
Fairuz, a Fairuz that transports you in a song such as Sawa Rbina
further than she ever could before.
And no one seems to better understand the “new” Fairuz
than her son, Ziad Rahbani. Besides beautiful renditions by the
chorus of some of his standards, notably Al Hali Tabani ya Layla,
Aychi Wahda Balak, and Mish Kayen Hayk Tkoun renditions that garnered
the loudest cheers from the audience two unreleased songs of sheer
genius were introduced: Ya Salam ala Hobbak, and Habbayt ma Habbayt.
Calling Fairuz’s works with Ziad at this point an adventure
or an experiment is misinformed and not simply a matter of diverging
tastes. After 30 years of professional collaboration, and 20 more
in mother-son interactions, this duo is hardly adventurous or
Instead, they now constitute an entrenched school marked by exquisite
compatibility. Nothing better suits the current voice in its directness
and sublime but precarious humanity than these lyrics that say
the most by saying the least, and that underline the fundamental
uncertainty of our condition while finding beauty where one least
And all this against a background of really big music that compares
favorably with the best being composed anywhere.
So there we were, in Fairuz’s glorious twilight, in the
city of angels, LA, comforted by how some things such as the halo
around her and her hold on you are constant and never change.
How many more such events we may witness is not ours to guess,
but you couldn’t leave the Shrine Auditorium at midnight
that Saturday without being sadly reminded of your mortality while
simultaneously feeling blessed and uplifted to have been born
in her age.
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