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Fayruz (1933–) - PERSONAL HISTORY, BIOGRAPHICAL HIGHLIGHTS, PERSONAL CHRONOLOGY:, LEGACY OF A STAR, INFLUENCES AND CONTRIBUTIONS, THE WORLD’S PERSPECTIVE

arab lebanese musical fayruz’s

Fayruz (Faruz, Fairouz, Feiruz, Feyrouz, Fayrouz) is a world-renowned Lebanese singer, noted for both her musical accomplishment and commitment to the concerns and values of Lebanon and the Arab world.

PERSONAL HISTORY

Fayruz was born Nuhad Haddad, probably on 21 November 1933 (1935 at the latest) in Lebanon to Wadi Haddad and Lisa al-Bustani, a Christian Arab couple of Syrian Orthodox and Maronite Catholic background. The couple eventually had three more children, a boy, Yusuf, and two girls, Huda and Amal. During Fayruz’s childhood the family, similar to many other village families, moved to the city of Beirut in search of better work for the parents. There, Wadi worked as a typesetter and Lisa as a housewife, and the children attended local schools.

As did many other families of the same era and socioeconomic status, the Haddads maintained close ties with their villages of origin. As a result, Fayruz spent summers with her grandmother in the village where she heard the stories and songs common to the region throughout her childhood. These life experiences formed a common fund of culture for many Lebanese of Fayruz’s generation and became an important force in her artistry later as an adult and in the wide appeal of her art to her compatriots.

Her pretty voice and musical aptitude became apparent to her community while she was still a young student in school in Beirut, and she performed at school festivals and celebrations with the other children. As a teenager, she came to the attention of a local musician and teacher, Muhammad Fulayfil (alternatively, Fleifel) who happened to attend one of her school events. Recognizing Fayruz’s extraordinary ability, Fulayfil encouraged her to enroll in the Conservatoire Libanais National Supérieur de Musique where he taught, and became one of her early mentors. Her vocal training involved two approaches common in the Arab world: learning to recite the Qur’an, which, regardless of a singer’s religious affiliation, was viewed as key to the necessary correct pronunciation of elegant Arabic and understanding of the potential of the language and its poetry; and learning to sing muwashshahat (singular: muwashsha ), classical Arabic songs with rich melodic structures that imparted a wealth of models for vocal style and improvisation.

BIOGRAPHICAL HIGHLIGHTS

Name: Fayruz (Fairuz, Fairouz, Feiruz, Feyrouz, Fayrouz); born Nuhad Haddad

Birth: 1933?, Lebanon

Family: Husband Asi Rahbani (1923–1986), four children: Ziyad, Layal, Hali, and Rima

Nationality: Lebanese

Education: Local preparatory schools; Conservatoire Libanais National Supérieur de Musique, private musical instruction

PERSONAL CHRONOLOGY:

  • 1952: First hit song, “Itab” (Blame)
  • 1957: First appearance at Ba’albek and first solo concert
  • 1962: First major European concert, in London
  • 1970: First South American and North American tours
  • 1979: Separates from Asi Rahbani

At the time, this sort of musical engagement remained at odds with the expectations of many Lebanese families (although, most certainly enjoyed music and admired accomplished performers). Encouraging any sort of public performance by a young girl challenged widely shared expectations of modesty and decorum. Beyond this concern, musicianship was viewed with good reason as an unstable occupation for anyone and therefore suspect. Once persuaded to allow his daughter to try the lessons, Fayruz’s father took pains to protect her in this relatively unfamiliar environment by sending male family members to accompany her and exercising concerned paternal judgment over what his daughter would agree to do.

The family allowed Fayruz to pursue her lessons and also to perform as a chorus member at the new Lebanese radio station (Muhattat al-Idha’a al-Lubnaniyya) in late 1947. At the time, many Middle Eastern radio stations maintained their own performing ensembles for broadcasts and the chorus that Fayruz joined was one of these. Much excitement surrounded the venture of radio, which had only passed into Lebanese control following the country’s independence in 1946.

Fayruz was recruited by the station’s director, Halim al-Rumi (eventually the father of contemporary singing star Majda al-Rumi), apparently because he heard in her voice the flexibility and skill that would accommodate singing in both Western and Arab styles in which radio performers of the day worked. This ability became a hallmark of Fayruz’s style overall. It is also said that al-Rumi suggested the stage name of Fayruz.

This employment offered a more or less respectable and stable performing environment and also provided additional income for the family, an important factor for most young performers among whom Fayruz was no exception. The growing popularity of radio throughout the Middle East and its presence in public places so that people who could not afford radios could still hear the programs was instrumental to Fayruz’s success.

