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Middle East and Africa

A forgotten Fairuz, an open question

Fairuz interviewed at Kuwait International Airport in 1989 [Unknown / Wikimedia Commons]

Inspired by the Six Day War, this 1968 song is technically unreleased but painfully relevant. A gem by the Lebanese diva rediscovered, thanks to the tenacity of her fans and a sound engineer

Last update: 2021-08-03 07:36:40

Nouhad Haddad, better known as Fairuz is a petite lady from Lebanon, now in her ninth decade, whose musical legacy has forever changed the face of Arabic music. Silence, seclusion, and secrecy are among the most-used words that the media still use today when she is in the headlines. Her career is prolific, yet she has chosen a private life away from the spotlight. Her aura is comparable to that of one of Italy’s most prominent female singers: in fact, we could say, for once reversing the comparison (Arab singer ≈ Foreign singer), that Mina is the Italian Fairuz.

 

It is not my aim here to sum up the outstanding personal and artistic career of one the most beloved Arab singers in the world, the musical icon of Lebanon and the region’s highest selling artist of all time. There are numerous articles, theses, documentaries, studies, conferences, books, and book chapters that do so adequately. Instead, let us explore a lesser-known aspect of her legacy.

 

Fairuz’s repertoire includes many songs that are dedicated to Arab countries and capital cities. Although she has celebrated her homeland Lebanon in many patriotic songs, the lion’s share of Fairuz’s tribute songs are dedicated to Syria and Palestine. Tens, if not hundreds, of these songs went missing, however, and were never released after their initial broadcast or live performance.

 

Indeed, Fairuz’s career is a prime example of the dire need for institutional archiving in the Arab world: if it were not for studious independent researchers and collectors, most of these hidden gems would have disappeared forever.

 

Unearthed from dusty archives and rereleased on the internet in the last decade, today’s song is emblematic: it was first introduced to the internet through one of the many (now defunct) Fairuz fan forums. It actually dates from 1968 when, in the wake of the 1967 so-called Six-Day war (better known to Arabs as al-Naksa, “the setback”), Palestinians were rendered refugees for a second time. Fairuz and the Rahbani Brothers (her lifelong musical partners) used bitter sarcasm to shed light onto this tragedy. Sāfarat al-qadiyya (“The question has travelled”) is critical of the international community (especially the United Nations). and it expresses futility and cynicism regarding the question of Palestine and Palestinian refugees. While the lyrics mention neither Palestine nor the UN directly, the references and euphemisms cannot be missed.

 

The live recording in question is said to have been performed in September 1968, during Fairuz’s annual appearance in Damascus. Every year, Fairuz would present a new musical or operetta that would open during the winter in Beirut’s Piccadilly Theater in Hamra, then travel in the summer to the Damascus International Fair. The Damascus editions of Fairuz’s musicals would almost always open with a new tribute song to Syria, but this year she paid tribute to those who lost their homes and were living in refugee tents.

 

What is most haunting about this song is the timelessness of its lyrics: ongoing displacements, permanent exile, and an international community that is watching silently, reflected in the recent violent dispossession of Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan, Israeli-occupied neighbourhoods in Jerusalem.

 

The irony was not lost on Fairuz who, 13 years later, was invited to the UN headquarters in New York in November 1981 to present a short concert celebrating the centenary of Khalil Gibran at the General Assembly Lobby, in one of her most acclaimed performances outside the Arab world. She opened that concert with highlights from Gibran’s The Prophet, adapted by the last Lebanese poet Joseph Harb and composed by her son, the musical genius Ziad Rahbani.

 

A tribute to violently displaced and dispossessed people all over the world, the discovery of today’s song was only made possible through the hard work of “Fairuz geeks” and thanks to the late Farid Abulkheir, a  prominent Lebanese sound engineer who witnessed and preserved the legacy of our ambassador to the stars.

 

While Fairuz (Fayrūz) means “turquoise” in Arabic, today’s song, just like its performer, is a gem: precious, timeless, and heartbreakingly familiar.

 

 

Scroll down for the lyric translation and original version

 

Le opinioni espresse in questo articolo sono responsabilità degli autori e non riflettono necessariamente la posizione della Fondazione Internazionale Oasis
© RIPRODUZIONE RISERVATA

 

The question has travelled[1]

 

The question has travelled

and presented its complaint

before the international courts.[2]

 

The assembly thus devoted the session

to discussing the issue of the question.

