The enigma of Fairouz continues to define a generation of ardent fans as the Arab diva turned 84. She was often called ‘Our Ambassador to the Stars’, with her melodious voice often serving as a calming balm during turbulent times in the region.
It may be hard to decipher the mysterious persona that Fairouz presented in her heydays, but that hasn’t held back poets and philosophers who often were often drawn to her for inspiration during the golden age of Arab music.
Looking beyond the perceived persona of the Lebanese singer, Gulf News tabloid unearths some lesser known facts about the living legend.
Fairouz was born to the Haddads, a Lebanese family. She grew up in a poor neighbourhood in Beirut.
According to her bio, she showed a flair for singing even as a young child, often serenading her neighbours with songs by Egyptian singers Laila Murad and Asmahan, well into the cold winter nights.
Road to discovery
Her father’s meagre earnings helped Fairouz earn a place in the local school, where her schoolteacher discovered her voice and connected the young prodigy with Muhammad Fleifel, a scout looking for budding talent for the newly formed Lebanese Radio Station.
Her voice caught the attention of Halim Al Rumi, a singer and composer himself, who went on to become the radio chief in the Near East and discovered Fairouz.
Her first salary was a meagre sum
Fairouz has often cited in her interviews that she took on the job at the radio station as a chorus singer, largely to earn her first 100 Lebanese Pounds (25 fils). Her first paycheck was indeed that amount, but following tax deductions, the singer was left with a meagre sum in her hands. Not one to give up, Fairouz continued with faith until she cobbled together her first 100 and that remains one of her proudest achievements.
Fairouz is a stage name
The singer was actually born on November 21, 1935 as Nuhad Haddad. Al Rumi wasn’t too keen on the name and decided to change it when he pushed his prodigy into the public eye. Debating whether she should be called Fairouz or Sharazade, he decided the former was a better fit, as her voice was a rare gem.
Meeting the Rahbani Brothers
Fairouz’s big break in the 1950s, following a chance meeting the Rahbani brothers. Beirut was embracing a musical renaissance, with western influences largely sweeping across the masses. Many were riding this wave and Fairouz bagged a chance to join the chorus of Eduardo Bianco, a band from Argentina.
While recording at the Near East Broadcasting studios, Sabri Sharif, who directed the music section there, suggested a new experiment in Eastern musical influences. Fayrouz was to sing, with Bianco’s orchestra where should meet the two Rahbani brothers, Assi and Mansour. Assi would later go on to become the love of Fairouz’s life.
The big break
Fairouz’s watershed moment came when she and fellow singer, Assi, would collaborate on a melancholy song, ‘Itab’. The song would go on to become a breakthrough hit in not just Lebanon but the whole Arab region, who sat up and took notice of this new voice on the scene.
In a career spanning more than six decades, Fairouz has recorded nearly 1,500 songs, lent her voice to 20 musicals and worked on three film projects.
While ‘Itab’ had certainly earned her the recognition she so craved, it wasn’t until the summer of 1957 when Fairouz really found her voice at Lebanon’s Baalbeck festival. Standing at the base of the temple of Jupiter, Fairouz crooned ‘Lubnan Ya Akhdar Hilo’ and the audience sat spellbound.
Following that performance, there was no looking back for Fairouz, and even today, she is considered second to the legendary Umm Kulthoum in music sales in the region.
Fairouz’s popularity moved from strength to strength, largely during a time when Lebanon was gripped in a 15-year Civil War. Her song, ‘Raji’e Lebanon’, would go on to become a rallying cry to rebuild the country devastated in the aftermath of a violent period.
In 1986, her Assi succumbed to a long illness and legend has it that Lebanon’s warring factions declared a ceasefire and opened checkpoints to allow the funeral to move from Beirut’s Muslim west side, where the family lived, to the Christian east side of the capital, where he was buried.