Fayruz quickly became a soloist at the radio station and it was also there that she met two of the Rahbani brothers, Asi and Mansur, who worked at the station as musicians. Asi began to compose songs for her that she performed, one of which, “Itab” (Blame), became her first major hit in 1952. With this beginning, Fayruz and the Rahbani brothers took the Lebanese musical scene by storm and dominated Lebanese musical performance aesthetics and style for decades to come.

In 1955, Fayruz married Asi and they moved to Antiliyas, the Rahbani family village outside of Beirut. Their marriage lasted until 1979 when they separated. They had four children: Ziyad (b. 1956), who became a famous musician in his own right and worked with his mother in his adult years, Layal (d. 1987), Hali (paralyzed from childhood after meningitis), and Rima (b. 1960), who became a successful photographer and director.

Working together out of their backgrounds in music for radio, Fayruz, Asi, and Mansur brought elements from classical and popular Western music to bear on the historic musical system of Arab melodic modes and compositional practice. Vocally, Fayruz apparently worked from the familiar models of popular singers Layla Murad (an Egyptian film star) and Asmahan (born in Syria as Amali al-Atrash, who made her film and musical career in Cairo). The voices of both women manifested an almost incredible flexibility, lightness of tone and a high head resonance, coupled with the traditionally valued strengths of wide range and power; these characteristics became hallmarks of Fayruz’s, style as well.

As did many other Middle Eastern composers, Asi Rahbani borrowed liberally from the Western instrumentarium. He adapted models originating in stage bands and pit orchestras of Europe and the Americas, coupling these with Arab wind and percussion instruments and the accordion. The resulting sound was large in comparison with the older Middle Eastern model of the three- to five-instrument takht (a small ensemble, usually consisting of an ud [also oud; English: lute]; qanun , or plucked zither; and riqq , or frame drum) to accompany singers, and marked by the distinctive sounds of the accordion and the soaring nay , an end-blown flute. By the time he began his work, larger ensembles had become familiar and popular in the Middle East and his innovations were immediately well-received.

Importantly, the textual models for Asi, Mansur, and Fayruz’s new work remained distinctively Lebanese. Despite the multilingual character of the Lebanese population of the time, lyrics were in Arabic and sentiments were drawn from historic poetic models, local sensibilities, and local humor and stories. Many texts were susceptible to double meanings, an ever-popular artistic device in the Arabic language. Moving beyond the songs of their earliest collaborations, the group undertook the creation of musical plays (many of which eventually became films), usually on familiar themes from village life and Lebanese history, and these became the core of the group’s life work. The musical plays on these local themes (such as Jisr al-Qamar [Bridge of the Moon] and al-Urs fi’l-Qarya [Wedding in the Village]) gained immediate popularity with recent immigrants from their villages to Beirut on the one hand, and with a Lebanese population engaged with nation-building in the years following independence from the French (1946) on the other. The places of these plays and songs in Lebanese popular culture remained strong until the civil war of the mid-1970s. Arguably, they remain cultural monuments today.

An important stage for their work was the Ba’albek Festival, an international celebration of arts and culture held at a historic archaeological site in the Bekáa Valley. The Rahbani brothers had supported the establishment of a folk festival there for a number of years. Fayruz’s first solo concert occurred at the second of what became an annual festival in 1957, and afterward her appearances in concerts and musical plays became regular events. Fayruz and the Rahbanis produced most of their collaborative songs and plays together during the 1960s and it was at this time that Fayruz became an international star.

These years saw the productions of “Ayyam Fakhr al-Din,” a historic tale focused on Arab heroism, “Bint al-Haras” (The Nightwatchman’s Daughter), “Sah al-Nawm” (Awake from Sleep), “al-Mahatta” (The Station) and “Naturat al-Mafatih” (Keeper of the Keys), all of which retained popularity long after initial release, and represent the rooted Lebanese-Arab plots and stories, often allegorical, that were given contemporary settings by the Rahbanis and vocally beautiful, affecting renderings by Fayruz as their star. The group produced more than twenty plays and Fayruz performed with other important Lebanese stars of the day, often Nasri Shams al-Din and Wadi al-Safi. She made dozens of commercial recordings of original songs, folksongs, dance songs, classical Arab songs, and Christian liturgical pieces and music (sometimes soundtracks) from the plays and films. Much of her output remains in circulation in the early twenty-first century.