 

Delegates from all other nations came

From nations of the North and nations of the South

From small countries and big countries

And everyone gathered together[3]

In an official session

 

The assembly thus devoted the session

to discussing the issue of the question.

 

The general Secretary gave a speech

He spoke about peace

The members discussed the topic

And a project was proposed

The justness of the issue[4]

People’s freedom

Human dignity

Bill of Rights

Ceasefire

The end of the conflict

The vote!

The recommendations!

The definitive resolution of the pending problems!

The consensus!

 

Reliable sources have stated

Quoted from well-informed references

The commission studied

The commission pondered

The commission decided

The send of an envoy

The envoy declared

That he is an envoy

As per the sources

And that there is a solution

On the way to the solution

 

And when the night came

The judges were tired

And when the night came

The judges were tired

The long discussion tired them

Thus, they closed their folders and went to sleep

They went to sleep[5]

 

Outside

There was the sound of winter and darkness[6]

Miserable people are looking for peace[7]

Hunger dwells in the shelters with the homeless

As the wind still uproots the tents

 

سافرت القضيه
 

سافرت القضية

تَعرضُ شكواها

في رُدهة المحاكمِ الدولية
 

وكانت الجمعية

قد خصصت الجلسة

للبحث في قضيّة القضيّة
 

وجاءَ مندوبون

عَن سائر الأُمم

جاؤوا من الأُمم
من دول الشمال والجنوب


والدولِ الصّغيرة

والدّولِ الكبيرة
واجتمع الجميع

في جلسةٍ رسمية
 

وكانت الجمعية

قد خصصت الجلسة
للبحث في قضية القضية


وخطبَ الأمينُ العام

حكى عن السلام
وبحثَ الأعضاءُ الموضوع
وطُرحَ المشروع

عدالةُ القضية
حريةُ الشُعوب

كرامةُ الإنسان

وشُرعَةُ الحقوق
وَقفُ إطلاقِ النّار

إنهاءِ النّزاع
التّصويت

التّوصيات

البَتُّ في المشاكلِ المُعلقة

الإجمـــــاع

 

وصرّحَت مصادِرٌ موثوقة

نقلاً عن المراجعِ المُطّلعة

ودرست الهيئة

وارتأت الهيئة

وقررت الهيئة

إرسالَ مبعوث

وصرّحَ المبعوث

بأنهُ مبعوث

من قِبَلِ المصادر

وأنّ حلاًّ مـــا

في طريقِ الحلّ

 

وحين جاء الليــــل

كانَ القُضــاةُ تَعِبــــوا

وحين جاء الليــــل

كانَ القُضــاةُ تَعِبــــوا

أتعبَهُم طــــولُ النّقاش

فأغلقوا الــدّفاتر وذهبـــوا للنـوم

وذهبـــوا للنـوم

 

وكان في الخــارج

صوتُ شــتاءٍ وظلام

وبائســونَ يبحثونَ عن ســلام

والجوعُ في ملاجئ المشَرّدين ينام

وكانتِ الرّياحُ ما تزال

تقتَلعُ الخيــــام

 


[1] Qadiyya is a polysemic term that can be translated as “legal action”, “case or judicial process”, “controversy”, “problem”, “matter”, “question”, “issue”. As we will discover towards the end of the song, this is the “question” par excellence, namely the Palestinian one, although the song can be interpreted even more widely as an “issue” on which international authorities must express themselves. Sāfarat literally means “it went on a journey”, “it left”, “it has traveled”. In other words, the “case” is “open” and can no longer be ignored. Note that the “question” is the subject of the action. It therefore enjoys a life of its own, as if it had made itself known “by itself”, thus claiming its space, without the help of other people (who indeed seem passive or inattentive to it). For this reason, I translated: “the question has travelled”.

[2] Note the use of formal, sometimes even legal and “bureaucratic” Modern Standard Arabic. The lyrics intentionally mimic the style of official communications, such as United Nation resolutions, international cooperation projects, judicial reports, etc.

[3] Note the redundancy of the sentence: ijtama‘ al-jami‘a.

[4] Lit., the “justice”, the “correctness” of the question or the issue. Note the enumeration of clichés and empty words around this “proposed project”, in a climax that leads to a consensus on nothing.

[5] Note the rhythmic change (not so much musical as textual) obtained with the repetition of some phrases that lull the listener towards the inactivity of the judges’ night.

[6] Shitā’ might indicate both “winter” and “rain”.

[7] Note the adverb of place “outside”, indicating a completely “other” reality.

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