She could be 80 or 81 – while her age is disputed, one thing for sure is November 21 is Fairouz’s birthday. The legendary Lebanese artist, real name Nouhad Wadie’ Haddad, has performed on all the world’s greatest stages, ranging from the Royal Albert Hall in London to Carnegie Hall in New York. While there is no official tally as yet, Fairouz is said to have recorded over 1,500 songs and released more than 80 albums. We take a closer look at what made her the greatest Arab diva,
One of the cultural trio
Fairouz is the last of the famous Lebanese cultural trio of icons that included the great singer, composer and actor, Wadih Al Safi (1921-2013), and singer and actress Sabah (1927-2014).
From rags to riches
Fairouz’s rags to riches story touched millions in the Arab world, where growing up in a poor Christian Lebanese family, it became the stuff of legends of how, unable to afford a radio, she would listen to her neighbour’s radio from her window ledge. Her favourites were the legendary Arab stars of the 1940s, Egyptian singer Leila Murad and Syrian Druze princess and singer, Asmahan.
Fairouz began her musical career as a member of the chorus at the Lebanese Radio Station. She quickly became known for her angelic voice, and was quoted as saying she “sings as if praying.” She distinguished herself from typical Arab singers by not using the common nasal tones in favour of clearer resonances.
The moon and the stars
Fairouz’s nationalistic and nostalgic songs and voice crossed borders and generations, She sang pro-Palestinian songs, earning her the title “Safeerat Al Nojoom” Ambassador to the Stars, and a song about the moon that also gave her the title “Jarat Al Qamar” Neighbor to the Moon. She also carries other honorific titles such as “rouh Lebnan” the Soul of Lebanon. Western critics compared her to Billie Holiday and some called her the “Callas of Arabia” (after famous opera singer Maria Callas).
Halim El Ruomi, who was also the musical director at the Lebanese Radio Station, where she sang as a teenager, recognised her talent and made her lead soloist. He was the one who gave her the stage name Fairouz (turquoise) because her voice reminded him of a precious delicate stone. He is the father of famous Lebanese singer and soprano, Majida El Roumi. In the 1960s, Halim dubbed Fairouz the “First Lady of Lebanese singing.”
A uniting force
Fairouz is known for uniting Lebanon. Where through decades of conflict, there has been one matter all Lebanese of different sects and backgrounds could agree on: their adoration Fairouz. There is a saying in Arabic that goes: “Al Lebnaniya Ikhtalafou Aala Kel Shi Ila Fairouz”, which is translated to “Lebanese have disagreed or disagree on everything except Fairouz”.
Fairouz is known for her fiercely reserved and private persona, rarely giving interviews or public appearances unless for a performance. This only enhanced her enigmatic persona.
Fairouz married Assi Rahbani on January 23, 1955. Rabbani, together with Mansour, were the celebrated Lebanese musicians known as the Rahbani brothers. Together they wrote hundreds of Fairouz’s songs, as well as operetta, theatre and movie productions. The song that launched their career, was the Fairouz sung romantic ballad ‘Itab (Blame). Overnight, ‘Itab established Fairouz as a major singer throughout the Arab world. From 1979, Fairouz started working with her son Ziad Rahbani. She has performed several times in UAE. Her first concert was in Sharjah in 1970 and her last public performance was also in the Emirate in 2008.