Mansour Rahbani: Musician and poet who spearheaded the Lebanese cultural renaissance
The Independent, Tuesday, 3 February 2009
Mansour Rahbani, the Lebanese composer, musician and producer, known most popularly as one of the Rahbani Brothers, left a legacy of innovation in the spheres of music and theatre in Lebanon and in the wider Arab world. He was largely recognised for his lifelong collaboration with his brother Assi, and Assi’s wife, the legendary Lebanese diva Fairuz. By the time of his death, Rahbani’s oeuvre as a writer, poet, lyricist, playwright and musical dramatist was phenomenal.
Mansour Rahbani was the middle son of Hanna Rahbani and his wife Sa’edy. Assi (also rendered Assyor Asi) Rahbani (1923-1986) was the first-born, with Elias, born in 1938, the surviving brother of the three. A strait-laced and frugal Lebanese family it may have been, but the brothers grew up absorbing multicultural influences in what was then one of the most cosmopolitan crossroads of the modern world. Lebanese, Arab and colonial influences, literature, music and faiths flourished and co-existed alongside each other.
Both brothers had musical andliterary gifts as well as lofty cultural aspirations. By dint of their musical talents, they gradually insinuatedtheir way into radio, first with jingles. The key to their success layin the fact that they complemented each other. Both worked as musicians and arranger-composers; moreover, Assi, whom Fairuz married in1954, wrote in demotic and dialect Arabic while Mansour leant towards its classical form.
When the two musician brothers first met Fairuz at a radio session, she was Nouhad Haddad. She would try out other stage names – Yola and Fatat al-Jabal (“Mountain Girl”) – before adopting one variously rendered as Fairuz, Fayruz and Fairouz. For over 50 years Fairuz has held sway and held an unassailable position in the hearts of music lovers not only in the Arab world, but anywhere where people are moved by truly great music.
When Haddad went into the radio studio in Beirut and met the Rahbani Brothers in 1950, all of them were hopefuls, and they clicked. At the time there was a pan-Arab spirit abroad. There was also openness to new musical potentials, inspired by developments in contemporary Egyptian populist film, literature and music and movements in Lebanese folk and Latin-American music.
The brothers almost immediately set to work on a new repertoire for Haddad. It began with “Itab” [“Blame”], which became a huge hit throughout the Arab world. Initially a Lebanese radio hit, it grew so popular that it was cut for commercial release in Paris. It was the start of a cultural renaissance for Lebanese music.
Fairuz and the Rahbani Brothers dominated the Lebanese arts scene until they parted ways in the late 1970s. Fairuz still sings Rahbani Brothers compositions alongside those of her son Ziad Rahbani – as albums such as Live 2000 Festival de Beiteddine Liban (2001) illustrate – for the trio’s musical creations are core to the Lebanese psyche. Rahbani later worked with other female singers, including Ronza, Fairuz’s younger sister Huda (whohad appeared on stage and screen with her sister) and Carole Samaha, but it is Fairuz with whom he will be forever linked.
- Mansour Al Rahbani, composer, musician, poet and lyricist: born Antelias, near Beirut, Lebanon 1925; died Beirut 13 January 2009.
Mansour Rahbani was born in Antelias (1925), and was grown up surrounded with artistic environment. He pursued his studies at the Ibreen Sisters School of Antelias, Farid Abou Fadel School, Kamal Moukarzel School and the Jesuit School at Bikfaya. After the death of his father, Mansour was early obliged to face the bitter side of life through joining the Beirut juridical police , while he was seventeen year old. He received his first musical education by Father Paul EL Ashkar, then studied the Eastern Music, the musical scores, melodies, harmony, contrapoint, orchestration and analys, beside his acquaintance to the valuable rare references such as the Kamel el Khalay book, the compositions of El Kendy and El Faraby, and the Shehabiya research in the Arabic Music Melodies .
He spent nine years as a student of Mr Bertrand Robillard, which is considered the main paste-board to show his talent that changed the fate of the eastern music and song as said by the great composer Mohamed Abdel Wahab. During his musical education he collaborated with his brother Assi Rahbani to found “the Rahbani Brothers “crossing together the limits of egotism and singleness, and they entered the Lebanese radio in 1945 with their new artistic trend. It is known that the delivery of the Rahbanian song was not easy, however it had the capability of facing the strong current of the old traditional song and heritage that was dominating the whole Eastern World since the beginning of the twentieth century through Salma Hegazi and Abdou El-Hamoli.
Thereafter, the two brothers joined the Near East Radio, where they composed several artistic works including sketches named “Sabeh & Makhoul”. When Assi Rahbani married Nouhad Haddad known as Fayrouz in 1955, the two brothers formed with Fayrouz the new Rahbani trio that the brothers used to compose their poems, which were sung by Fayrouz. The Rahbani brothers have inspired their music from the Arabian, Islamic, Maronite and the Byzantine heritage, beside the Lebanese folklore, and they deeply studied the western classical music. Concerning The Rahbanian singing theatre, it is considered a unique type that differs from the international operas for its special style known as the Rahbani theatre, which composes dignity, truth, delicacy and the deep view of its philosophic subjects used to concentrate the three main subjects, God Human and the Land. From the Picadilly Theatre in Beirut the Rahbani theatre flied to the whole Arabian world showing their distinguished performances in Jordan, Kuwait, Iraq, Egypt Emirates, Syria, Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria and Libya beside their several artistic tours in London, Manchester, Paris, Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paolo, Buenos Aires, twelve states from the USA and Canada, the Rahbani theatre used to write for the country, the land, the history, the future, the poor people and the commoners with a special interest in the Lebanese folklore .
Also the Rahbani theatre used to patronize the Arabian problems represented in their numerous songs for the Palestinian and the Algerian crises. The Rahbani theatre has introduced a new generation of singers who became famous stars in the Arabian world. The Rahbani’s repertoire includes plays, poems, melodies that were introduced in the world famous universities like the Sorbon, Harvard, Oxford, and the Arabian and Lebanese universities. In addition the Rahbani extended their activities to the cinema through three films Biaa el Khawatem (The Rings Seller), Safar Barlek (The Exil) and Bent el Hares (Tthe Guardians Daughter) After the death of Assi, Mansour Rahbani individually made huge theatrical plays “Summer 840”, “The Will”, “The last Days of Socrates”, “He Rose on the 3rd Day”, “The Maronite Mass”, “Abou Tayeb Al- Moutanabbi”, “Moulouk At Tawaef ”, “The Last Day”, “Hekm al Rehyan”. Gibran and The Profet, Aoudat Al Phoenix.
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