Old is gold, and it becomes more precious when it comes to some Middle Eastern artists who defied time and succeeded in proving their perpetual presence through their music and art that address our heart and carry us on a boat of transcendence and reflection. From across the Middle East, legends such as Feiruz, Wadih Al-Safi, Nasri Shams Eddin, Sabah, Rahbani brothers, Oum Koulthum, Mohammed Abdel Wahab, Duraid Lahham, Abdel Halim Hafez, Warda Al-Jazairia, Zaki Nasif, and many others have bequeathed us with treasures that we turn to for inspiration, motivation and genuineness.
Feiruz has become the companion of every Lebanese expat around the world feeling nostalgic and in need of what could make them feel at home. Her tender voice harmoniously allies with a refined music to kidnap you to where your heart belongs. Her songs are a prominent inspiration to Arab and non-Arab audiences, who have made it an indispensable habit to start their day with a dose of her peaceful and elevating music such as Ya Tayr, Nehan Wel Amar Jiran, Biktob Ismak Ya Habibi and countless others. However, you simply cannot mention Feiruz without mentioning the Rahbani brothers who managed to preserve the Lebanese culture, history and traditions in timeless works of art. Their plays Biyya'el Khawatem (Ring Salesman), Natourit al Mafatih (The Guardian of the Keys), Mais el Reem (The Deer's Meadow) reflect the glorious and timeless past of Lebanese art, instill hope and nationalism in our present, and leave us with enthusiasm and inspiration for the future. And of course, they are an indispensable reserve of Lebanese modern history.
Similarly, Nasri Shams Ediin’s legendary is synonymous to that of Feiruz. He is also one major contributor to the success of Rahbani’s plays, and his songs are another vehicle that carry you home in times of nostalgia and lift you up in times of loneliness. For instance, Kifon Habayibna (How Are the Beloved Ones) is one of his greatest songs and one of my favorites. The same success and value applies to Sabah whose love for life is vigorously reflected in her long list of songs and performances. Her optimistic spirit and enthusiasm made of her a diva of music among Arab audiences and an ambassador of the Lebanese folklore songs, such as Jeeb el Mejwez, Abu Al-Zuluf and A loubnan Lakouna. Another Lebanese treasure is Zaki Nasif, and again, no words can adequately reflect the beauty and purity of such voice, but maybe his song Na’ilik Ahla Zahra would compensate the lack of words and communicate an art beyond description.
From Lebanon to Egypt, Oum Koulthum, Mohammed Abdel Wahab and Abdel Halim Hafez build a timeless bridge overlooking a dreamlike scenery of nostalgia, love, tenderness, peace, art and flowing rivers of emotions. Each song is a story and every story touches us and relates to feelings we all experience some way or another, be it love, nostalgia or ecstasy. One cannot avoid a trancelike state when listening to Oum Koulthoum’s Enta Omri (You Are the love of my life) or Alf Leila w Leila (One Thousand and One Nights). Also known as Kowkab al-Sharq (Planet of the East), Oum Koulthoum is the sanctuary for Tarab and oldies lovers. As for Abdel Halim’s epic songs, my favorites are Ahwak and Qari’at el Fingan. Last but not least, Ya Msafer Wahdak will tell more than words can do about Mohammed Abdel Wahab’s remarkable and timeless contribution to Middle Eastern art.
It is quite challenging to talk about such legends. However, Duraid Lahham presents an even bigger challenge. It is not easy to communicate the value of his daring and brave performances in numerous epic plays that laid bare the corruption of Arab’s despotic system when few if none had the courage to expose such bitter realities. What further adds to the endlessness of his works is the enduring validity of his topics that have not yet reached their expiration to this present day. His visionary works open our eyes to a bitter past and motivate us to be the seeds of change for a future we dream of. The black comedy he employs delivers the painful message in the most hilarious and humorous way leaving the audience with the weight of a truth that they shall decide how to deal with and change. Becoming acquainted with Lahham’s works makes a remarkable difference for one as an Arab in particular and non-Arab in general, especially for those involved or interested in the political scene of the Middle East.
Having briefly introduced very few of the many pillars of Arab’s art and music, I leave it for the reader to delve into a rewarding journey of becoming familiar with such legends and many others. It is a must to experience the authentic art of old times which satisfies your sense and uplifts your spirit in inexpressible and genuine ways. At the end of the day, art is the bridge that transcends racial and religious boundaries and opens paths of creativity, inspiration and open-mindedness across cultures.