Elias Rahbani was more than just a legendary composer. The Lebanese musician, who died on Monday at the age of 83, was also a man of humour, joy and unbridled love for others — even those who did not treat him so well.
Rahbani performed in the UAE for the first time in 2014, and the first item on his agenda was to make the audience laugh. He arrived to a press conference with a smile, and ignored his son, Gassan Rahbani, when he suggested his father be more serious.
The legendary Lebanese composer was chock full of hilarious anecdotes that kept his audience in splits — even when his son jabbed him in the side to get him back on track.
“Let me make them laugh!” Rahbani exclaimed, eying Gassan with mirth in his eyes. “It doesn’t all have to be boring and formal.”
For a classical composer whose repertoire often demanded respect and etiquette, melodies sung opon by everyone from Fairuz and Majidah Al Roumi to Wadih Al Safi, Rahbani had a presence that was jovial, young and inviting.
“I love others to an unnatural degree,” said Rahbani. “Even those who have harmed me.”
Later, he sat down with this journalist for a one-on-one interview, where his gentle, humble spirit shone through.
“My brother Assi raised me, because my father died when I was only five years old. So my brothers Assi and Mansour [who are both musicians, part of the renowned Rahbani Brothers] raised me, and at nine years old, I was already on the stage and I was singing. I understood that there was life, war and poverty,” said Rahbani.
A medical diagnosis almost stopped his music career from taking off. But he refused to let it.
“My bothers started to take me around country clubs to perform and I learned piano the right way. I was about to fly to Russia to add onto my education, but I had bad pains in my right hand. The diagnosis, basically, was I’d have to stop for a year, but I wouldn’t even stop for an hour. So they gave me lessons on my left hand. From there, I began composition and haven’t looked back,” he continued.
Asked how he keeps his young and humorous spirt intact, Rahbani imparted a piece of well-learned wisdom.
“I have a goal in life to make others happy. Gassan, like you saw during the press conference, kept telling me, ‘Baba, don’t,’ but I told him, ‘I’m not here to bury someone. I’m here to laugh with others.’ Because laughter gives me happiness. That’s God’s secret that people aren’t in on,” said Rahbani.
“Because the more you make others happy, the more you start to feel a certain lightness. Some say believing in God brings with it that lightness, but there are those who believe in God and do bad deeds. They pray and then they shoot. I take the path of making others happy.”
The cause of Rahbani’s death has yet to be confirmed.