Feyrouz First

Feyrouz First

Feyrouz in Bercy on October 16, 1988.OLJ File Photo

Emmanuel Macron visited Feyrouz on Monday night. Nothing is more unexpected, but nothing is more natural. On this 100th anniversary of Greater Lebanon, the French president has been generous with symbolic gestures. His presence in Lebanon is already emblematic in more than one way. France, which brought Lebanon into being, does not deny its past or evade its duties. What a road traveled by the country since 1920, punctuated by enthusiasm and disillusionment, civil wars and wars "for others," always in search of an untraceable identity! Perhaps this is where Macron's brilliant intuition lies and the profound meaning of his unprecedented encoun-ter with our diva who, after or because of all the upheavals we have experienced, has become the tutelary figure of the country, a kind of mother goddess, adored by the Lebanese of all faiths, by those who believe in heaven and those who do not.

On the occasion of this centennial, many symposiums had been planned, but the bankruptcy of the state, the Covid-19 pandemic and the apocalyptic explosion at the Port of Beirut forced an indefinite postponement of all this. Precisely, the theme of identity alone could have filled days of debate. Macron has reduced this identity to a few strong symbols: aren't the cedars and Fey-rouz constitutive of this identity? This is especially true since the most reluctant of our citizens have rallied for "Lebanon First." If we were to organize an opinion poll on the Lebanese figure that will have most marked the 100 years of Greater Lebanon, the answer would have been clear.

Whatever the type of survey, open or closed, targeting the oldest or the youngest, addressing Christians or Druzes and Muslims – I consider negligible the position of the armed party that had forbidden the broadcasting of its songs on a campus – the vox populi would have answered: "Feyrouz First," echoing the slogan of "Lebanon First." Returning to recent events, there was a unmistakable sign: during the revolution of October 17, as after the catastrophe of August 4, the voice of Feyrouz like no other brought together the Lebanese "outraged, broken, martyred" and, to continue with the Gallic phraseology, one day "liberated." That is why Macron's gesture seems quite natural. If he visited the Great Lady, it was because he came to Lebanon's side. Perhaps it asked him to further support the resistance of this people, to strengthen its resilience and to call it to unity.

On October 12, 1988 in Paris : the French minister of culture and communication, Jack Lang, presenting the in-signia of Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters to the Lebanese singer Feyrouz, "the symbol," according to him, "of a country that does not want to die." AFP File Photo

As Macron undoubtedly knows, our relationship with Feyrouz is both collective and intimate, carnal and sacred. Like so many others, I was born, I was lulled and I in turn lulled my children at her voice. I have admired, like all Lebanese, like all Arabs, the inaccessible star, but I have also had the chance to approach her more closely and to accompany her for more than 25 years. I will not betray a secret by saying that our "ambassador to the stars," according to Said Akl's consecrated formula, is a modest, caring, funny, sometimes playful person who combines in her person the joys and misfortunes of a family, a people, and even an Arab nation that exists only in dreams and songs. I will not report private conversations here without her permission. Nor will I retrace the dozens of concerts that I have had the good fortune to attend, all over the world, but I will gladly evoke a few memories, such as the conclusive concert, in the year 2000, of the Beiteddine Festival. An exceptional fireworks display, a standing ovation of 25 minutes as a final bouquet for Feyrouz who was astonished to receive a rain of roses, her voice covered by the applause and cheers of thousands of people in delirium, especially those under 25 years, excited and electrified by a legend incarnate, half-diva half-rock star. That evening, the moon was shining over Deir el-Qamar, and thousands of voices were singing the hymn "Nehna wel amar jiran" composed long before they were born. That evening, a disoriented young genera-tion re-appropriated a myth.

Feyrouz and the Rahbanis, from the late 1950s, had transposed on stage and in music the love of the land. They recreated in their operettas slices of history and peasant life which, in their own view, had mitigated the psychological damage of the exodus to rural areas. The "new city dwellers" were lambasted; the whole country began to vibrate with the evocation of farms and hills, fields and orchards, sowing and harvesting. During a show or a song, the village would come back to life and the ties with the ancestors would be renewed. From 1975 onwards, the war only exacerbated these feelings; all sectarian and clannish identities began to draw from the same source to forge their authenticity. On all the airwaves, Feyrouz prevailed. On the paths of exile, in countries of recent or ancient emigration, her voice embodied the torn and lost homeland. In Europe, America or the Gulf, the Lebanese made the same pilgrimage to re-charge their nostalgia.

