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The Rahbani Brothers Biography

Part 4: Baalbeck: The beginnings:
The Rahbani brothers were approached by the Baalbeck festival organizers together with the wife of the Lebanese president, Zelfa Sham'oon to join the second festival of 1957. They wanted them to take care of the music composing, and had configured what everyone will do. Assy wanted to be in charge, along his companions, of what gets presented, and which artists get picked for the production. The panel also showed discomfort when they were told that the leading female artist will be Fairuz because they thought she will sing the commonly long traditional songs of the time, and they were looking for something different, but they were assured by Assy that the work they will present is new and "gheir shekl".
After some days, Assy and Mansour had prepared the variety program Ayyam Elhassad. It had Fairuz as the leading singer, Sabri Elsharif as the director, Mohamed Shamel and Mohee Salam as managers, Tawfeek Elbasha as the conductor, Nizar Meekati to assist Elsharif, Zaki Nassif for co-writing and composing and Marwan and Wadia Jarar for choreography. Before the panel object to the expenses, Assy told them that the salary for Fairuz and Sabri Elsharif will be one Lira each. The brothers left being promised that they will be contacted. A couple days later, the president Sham'oon invited them to the presidential palace where he told them to go ahead with the program.
The festival was held for two days. Conducted by Elbasha, the program started with Nassif and some of his still famous songs including Taloo Habaibna Taloo. Then Fairuz got on stage and sang Lebnan Ya Akhdar Helo, and in addition to the great production, the audience went in a frenzy of mixed but positive feelings. The press was also a good recipient of the program and raved about the new kinds of songs that were performed, asking for more concerts. Mansour also got married to Terez Abou Jouda in July of 1957.
Because of the instability in 1958, the festival was not held. But in 1959 the festival was back on track, and it featured two programs that ran for 5 nights. The first was given to Mohamed Mohsen, Zaki Nassif and Tawfeek Elbasha who presented their songs and instrumentals. The second was one act program called Trial/Mohakama starring Fairuz and Wadi Esafi. The story told of a goat that gets stolen. The goat itself was the cause that Mansour sold his newly bought car because after he bought and drove the goat to Baalbeck in the car, he couldn't get the stink out. The songs that were presented then included Ya Amar Ana Weyak and Ma Fi Hada by Fairuz and Ana Wehalbeer by Esafi.
During that time, the songs of the Rahbani brothers were being broadcasted throughout the Arab world from the Damascus radio station, and with the popularity and great reception they received, there were also voices of objection to this kind of music which they considered inferior. One of the people who opposed the Rahbani works was the Syrian politician Fakhery Elbaroody. He objected his opposition in the Syrian parliament and accused the Rahbani brothers of deforming the Arabic language and music. He also privately denounced Ahmed Esa, the manager of the Damascus station with whom he one day met and asked if he will ever stop broadcasting the Rahbani music and revert to the old classic types. Esa had an idea and he replied by saying that he was mistaken and that he had found a new great singer who will perform all the old types, and he invited Albaroody to the station to listen for himself. The second day, Elbaroody was listening to Sook Elghatee' Ila Elmara'ay, and he loved the song saying that this is a real singer unlike that Fairuz. Esa replied by saying that the singer he just admitted was great was in fact Fairuz and that they have what he just said on tape and if he continued objecting to them, they will broadcast the tape. Regardless of the threat, Elbaroody had already changed his perception and became one of the strongest supporters and fans to the Rahbani brothers and Fairuz.
In 1960, the Rahbani brothers were asked to participate in the Damascus song festival which was also recorded. The festival was a direct hit, and the songs performed made the audience applaud like crazy. In the first row sat Elbaroody. The songs that were performed then included Ya Amar Ana Weyak and Ma Fi Hada that were the highlights of the Baalbeck festival. The rest included many Andalucian type songs and performances.
The relationship between the brothers and their career friends was weakened in 1960. They went on and made Alanwar festivals while the Rahbani brothers focused on the Baalbeck festival. That year production was titled Mosem Elezz and it starred Sabah, Wadi Esafi and Nasri Shameseddine. Fairuz didn't participate because of her pregnancy with Rima. The play was performed for 7 nights. What is significant is that it was the first two act play they made, and it sort of developed the shape of how the plays that followed will be like.

  • Baalbeck Festival:
    The Baalbeck Festival as an organization was first established in 1956. Prior to that, mainly foreign and sparse performances were held on the stage of the temple of Jupiter. The first president of the panel of organizers was Emily Katana, some years later she was followed by Salwa Elsaid. The panel was consisted of twelve members and the president of Lebanon at that time, Kamil Sham'oon, gave them six months prior to the date to prepare a program for the first international festival in Baalbeck. It took hard work to organize and establish the new festival and it was and still is one of the most important in the world.

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