Fayruz toured internationally beginning in 1962 with a concert in London, commanding and filling prime venues in Europe and North and South America, and became a beloved international star. Importantly, she never moved from Lebanon. No war, civil disturbance, or political crisis prompted her to leave Beirut. At the same time, she aligned herself with no government, political, or religious entity (other than remaining a loyal Lebanese citizen and Christian practitioner), rather presenting herself as one of the worldwide community of Lebanese and Arabs of all sorts, as a Beiruti woman from a Lebanese mountain village. Her public noticed and these factors became prime aspects of her public identity—factors her public valued at a premium.

During the 1970s, as their son, Ziyad, reached maturity and his musical talent emerged, trouble in the family developed as the son openly rejected his father and his uncle’s musical practice. In particular, Ziyad’s political leanings in the context of the Lebanese civil wars prompted questions about his family’s idealization of Lebanese village life. He commenced writing parodies of these and the resulting tensions precipitated an artistic (and personal) split between Fayruz and the Rahbanis. She and her son set out on their own, separate, musical paths. Eventually, after his father’s death, Ziyad began writing songs for his mother to sing.

Although Fayruz and the Rahbanis formed an extremely powerful musical presence and their artistic production exercised an enormous impact on Lebanese and Arab musical life, they welcomed other musicians into their midst. Fayruz sang works by other composers and poets. Important among these were poems by Syrian laureate NIZAR QABBANI , Khalil Gibran, and songs by the famous Egyptian composers Sayyid Darwish and Muhammad Abd al-Wahhab, notably “Sakan al-Layl.” She also sang numerous folk-song arrangements that were wildly popular and fit her emerging artistic persona as a rooted star of Lebanon. During the 1970s and 1980s, Fayruz began performing works by her son, Ziyad, who was by then developing into a local scion of what came to be viewed as Arab jazz and internationally inflected Arab popular music. Ziyad became an accomplished performer and composer in his own right with a broad command of Western and Arab styles. Some years after Asi’s death in 1986, mother and son collaborated to produce a tribute performance titled “To Asi” that featured songs by the Rahbani brothers, arranged and conducted by Ziyad (Beirut: Voix de l’Orient, 1995).

Fayruz’s voice remained remarkably resilient over the years and, as of 2007, she still performs in her seventies, although infrequently. Her stellar performance at the MGM Grand Casino in Las Vegas in 1999 drew enormous international interest and she returned to Ba’albek in 2006 to perform “Sah al-Nawm” under the direction of Ziyad.

LEGACY OF A STAR

Whereas Professor Ali Jihad Racy (1943–) of the University of California at Los Angeles is correctly viewed as an accomplished ethnomusicologist and virtuosic musician, he is also a younger contemporary of Fayruz, himself born in Ibl al-Saqi, a village in the Druze Mountains of Lebanon, and reared in Beirut. As such, he is a primary source of information about the singer and captures her essence well

“More than just a singer’s name, Fayrouz is a concept whose connotations are ethnic and nationalistic as well as musical and poetic.”

      FROM ALI JIHAD RACY. “LEGACY OF A STAR.” IN FAYROUZ, LEGEND AND LEGACY , EDITED BY KAMAL BOULLATA AND SARGON BOULUS. SAN FRANCISCO: FORUM FOR INTERNATIONAL ART AND CULTURE, 1981, P. 36.

Reportedly shy as a child, she manifested a certain reserve as an adult, standing still on stage, maintaining a formal posture. Although she continues performing in her later years in selected venues, she tends to decline public interviews and most press coverage that her artistic success has inevitably prompted.

INFLUENCES AND CONTRIBUTIONS

Fayruz’s collaboration with the Rahbanis formed a major part of her artistic output and of Lebanese culture from 1950 through the 1980s. Many of these works remain in the public memory today.

“Nassim alayna al-Hawa” (The gentle breeze blows upon us), a staple in Fayruz’s permanent repertory, originally from the play Bint al-Haris , exemplifies the impact of her work generally in Lebanon and the Arab world. Essentially it expresses nostalgia for the village and traditional life. It effectively walks the listener into sight of home in a Lebanese village. This theme grew from widely shared sentiments of Fayruz’s compatriots who shared her rural-to-urban background and connections, into a metaphor for homeland lost and the desire for return that lay at the heart of much of late-twentieth-century politics in the Middle East. Another similarly important song was “al-Quds al-Atiqa” (Old Jerusalem) that honors Arab Jerusalem, a city central to Arab history and culture currently under non-Arab control. These tools and themes built Fayruz into a major cultural figure in the minds of her listeners. She represented widely shared feelings.