The "Lebanese Nights" of the Baalbek Festival of yesteryear had enchanted their parents and grandparents, but evoked nothing for the post-war youths. This was counted without Ziad Rahbani, without the enthusiasm he was able to communicate to a whole generation and with-out his talent. For his part, he has integrated a new dimension: the urban reality. The Lebanese are mostly concentrated in concrete agglomerations; they live and are born between steel and concrete. The youths of this country, like all their counterparts, have their language, their con-ventions, their models. The merit of the Lady is great, to have trusted her son to adopt not a new music, but above all a new language: Banal, almost trivial words, the daily ills of city dwellers, current torments. Gone are the matchmakers, the village festivals and the good feel-ings, and hello to the troubles."Forget the country, God save the children, how are you, only you? "The melody and even the accent have changed. Ras Beirut replaced Ras el-Jabal. The voice of Feyrouz has also changed: radiant in a lower register, more sensual, more feminine. But it is an intact voice, which sings and enchants. And her gaze is slightly disillusioned. A friend compared her to a figure of Modigliani, leaning sideways as if to better convince the most re-fractory. But who could resist her voice? This last evening in Beiteddine, the floods of enthusi-asts caused the dikes to give way. The stage was surrounded by fans barely out of their teens, with their roses and lighters. Ziad has succeeded in his urban revolution: by embodying it in the city, the music of the Rahbanis has reconquered the city. Feyrouz, which they rediscovered, communicated perfectly with them. Thousands of people did not parade in Beiteddine in front of an icon but gathered to celebrate the rebirth of a star.

The French minister of foreign affairs, Roland Dumas, receiving Feyrouz on October 17, 1988 in Paris. AFP File Photo

In 1979, during Lebanon’s full turmoil, she conquered the Olympia. Her song, dedicated that year to Paris, has just gone viral on social networks during Macron's visit. What does it say? "Paris, flower of freedom and treasure of history, Lebanon has filled my heart with greetings and love for you; Lebanon tells you that we will meet again, in poetry and friendship, on the rights and dignity of humankind... France, what would I say to your people of my injured coun-try, of my country that is crowned with storms and dangers? Since the dawn of time, our history has always started again: Lebanon is injured, Lebanon is destroyed; its death is announced, but Lebanon does not die, and from its own stones it rebuilds its houses; I can already see Sidon, Tyre and Beirut reborn and flourishing." I do not think Macron has had the opportunity to hear this song resonating for us any louder after the terrible explosions that blew up half of our capi-tal. How do you expect him not to meet our great Lady with these words?

I can still see her in Paris, 20 years later, in Salle Pleyel: a queen crowned a thousand times by a mythical Lebanon, a queen who has rarely been unadorned, a queen who is so majestic. Defini-tively free of the tinsel of folklore, she was an apparition and a voice. Several thousand people gave her arrival on stage a standing ovation; that evening, she had evoked violence and the sa-cred, and once again Jerusalem "to whom our eyes fly every day." The crowd could no longer control itself and added their voice to the voice. They were shouting: "Feyrouz, Feyrouz" or "thank you, thank you." In this colorful and animated crowd, one could recognize some people at the show: Jeanne Moreau, Fanny Ardant, Jane Birkin, Carole Bouquet. I still remember Azzedine Alaïa furtively holding his tears before starting to applaud frantically.

Through her and for her, time stands still. Age no longer concerns her, neither her nor her songs. Thanks to her, everyone relives in the present moments of lost time and regained time. Macron was right, a thousand times right, to pay tribute to her and to decorate her in the name of France, because the mythical Lebanon of Feyrouz is more real, more authentic than the deadly Lebanon of our daily life. And because her voice is above all ours. And it is the voice of all the voices of Greater Lebanon that have fallen silent.

Emmanuel Macron visited Feyrouz on Monday night. Nothing is more unexpected, but nothing is more natural. On this 100th anniversary of Greater Lebanon, the French president has been generous with symbolic gestures. His presence in Lebanon is already emblematic in more than one way. France, which brought Lebanon into being, does not deny its past or evade its duties. What a road traveled by the...