07 Nov EXAMINING AN ICON: FAIROUZ
The first song I’ve ever learnt in pre-school was called “Amara ya Amara,” meaning, “moon oh moon” in Arabic by Lebanese iconic singer, Fairouz. I grew up listening to that song playing in our kitchen as my family had breakfast. Mornings in my house in Jordan wouldn’t feel the same without the captivating voice of Fairouz.
Nouhad Haddad, otherwise known as Fairouz, meaning Turquoise, is a Lebanese singer and songwriter. Her husband Assi Rahbani and his brother, Mansou Rahbani, composed her music in the 1950’s. She managed to create a legacy in the Arab world. Fairouz’s music is celebrated as an emblem to unify the Lebanese people. Her harmonious and hypnotizing voice is in sync with Lebanon’s history and politics. Yet, the emotions she pours in her lyrics stretches beyond Lebanon. We all felt the pain in her voice as she sang “Li Beirut”, singing about the golden years before the civil war and its impact of making Beirut “taste like fire and smoke.” There is not one Arab person who hasn’t felt a political and emotional connection to Fairouz. She is iconic not only for her revolutionary step in Arab music, but for managing to put unspeakable and devastating tragedies into words of poetry. Her lyrical genius combined with the gut wrenching pain in her voice portrayed and emulated the Arab narrative.
Western artists still to this day take inspiration from her well-crafted melodies, low voice, and her unapologetic stance on making her music, like herself, versatile to unify the Lebanese people after the bloody civil war. Her songs signaled nationalism through providing her audience a romantic outlook towards the Middle East. She brought an Arab oriented Orchestras and dabkeh (traditional Arab dance) dancers on stage, encapsulating her performance as an celebratory spectacle of Arab culture. Furthermore, she has expressed her heartbreak over her people who suffered through conflict, violence, and imperialism for years.
Fairouz was ahead of her time from her unique harmony and undeniable powerful voice that embraces the Arab region. She revolutionized the Arab music industry by being the first artist to produce short modern songs during a time when radios played 30 mins songs. Her music started to not only reach international audiences, but signal love and politics, through incorporating famous Arabic poetry. She managed to make her lyrics in “Sanarjou” meaning “we will return,” very relatable to every immigrant or expat from the MENA region suffering from occupation or regime. In other words, her music was a symbol of political resistance and activism, making her an icon. Singing about bread, wine, neighbors, olives, and jasmine carry so much significance in what it means to be Arab, particularly Lebanese. They are symbolic to our Arab lands.
Fairouz blends traditional Arabic melodies with contemporary beats, weaving in a new identity. Listening to Fairouz is a character trait, a contemporary Arab identity. Her lyrics shift from nationalism, to romance, to even singing about cars that don’t work. She kept her music enigmatic by never adhering to a certain subject matter. Like her voice, she kept her style versatile but concrete in its impactful delivery. She has the power to keep her music captivating and relevant regardless of the time. You can reminisce in nostalgia about going back home to the Middle East, but still have fun while singing the chorus to “Kan Ena Tahoon.” Or you sit on the balcony looking out at the sea, drinking your rose watered cardamom tea while listening to “Shayef il Bahr.” Listening to “Keefak inta” might make you think about someone you used to love with its enigmatic beat and tender lyrics that weave in Jazz with Arab drum beats. Nevertheless, nothing will top her soothing song “Amara ya Amara,” an unmatched lullaby.
I took her music wherever I went. Through every Arab revolution and every nostalgic snowy morning in Canada, I never felt far away once I played Fairouz. You don’t have to be Lebanese to relate to her music. Her poetic lyrics embrace every Arab’s happiest and worst moments. She brought ease to every Arab immigrant and expat. Her music was a source of activism against destructive regimes and neglectful governments. From Beirut to Jeruselum, to every conflict our countries were forced to endure in terror, she put words into our conflicts. She managed to reach her fan base beyond Lebanon and feel the collective pain of the Arab struggle infiltrated by corruption, destruction, and trauma. She sang about unity in her country above all divisions. Interestingly, Fairouz always remained silent about her political views, which aided her label as a “diva.”
Recently, in the unforgivable and devastating catastrophe of the Beirut Blast, President Emanuel Macaron gifted the Lebanese singer Fairuz the badge of honor for her magnificent contributions to the arts as a singer. Her music has stretched out to various continents. Fairuz reinvented what music means today by modernizing Arab identity and resistance. She was deemed as the hope for Beirut, iconizing her around the Arab and European region. Fairouz’s music aims to unify Lebanon, contrasting its current political turmoil that causes segregations within its communities. She will continue to be a symbol, as a “beacon of hope” for her ever-growing influence and immeasurable legacy. Her music lives for generations, making her influence ageless.
As an Iraqi who escaped to Jordan from the war, Fairouz brings hope to my family and I as we continue to listen to her, every morning.
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