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Fairouz at Baalbeck 1998
Feyrouz at Baalbeck
by Tarek Chemaly firstname.lastname@example.org
Attending one of Feyrouz's concert in Baalbeck makes me one of the people
who were able to enjoy her two post-war performances she gave in Lebanon so
far. The first was the memorable, yet technically frail, concert in downtown
Beirut which she gave on the 17th of September 1994.
At the time, the country was seized with a breeze of enthusiasm, and hopes
were riding high on the eventual outcomes of the reconstruction process
which was taking over the land; all over Beirut at least. Four years later,
and with too many deceptions to count, the Lebanese needed a dose of Feyrouz
and of Rahbani civic education to feel "Lebanese" again in all the glory
which the trio consisting of the Rahbani brothers - namely Assi and
Mansour - and Feyrouz, gave throughout a staggering career.
Scheduled for six official nights and one night for the citizen's of
Baalbeck, Feyrouz was to sing condensed snippets of classic plays written
and composed by the Rahbani brothers. The choice of plays was based upon
"force majeure" reasons, chief of which was death. Indeed, the original cast
of the plays witnessed the loss of many landmarks of the Rahbani theater.
Disappearance of Assi Rahbani, Nasri Chamseddine, and Philimon Wehbe all
pillars of the classic plays forced Feyrouz, daughter Rima, brother in law
Mansour Rahbani and his younger brother Elias to chose parts of plays were
the deceased had limited contribution.
Elias Rahbani is a renowned composer himself but was never considered as
part of the Rahbani brothers legend was also to assume position of Maestro
for the two hundred and fifty musicians present during the concert, even if
Feyrouz was recorded earlier during tedious studio sessions attended by her
The show was supposed to kick start at eight thirty, but on the 16th of
August it only started at ten minutes past nine. The public too did not
stick to the appointed time with people still coming as the performance was
Feyrouz, a living Lebanese legend, was applauded at each of her appearances
especially her first where she stood at the highest point of the stage
singing "I came back to Baalbeck after twenty years". The last time Feyrouz
gave a concert at Baalbeck, in the setting of its Roman temples, was in
1974 which makes it twenty four years and not twenty as she said. But who's
counting? might a profane ask, All of the Lebanese population the answer
might be. For Feyrouz's coming back is viewed by the public as a sign of
health to a country succumbing to countless social and economic problems.
Any Lebanese, regardless of area of origin, religious background and
socio-economic class knows most of Feyrouz's repertoire by heart since
Lebanese radio stations made it a tradition to start broadcasting with at
least one hour of Feyrouz's easy listening, happy go lucky tunes not
mentioning that her songs were also heavily played during the war due to
their patriotic nature.
However, most Lebanese have never heard the full plays and would fail to
locate which classic hit stems from which play especially that the songs are
mostly played out of context. Feyrouz's band consisted of more than a
hundred dancers, technical staff and actors featuring the presence of
renowned Lebanese actor Antoine Kerbej one of the survivors of the original
crew performing the roles of "Fatek the conqueror" and the Nero inspired
character of "Ghayboub the king" in "Jbel el souwwan" and "Natouret al
mafatih" respectively the two plays succeeding to opener "Jisr el kamar".
In total, fifty minutes were played of "jisr el kamar" followed by thirty
five minutes of "Jbel el souwwan" before pausing for around twenty minutes.
Then almost half an hour of "Natouret el mafatih" and a finale consisting of
three new songs two of which were written by Mansour al Rahbani. The
highlight of the new songs is entitled "Akher marra ghannaytellak" (the last
time I sang for you) is about a Lebanon that used to be green and includes
many references to old Rahbani songs about a Lebanon filled with values and
ethic codes which sadly never found translation on the ground.
The downside of the show remains the directing, especially the part
pertaining to the unnecessary video projections during the plays which
forced the Italian director to include movable set elements able to reflect
the shown projections. The said elements had little role but to overcrowd
the scene during the rest of the performance.
Another gray point is one of Feyrouz's new songs "Ma'ak" (with you) written
and composed by Elias Rahbani which is far from the high standards Feyrouz
accustomed her audience to, especially that it contrasted with the rest of
the show. Everything else however, deserves a perfect score.
At the end of the enchanting show, some of the audience asked for an encore.
It is known though that asking for an encore with Feyrouz is like asking for
the moon. Strangely, under that starry night in Baalbeck the moon seemed so
close one can reach it.
While going back to Beirut in the Pullman one woman was shouting at her
young children who apparently hassled her all through the concert that she
"wouldn't take them anywhere with her again, even if God was throwing a
concert". The thought appealed to me being curious to know whether God was
able to top the Goddess.