The Female Voice Of Lebanon: Fairouz

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Fairouz, the voice of Lebanon (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

I’ve known about Fairouz (born 1935) for 30 years. It started when a lovely man named Samir Hachem–who passed away years ago–brought in a bunch of her albums and guest-hosted an hour of Morning Becomes Eclectic with me. He was a reporter for the Hollywood Reporter at the time, mostly writing on film but also a fan of Arabic music. We did other shows on Oum Kalsoum and Asmahan as well.

I was smitten by a little sparrow of a woman who has been called, “The Voice of Lebanon” and “The Harp of the Orient”, among other titles. When she performs in Las Vegas, Lebanese from all over America made the trek to hear her. One of the most amazing film music moments for me was when she was featured in Julian Schnabel’s Before Night Falls. The Cuban poet Reinaldo Arenas, played masterfully by Javier Bardem, is dying of aids, has just flown north from Miami–then under Anita Bryant’s homophobic influence–and is riding through Manhattan in a convertible during a snowstorm. One of Fairouz’ Good Friday hymns is playing called, “Kamata Mariyam“. I was electrified.

During Lebanon’s protracted civil war (1975-1990), Fairouz would perform for the Maronite Christians, then cross enemy lines and perform for the Sunnis and Shia. She had the universal popularity that allowed her to do it.

I read that she got in trouble recently for coming out in favor of the Hezbollah, the Shiite Muslim militant group that has been backing the ruling Assad government in Syria. She voiced her support for Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah’s general secretary. Hezbollah is designated a terrorist organization by the U.S., and has been active in Southern Lebanon for decades, fighting Israel. Her spokesperson was her son and longtime musical composer and arranger, Ziad Rahbani.  (note:  after writing this, I subsequently learned that Fairouz is completely apolitical, and that it is Hezbollah that is claiming her to gather more support for their cause).

Fairouz performed in Damascus in 2008, but has not performed since 2010.

Here she is performing her song “Nouhad Wadi Haddad”: