Episode 69 – Ziad Rahbani

Ziad Rahbani, the talented son of Lebanese musical icons Fairouz and Assi Rahbani, grew up to be a composer, playwright, pianist, and political commentator. He directed his first play Sahriyye when he was only 17 years old. In this episode, Rana and Khaled discuss his artistic contributions, as well their favorite songs, plays, and books related to him. Delve with them into a world of musical talent, art, and beauty!

Lebanese Arabic Transcript and English Contextual Translation

خالد: صباح الخير رنا، كيفك؟  شو عاملة اليوم؟

Khaled: Good morning Rana, how are you? What are you doing today?

رنا: صباح النور خالد، أنا منيحة بس عندي كتير شغل اليوم. عم إشرب قهوة لصحصح وإسمع غنيّة “كيفك إنت”… عالقدّ حكيتني لإسألك كيفك إنت! 

Rana: Good morning Khaled, I’m good but I have a lot of work today. I’m drinking coffee to wake up and I’m listening to the song “Keefak Enta” [how are you]… you talked to me at the right time so I ask you how are you!

خالد:  أنا منيح. شو حلوة هالغنيّة وشو بحبّ زياد الرحباني يلّي ألّفها وإمّو فيروز يلّي غنّتها. إنتي بتعرفي إنّو مش بالهيّن لقبلت فيروز تغنّيها؟! بخبّر زياد الرحباني إنّو من بعد ما عرضها عليها بآخر التمانينات، استغربت أسلوبها وخاصّةً عبارة “ملّا إنت”… فكّرت فيها 4 سنين لقبلت تغنّيها! سنة 1991، نزّلت ألبوم موسيقي كامل بإسم هالغنيّة.

Khaled: I’m good. How nice this song is and how I love Ziad Rahbani who composed it and his mother Fairouz who sang it. Do you know that Fairouz didn’t easily agree to sing it? Ziad recounts that after presenting it to her in the late eighties, she was bewildered by its style and especially the expression “Malla Enta” [Oh you]… she thought about it for four years until she agreed to sing it! In the year 1991, she released an entire musical album titled with the name of this song.

رنا:  آه ما كنت سامعة هالخبريّة، مع إنّي متابعة كتير زياد الرحباني وبعرف قصّة “سألوني الناس”، أوّل غنيّة جمعته بفيروز.. بوقتها، فات بيّو عاصي الرحباني عالمستشفى، وكانت فيروز عم تمثّل بمسرحية “المحطّة” للأخوين الرحباني. كتب عمّو، منصور الرحباني كلمات هالغنيّة، وزياد لحّنها. فاجأ الكلّ بموهبته الموسيقيّة وبيّن لأوّل مرّة عخشبة المسرح بدور المحقّق، بمسرحية “المحطّة”. تخايل إنّو هالخبريّة كانت سنة 1973، يعني كان زياد عمرو بس 17 سنة!

Rana: Ah I haven’t heard this story, although I follow Ziad Rahbani’s news and I know the story of “Sa’alouni Nas” [people asked me], the first song that united him with fairouz… Back then, his father Assi Rahbani was admitted to the hospital, and Fairouz was acting in the play “Al Mahatta” [the station] by the Rahbani brothers. His uncle, Mansour Rahbani, wrote the lyrics of this song and Ziad composed its music. He surprised everyone with his musical talent and he appeared on stage for the first time, in the role of the detective during the “Al Mahatta” play. Imagine that this story happened in the year 1973, which means that Ziad was only 17 years old!

خالد: صراحة، ما كتير بستغرب الموضوع. زياد معروف بموهبتو؛ وإذا إمّو هي فيروز وبّيو عاصي الرحباني يعني تربّى ببيت موسيقي من هو وصغير ومأثّر بهالأجواء. هالشي ببيّن بأوّل عمل مسرحي كتبو وأخرجو: سهريّة، مسرحيّة غنائيّة بإمتياز. أكيد سامعتيها رنا، كتير بتشبه أسلوب أو  style مسرحيّات الأخوين الرحباني. وكمان اشتغل عليها بعمر صغير بنفس سنة الـ1973.

Khaled: Honestly, the topic doesn’t surprise me much. Ziad is known for his talent; and if his mother is Fairouz and his father is Assi Rahbani, it means he was raised in a musical household since he was a child and he is influenced by this environment. This is obvious in the first play he wrote and directed: “Sahriyye” [party], a musical play by excellence. You must have listened to it Rana, it resembles Osloub or the style of the Rahbani Brothers’ plays. And he also worked on it at a young age, in the same year of 1973.

رنا: حاضرتها كمان مش بس سامعتها… بتذكّر أنا وصغيرة، جابها بابا مسجّلة عشريط فيديو أو cassette وكان كتير مبسوط فيها وبدّو أحضرها معو. وتقلّك الحقيقة ما تحمّست عالفكرة بالأوّل. كان التسجيل بالأبيض والأسود لأنّه قديم وما كنت معوّدة عهيك أعمال. بس قد ما بيّي بحبّها وبضلّ يدندن مقاطع منها، حضرتها بعد كم سنة وانغرمت بعالم زياد الرحباني. ملاحظ خالد الفرق بين هالمسرحيّة وباقي أعمالو؟!

Rana: I’ve also watched it, not just listened to it… I remember when I was a child, dad brought it recorded on a Chrit Video or cassette, he was very happy with it and wanted me to watch it with him. And to tell you the truth, I wasn’t excited about the idea at first. The recording was in black and white because it was old, and I wasn’t used to these works. But because of how much dad loves it and keeps on humming parts of it, I watched it with him a couple of years later and fell in love with the world of Ziad Rahbani. Have you noticed Khaled the difference between this play and the rest of his works?

خالد: أكيد! هيدي المسرحيّة الوحيدة اللي فيها هلقد أغاني وبتشبه مسرحيّات الأخوين الرحباني. من بعدها، صار يركّز أكتر عالمسرح السياسي ويستعمل أغاني بس بسياق القصّة. بتخايل إنّو هدفو الأساسي كان إنتقاد مشاكل المجتمع اللبنانيّ متل الطائفيّة والإقتصاد الرأسمالي. في كتير أمور حاكيها، بعدها بتتطبّق لليوم.

Khaled: Definitely! This is the only play that has so many songs and resembles the plays of the Rahbani brothers. Afterwards, he started focusing more on political theater and using songs in the context of the story. I imagine that his main objective was to criticize the problems of the Lebanese society, such as sectarianism and economic capitalism. There are many things he talked about that are still relevant to this day.

رنا: صحيح للأسف في كتير إشيا ما تغيّرت بعد 40 سنة. وبما إنّو حكي عنن بشكل كتير واقعي وبلغة بتشبه لغتنا اليومية؛ منقدر بسهولة نشوف حالنا فيهن اليوم. حظّي حلو من كم سنة حضرت مسرحيتين إلو بالسينما “بالنسبة لبكرا شو” و”فيلم أميركي طويل”.

Rana: True, unfortunately there are many things that haven’t changed after 40 years. And since he talked about them in a very realistic way and in a language that resembles our daily language, we can easily see ourselves in them today. I am lucky that a few years ago I watched two of his plays in cinema “Bel Nesbe La Bokra Chou” [What About Tomorrow] and “Film Amerike Tawil” [A Long American Movie].

خالد:  إييه بتذكّر هالمشروع كان من إنتاج شركة م. ميديا بالـ2016. أخدوا مقاطع صوّرتن إختو ليال بكاميرتها خلال تمارين الممثّلين أو الـrehearsals متل ما نقول بالإنكليزي وحوّلوهن لفيلمين سينما. غير هيك، معظم مسرحيّات زياد مش مصوّرة وربينا عم نسمعن بس عالراديو. شخصيًّا ما حضرت هالفيلمين وفضّلت حافظ عالصورة اللي أنا متخايلها براسي لمّا كنت إسمع المسرحيّات. إنت شو رأيك فيهن؟  

Khaled: Yes I remember that this project was produced by M.Media company in 2016. They took parts that his sister Layal recorded using her camera during tamarin al moumassilin or the actors’ rehearsals as we say in English and they turned them into cinema movies. Other than these, most of Ziad Rahbani plays are not recorded and we grew up listening to them only on the radio. Personally, I didn’t watch these movies and I preferred to preserve the image that I had in mind while listening to these plays. What do you think about them?

رنا: لا بالعكس، أنا حبّيت الفكرة. لقيت إنّو الصوت والصورة بكمّلوا بعض، وكانت فرصة لإتعرّف عزياد الممثّل. كتير مهضوم وخفيف عالمسرح، إن كان بحركات جسمو، وتعابيرو أو صوتو ونبرتو المميّزين. أصلًا هو معروف بأسلوبو الكوميدي. بعيدًا عن الكليشيهات وكوميديا المواقف اللي معوّدين عليهن، بيقدر زياد يضحكك عواقع المجتمع الصعب والحزين. كتير شاطر بالتهكّم والكوميديا السودا أو متل ما بتقلّن إنت بالإنكليزي، بالـsarcasm والـblack comedy.  

Rana: No quite the contrary, I loved the idea. I found that the sound and image complete each other, and it was a chance for me to get to know Ziad as an actor. He is very funny and agile on stage, whether through his body movements and his expressions, or his special voice and tonality. Originally he is known for his comic style. Far from the clichés and the comedy of situation that we are used to, Ziad can make you laugh on the harsh and sad reality of society. He is so good with tahakkom and comedia sawda’, or as you say in English sarcasm and black comedy.

خالد:  مظبوط، لاحظت هالأسلوب ببرنامجو الإذاعي “العقل زينة”. كان ينذاع عالراديو بالتمانينات، وقدرت لاقي مقاطع منّو عـyoutube. حتّى ألّف أغاني متل “يا زمان الطائفيّة” و”ولّعت كتير” بينتقد فيهن مشاكل إجتماعيّة بشكل مهضوم. مع إنّو إنت بحسّك بتفضّلي أغانيه الرومنسيّة، ما زال كنت عم تسمعي “كيفك إنت”! أغانيه الرايقة متل “بلا ولا شي” و”معلومات مش أكيدة” كتير حلوين.

Khaled: True, I’ve noticed this style in his radio show “Al ‘Aael Zine” [the mind is an ornament]. It used to be broadcasted on the radio in the eighties, and I was able to find parts of it on YouTube. He even composed songs such as “Ya Zaman Taa’ifiye” [The Time Of Sectarianism] and “Walla’et Ktir” [You Burnt a Lot] to criticize social problems in a funny way. Even though I feel you prefer his romantic songs, since you were listening to “Keefak Enta” [How Are You]! His serene songs such as “Bala Wala Chi” [Without anything at all] and “Maaloumat Mech Akidi” [Uncertain Information] are very nice.

رنا: مممم هيدا خيار صعب، حسب المزاج! بحبّ إسمعلو أعمال مع فنّانين غير فيروز كمان، بصوت جوزف صقر، سلمى مصفي، لطيفة وغيرن. حتى عزفو عالبيانو ما في متلو! ومن أهمّ إنجازاتو بعالم الموسيقى كيف قدر يدمج الجاز الغربي بالألحان الشرقيّة. حضرتو مرّة بحفلة بالجامعة اللبنانيّة الأميركيّة، كان عم يعزف ألحان غربيّة وموسيقى جازّ؛ ومرّة بمهرجان بمنطقة زوق مكايل كان الجوّ أكتر عربي. بتذكّر قدّي تفاعل الجمهور مع غنّيّة “عايشة وحدها بلاك”.

Rana: Mmmm this is a tough choice, depending on the mood! I like to listen to his works with singers other than Fairuz, in the voice of Joseph Saker, Salma Musfi, Latifa and others. Even the way he plays the piano is like no other! And one of his important achievements in the world of music is how he was able to combine Western Jazz with Oriental tunes. I watched him once in a concert at the Lebanese American University, where he was playing Western melodies and Jazz music; and another time in a festival in Zouk Mekayel region, where the ambience was more of an Arabic one. I remember how much the audience interacted with the song “Aayche Wahda Balak” [Living Alone Without You].