As an individual, Fayruz has remained socially conservative in her public demeanor throughout her life. This behavior was closely associated with her family background and the values of many of her compatriots. As such, she enacted a model of Lebanese-Arab femininity that resonated in the society.

THE WORLD’S PERSPECTIVE

Although Fayruz’s first audience were Arabic-speaking Lebanese and she continues to sing in Arabic, she was one of the first Arab artists to achieve true international stardom despite that she did not seek it in the deliberate way that became common in the twentieth century. Certainly, the Arab world and the Arab diaspora welcomed her as a gifted young artist shortly after her first performance of “Itab” in 1952. She was invited to Syria and Egypt (then the center of Arab commercial music production) in the mid-1950s and has toured the Arab world ever since.

Her audiences in Europe and in North and South America quickly expanded to include a broader scope of listeners, probably because Fayruz’s relatively open head resonance and high, clear, brilliant, and flexible voice enabled an immediate recognition of good singing among Westerners unfamiliar and discomfited by the more traditional sweet nasality ( ghunna or khanafa ) of other Arab singers. Her concerts sold out major international houses and she became a welcome addition to schedules in major international cities. She remains in 2007 one of the more familiar Arab singers in the non-Arab world of her or any other generation.

LEGACY

In 1981, while in her late forties, Fayruz launched an international tour that was promoted (and well received) as “Legend and Legacy.” Thus, relatively early in her life her significant impact, or legacy, was already established. As she is still alive and performing, it is too early for a complete retrospective; however, important parts of her legacy can be seen even now.

CONTEMPORARIES

Asi (1923–1986) and Mansur (1925–) Rahbani were born in the village of Antiliyas near Beirut, Lebanon, to Hanna Rahbani and his wife, Sa’idi Sa’ib. Though the family has been described as socially conservative, Hanna was an amateur musician who ran a succession of village coffeehouses and occasionally played the buzuq , a local long-necked lute, to entertain his friends. Asi and Mansur seem to have been a lively pair whose exploits took them in and out of local schools. They developed a keen interest in play-acting and devised songs and entertainments for themselves and their neighbors. When the time came for them to make a living, both joined the police force, but continued to pursue musical and literary interests at which they were becoming quite skilled. These interests brought the brothers to the then-new Lebanese radio station in Beirut where Asi was occasionally employed as a musician and Mansur “hung out” in hopes of work for himself. It was there in 1947 that they met Fayruz whom Asi eventually married, and the stories of the three remained entwined until 1979. Asi experienced what seems to have been a stroke in 1972 that curtailed his activity. In 1979, he broke with his wife and he died in 1986. After his brother’s death, Mansur’s work moved toward large works for chorus and orchestra on serious themes, notably his Akhir Ayyam Suqrat (The Last Days of Socrates , 1998), recorded by the Kiev Symphony Orchestra.

As the principal voice of the Rahbani family theatrical creations, Fayruz articulated a modern music theatrical genre that spoke volumes to and for the Lebanese people, and was recognized throughout the Arab world as important new art. Her role in these plays ranged from adorable and entertaining ingénue through virtuosic singer to spokeswoman for culture and values important to Lebanese and Arabs in the twentieth century.

As a singing star, she set standards for vocal style and virtuosity that have been emulated by younger female singers throughout the Arab world and show no signs of abating. She advanced a style of Arabic singing that seems to have given voice to the historic international involvements of the people of Lebanon, bringing bel canto resonances into play with classical Arabic language, Arab musical systems, and the historic art of sung poetry that reaches back more than a thousand years in Arab history.

Within the Arab world, her singing style distinguishes Fayruz from her slightly older and equally famous Egyptian counterpart, UMM KULTHUM . Relying heavily on historic models of Arab singing, including the attendant nasal resonance and abundant improvisation, Umm Kulthum was not better or worse but simply different. Both singers probably occupy places of similar value in Arab culture and society; their performances enjoy some of the same audiences; but the stylistic and attendant social differences between them are palpable. In another way, Fayruz’s staying power resembles that of her contemporary, the Egyptian film star, Abd al-Halim Hafiz (1929–1977), who established a kind of Arab crooning in the world of popular culture, still widely imitated by young male singers, while at the same time articulating a familiar, local-boy persona that became closely associated with the positive values of Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser.

As a public figure, Fayruz presented a model of Arab femininity, accomplishment, local loyalty, and human decency recognized over generations of people young and old. In the twenty-first century, her impact manifests itself in young people who remain in awe of her music and persona despite the alternatives of the Internet age and the distance from her age (and most of her performances) to theirs.

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almost 7 years ago

can you tell me the name of the village Fairuz came from and its location ?