The american musicblog Afropop Worldwide has just published a three part series on the Middle East country Lebanon. Have a small overview on Norient and a brief insight into a very special approach to this topic: the Lebanese-Syrian community in Brazil.
The series – called «Hip Deep Lebanon» – wants to explore Lebanons vital middle eastern nation’s musical culture, encompassing it’s past, it’s present, and – in the person of Fairuz – one of the region’s most powerfully enduring stars. In the last weeks Afropop has produced several podcasts, interviews, articles and posts. First we present you all podcasts, which take part of the Afropop Lebanon-Series:
Program One: Fairuz, A Woman for All Seasons
The first part of the series is focussing on Fairuz, the most popular living singer throughout the Arabic-speaking world and an artist with no real counterpart in Europe or the Americas. Since the ‘50s, she has appealed across boundaries of age, gender, class, religion, nationality, regional dialect, and political persuasion. Creating music as serious and engaged as it is popular, Fairuz – along with her collaborators from the Rahbani family of composer poets – has achieved near-universal appeal during a time of unprecedented division and social strife. This first program explores Fairuz’s remarkable biography guided by her biographer Kenneth Habib, and Ghady Rahbani, among others. The deepest understanding of Fairuz’s success carries a message that harmony among the Abrahamic faiths is not a lofty illusion, but something lost in the near past, that can be regained. (Listen here to a Norient-podcast about Fairuz in German.)
Program Two: Diasporas
As the Ottoman Empire waned in the late 19th century, there was scarcity, economic stress, and political oppression in Lebanon. The once lucrative silk industry died. Factories closed. Families in search of better lives emigrated, or sent children abroad. Today, diaspora communities of Lebanese and Lebanese descendants far outnumber the 4-million people who actually live in the country. The second program surveys the legacy of Lebanese diaspora in two surprising location: Brazil and Ghana. Brazil, home to Lebanon’s largest diaspora population, became an important center for immigrant literature, music and film from the Eastern Mediterranean. And in Ghana, Lebanese descendants played important roles in the development of Afro-rock and highlife in the 1960s and 70s.
This part of the program tell these stories with a rich array of music, and the insights of three scholars, A. J. Racy, Robert Moser, and John Collins. Especially from Afropops interview with A. J. Racy – professor of ethnomusicology – we’d like to quote some parts focussed on Lebanese singer and Brasil immigrant Najib Hankash:
[Banning Eyre (Afropop Worldwide)]: You talked about the fact that there is this incredible history of diasporic movement out of Lebanon and Syria in the decades before World War I. Let’s talk about the historic reasons for that.
[A. J. Racy]: There are many reasons why so many people moved from Lebanon and Syria to places like Brazil during the late 19th century and, especially, World War I. People cite the economic need, the collapse of the silk industry – a local, homegrown industry – and also the famines that took place, the Ottoman oppression at the time. Also Brazil opened its arms to immigrants from that part of the world, officially and informally. Brazil was a suitable place to go and establish yourself. There might be other reasons as well. But what’s important is that people who did go to Brazil from these areas, many of whom were from rural areas – villages and larger towns in Lebanon – established a renaissance, a cultural revival that was really almost unrivaled in the history of Arab literature.
They established journals in Arabic. In the 1920s, one of my uncles, Sami Racy, in São Paulo, established a journal and I saw about twenty volumes, very thick volumes, all in Arabic. There was poetry by famous Lebanese poets in diaspora and some articles in Portuguese. But these journals also talked about the latest in science, up to the late 20s. The volumes I saw also gave me information about the musical life of people there. Each of these issues had news about cultural events. You can see that Arab singers and musicians came and performed. Sometimes, there were musical performances in the Brazilian idiom, songs from Brazil as well as Arab songs. One illustrious immigrant culturally, musically, and artistically, was Najib Hankash.
[BE]: Tell us about him.
[AJR]: Najib Hankash is very well-known to the Lebanese and in the diaspora community of Brazil. He was sort of like superstar – a delightful person, very funny. He had a beautiful voice, and he was highly visible. At many events, Najib Hankash was there. He was born in 1904 in a town called Zahla or Zahle in northern Lebanon. He went to Brazil in 1922, and in the 1920s and 30s he was very active. He sang some songs on local record labels, and they were popular, not just in the community in Brazil. I have noticed that some immigrants from Lebanon and Syria at the time, the 1930s and 40s, had access to his recordings.
Hankash performed parody songs; one of them is «The Story of the Peddler». It is about a immigrant who goes to Brazil, works as a peddler, and eventually becomes very rich, a nouveau riche. He wants to marry a beautiful young woman, but he becomes too «choosy». As he gets older, he tries to look younger and buys a fancy car. Then he finds a beautiful young woman who, alas, spends all his money and makes him poor again. So we begin to see that the concerns are localized to the circumstances of the immigrants’ lives. Hankash concentrates on the experiences of the mahjar, the place of immigration.
[BE]: So Hankash is basically a teenager, eighteen years old when he comes to Brazil. And he lives there for decades observing the pattern of these Lebanese people coming newly to Brazil and even poking fun at them. At the same time, he’s sort of mythologizing their experiences, right? And he is able to do that because he has this dual perspective.
[AJR]: Yes, he understood the culture of Brazil, the immigrant culture. He also had a keen sense of humor to make light of it sometimes and had to sing in musical and literary styles that appealed to the community. Now he probably watched people come in, and he also watched people that had been there before and he saw what happened to them. «The Riches Without Culture» is one song he recorded in Lebanon after he went back. But I’d like to talk about what he did with a poem by Gibran Khalil Gibran.
Read the whole stunning interview here.
Program Three: Beirut Today
Finally, Afropop concludes its Hip Deep series on Lebanon with a musical survey of contemporary Beirut. It’s a complex, balkanized world where adventurous art musicians extend the hybrid forms of Lebanon’s golden era, alternative rock bands engage a globalized youth audience, and regional rappers go political while connecting rap with ancient Arabic poetic traditions. We visit the legendary Beiteddine Festival, sample innovative art musicians like Rima Khcheich and Mike Massy, meet rappers and rock bands (The Kordz, Soapkills, El Rass, Mashrou Leila), and get the insights of Arab hip hop researcher/filmmaker Jackson Allers and ethnomusicologist Thomas Burkhalter, author of a major study of Beirut musicians who grew up during the Lebanese civil war (1975-1990).
The texts above are taken from Afropop Worldwides Lebanon-Series.
Lebanon – More on Norient
> Thomas Burkhalter: «Local Music Scenes and Globalization – Transnational Platforms in Beirut»
> Thomas Burkhalter: Tarek Atoui: Digital Bricolage
> Norient: «Golden Beirut-New Sounds from Lebanon»
> Tanya Traboulsi: Festival of Experimental Music in Lebanon