خالد:  دايمًا بالسهرات لمّا يحطّوا هالغنيّة، بصير الكلّ يغنّيها. شو اشتقنا للمهرجانات والحفلات الموسيقيّة! من هلّق لتكون رجعت هالإيّام، عم إسمع أغاني ومقابلات زياد الرحباني عالإنترنت. حتّى إنو لقيتلّو كتابات سياسيّة وإجتماعيّة بجريدة الأخبار اللبنانيّة. عنجد هالإنسان استعمل مختلف أنواع الفنّ من موسيقى لمسرح وكتابة ليعبّر عن حالو. عندك فكرة وين فيّي إقرا أكتر عنّو؟

Khaled: Whenever this song is played at a party, everyone starts singing it. How we miss festivals and musical concerts! Until these days come back, I am listening to songs and interviews by Ziad Rahbani on the internet. I even found his political and social writings in the Lebanese Akhbar [news] newspaper. Indeed, this person used different types of art from music to theater and writing to express his self. Do you have an idea where I can read more about him?

رنا: إيه أكيد في كتير مقالات عالإنترنت وإذا بدّك بنصحك بكتابين “زمن زياد” لطلال شتوي أو Popular culture and  nationalism in Lebanon: The Fairouz and Rahbani nation كتابة كريستوفر ستون إذا بتفضّل الكتب الإنكليزيّة. وإذا بدّك، فيّي عيرك كتاب من تأليف زياد الرحباني نفسو لمّا كان عمرو 13 سنة بس! إسمو “صديقي الله” وبيحكي فيه عن نظرتو للإيمان والعيلة والمجتمع.

Rana: Yes there are definitely many articles on the internet, and if you want I recommend two books “Zaman Ziad” [The Time of Ziad] by Talal Chatawi or “Popular Culture and Nationalism in Lebanon: The Fairouz and Rahbani Nation” written by Christopher Stone if you prefer English books. And if you want, I can lend you a book written by Ziad Rahbani himself when he was only 13 years old! Its title is “Sadiki Llah” [My Friend God] and he talks in it about his views on religion, family and society.

خالد:  تمام! ما كنت عارف فيه.. شكرًا رنا. ما بقا رح طوّل عليك، اشتغلي منيح وبشوفك قريبًا!

Khaled: Great! I didn’t know about that… Thank you Rana. I won’t take more of your time, work well and see you soon!

رنا: ولو، أهلا وسهلا. منبقى منحكي ونهارك سعيد خالد!

Rana: You’re welcome. We’ll talk later and have a nice day Khaled!


Comprehension Questions

1) What was Rana doing when Khaled first talked to her?
2) When did Ziad Rahbani compose his first song?
3) Who are the parents of Ziad Rahbani?
4) Why didn’t Khaled watch Ziad Rahbani’s plays in the cinema?
5) Where did Rana watch Ziad Rahbani perform in-person?

Vocabulary Table

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Lebanese Arabic

English Transliteration English Translation
1 غنيّة Gheniyye Song
2 ألّف Allaf Composed
3 موسيقي Moussi’e Musical
4 مسرحيّة Masrahiyye A Play
5 موهبة Mawhabe Talent
6 مسرح Masrah Theater/stage
7 تسجيل Tesjil Recording
8 دَندِن Dandin Hum
9 قصّة Ossa Story
10 واقعي We’iee Realistic
11 صورة Soura Image
12 ممثّل Moumathel Actor
13 نبرة Nabra Tone
14 حزين Hazin Sad
15 مهضوم Mahdoum Funny
16 إنجازات Injezet Achievements
17 حفلة Hafle Party
18 يعزف Ye’zof To Play
19 جمهور Jomhour Audience
20 مهرجان Mahrajen Festival

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