A Lebanese Comeback for Ziad Rahbani

Of course, the choice of titles in the program fits the shape and size of his backup band. Works requiring an orchestra were naturally eliminated. (Photo: Haytham al-Moussawi)

By: Bashir Sfeir

Published Thursday, December 20, 2012

It has been more than three years since Ziad Rahbani performed live for a Lebanese audience and another two since his last album release, “Eh Fi Amal (Yes There Is Hope),” in 2010. Yet tonight, 20 December 2012, Rahbani will end the lengthiest performance gap of his decades-long career.

Rahbani’s absence from the Lebanese scene was not without reason. First there was travel, following the cancellation of his nightly gig at Da Capo. Then, there was the exhaustion that prompted him to pull out of the Beiteddine Festival in 2010. Finally, his health turned his life into a living hell between summer 2011 and summer 2012.

I only allowed myself to reveal the last reason since I’m now able to convey better news to Rahbani’s fans: today, he is in good health and exceptionally active. His creations are many and so will be the pleasant surprises. The work is immense and so is the fatigue.

The number one item on Ziad's agenda is the Event Hill concerts in Dbayeh, near Le Royal Hotel, sponsored by Al-Akhbar.

Ziad is back among his fans after an absence which drained us and was also draining to him. His admirers, fans of his music, and music lovers are thirsting for his effusion. But Ziad also misses his music, his fans, and his admirers. He misses assembling his musicians and going through his notes, the rehearsals, and the concerts.

Tonight, his audience will realize how the program would not have taken this shape were it not for the preceding absence. The titles he has chosen for the first encounter will be offer a panorama of the past years. I won’t reveal any of the titles of tonight’s concert, but I can provide a synopsis of the program, which will be in three parts:

The first part will include popular classics from the African American musical repertoire of the 1970s and 1980s, from soul to funk to pop. The second part will be jazz standards and Brazilian bossa nova. Finally, it will be Ziad’s original works, in addition to a limited pick from the Rahbani Brothers’ repertoire.

Of course, the choice of titles in the program fits the shape and size of his backup band. Works requiring an orchestra were naturally eliminated. So the magical performances at the Damascus historic citadel in 2008 will be hard to replicate.

Every time I speak about a Rahbani musical happening, I try to highlight a side of his experience. Today, I conclude with one of the most complex attributes of his musical work.

In fact, it is not difficult for this ever-flowing source of tunes to come up with beautiful melodies. The same applies to musical arrangement. Ziad does not strive for these things, he merely “awaits” them. When they arrive, he can easily translate them.

He is an accomplished performer, mastering instruments from the west (piano) and the east (bozok, or long-necked lute), taking notes at extraordinary speed and precision.

Recording is also not an impediment, as he is an experienced sound engineer. The studio is usually under his command and his criteria exceptional. The challenge I mentioned lies between these two phases of musical production. It is the execution – to be more precise, the performers.

Of course, everyone knows that Ziad does not have a musical band in the traditional sense. Each time he needs to record or perform, he expends much effort establishing a band.

He might see a woman singing on screen, a musician playing in a concert, meet a performer by accident, lose a friend and need to find a replacement, or even decide to use unfamiliar instruments and has to call on musicians from abroad.

Sometimes, if he is unable to find the right musician, he will postpone or even cancel a project.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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