Fairuz: Arabic people’s “ambassador to the heavens”

Her voice fills the streets of cities throughout the Middle East, flooding the space of every tavern, restaurant, and household. The echoes of her songs spread with the sunrise, and the soundwaves of her voice blend with the enticing scents of freshly roasted coffee. Her music is interrupted only by the muezzin’s periodic calls to prayer. For Arabic people – in households, restaurants, and public places – Fairuz’s music (because it is she who we are talking about) is an everyday morning ritual.

In every Arab country, Fairuz is considered “our ambassador to the heavens”. But this is only one of her many cognomens. For the Lebanese – Lebanon being her country of birth and belonging – Fairuz represents the “soul of Lebanon”. However, every Arab, irrespective of her country of origin, founds herself one way or another in Fairuz’s music, with which s/he grew up during her/his childhood and in whose melodic rhythms s/he became an adult.

Fairuz (on her official name, Nouhad Wadie’ Haddad) is the Lebanese singer who has become, through her music, the cultural symbol of Arabic people. She was born in 1934, but already in 1952 (at the age of 18 years old) she made herself visible on the Arabic musical scene. Ever since, her artistic reputation and cultural prestige have never ceased growing. In quantitative terms, Fairuz recorded during her career over 1,500 songs. She released more than 80 albums, which were sold in over 150 million copies.

But all these numbers and quantitative records fail to express the quality of her music. Her songs are musical poetry, her music is metaphorical, her words convey the most intense human feelings: from love and happiness to suffering and death. Her music covers the full spectrum of human emotions, ranging from the euphoria of falling in love all the way to the pain of loss and mourning.

The Western world “discovered” Fairuz in the tragical context of the Beirut port disaster. The explosion detonated on the 4th of August 2020 destroyed the entire port as well as an important part of Beirut’s historical center. In human terms, 218 people lost their lives, and other 7,000 suffered injuries, while over 300,000 remained homeless. When the President of France, Emmanuel Macron, visited Lebanon in the aftermath of the catastrophe, he started his state visit by meeting none other than Fairuz, in her residence near Beirut

The French President chose to meet first with Fairuz as opposed to visiting his official counterpart, that is Lebanon’s president, or the country’s prime-minister. His gesture can be accounted for by the fact that, in contrast to political leaders, whose interests divide the Lebanese society, Fairuz is one of the few symbols of unity and hope in a pluri-religious country that was ripped apart by a bloody civil war in the 1980s. Indeed, Fairuz is much more than an exceptional artist: she is even more than Lebanon’s soul. She is the voice of Arabic tradition and identity.

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