Monday, September 7, 2020

Legendary Lebanese Singer Fairuz Seen as a Symbol of Unity in the Aftermath of the Beirut Disaster

On September 1st French President Emmanuel Macron met the legendary Lebanese singer Fairuz on his second visit to Lebanon after the devastating explosion at the Beirut port last month.

Fairuz, born Nouhad Haddad, is one of the most celebrated singers in the Middle East, and a devout Greek Orthodox Christian.

Many see the 85-year-old artist as a symbol of unity, amidst the disastrous aftermath of the 4 August port blast which claimed the lives of at least 190 people and left over 300,000 displaced.

Macron awarded the iconic singer with the Legion of Honor, the highest official honor in France, as a tribute to her from the French people and to commemorate her commitment to Lebanon.

For some, it represented hope, whereas others were more cynical of the meeting.

Many also drew attention to the French president not wearing a mask, particularly as the meeting comes at a time where Lebanon is struggling to deal with a surge in coronavirus cases. Fairuz wore a face shield during the meeting.

Symbol of unity

Fairuz was born to a working-class family that belonged to the Maronite and Assyrian Apostolic Church, and studied at the national music conservatory as a teenager.

She received her stage name, Fairuz, meaning "turquoise" in Arabic, from composer Halim al-Roumi, during her time at the Lebanese state radio choir.

Fairuz’s music has reached audiences across with the world, as she merged classical western elements with traditional Arabic music.

She is considered the musical icon of Lebanon, comparable to Edith Piaf in France, Elvis Presley in the United States and Lys Assia in Switzerland.

In a career spanning over six decades, Fairuz has recorded nearly 1500 songs, released more than 80 albums, 20 musicals and sold over 150 million records worldwide, making her the highest selling Middle-Eastern artist of all time and one the best-selling music artists in the world.

She is currently a Greek Orthodox Christian, having converted when she married Assi Rahbani, one of the two Rahbani brothers who helped shape her singing career.

Fairuz describes herself as fervently Greek Orthodox, who has performed traditional Byzantine chants in various Orthodox churches for many decades, and even recorded an album in the 1960's of chants from Good Friday. On April 3, 2020 she posted a video of her praying from the Psalms to save humanity from the coronavirus.

Fairuz has long been a symbol of unity for the Lebanese, as she remained in the country throughout the 1975-90 civil war and refused to side with one faction over the other.

In an interview with the New York Times in 1999, the singer said that during the civil war, she refused to leave the capital, which, at the time, was divided between West Beirut and East Beirut.

Fairuz said she owned two houses, one on the Muslim side and one on the Christian side, and would go back and forth between the two according to the prevailing security situation.

"She also refused to perform in Lebanon since people were not free to travel between the factional cantons, and any group that controlled the territory where she sang might try to claim her," NYT reported her as saying.