The Cult of Ziad Rahbani

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For people between the ages of 18 and 35, Ziad Rahbani is the biggest celebrity there is. Some non-Lebanese may not be aware of the extent and reach of the Ziad Rahbani cult. You will find young people in Lebanon who can recite entire dialogues and songs by him. These are people who for every occasion and every episode in life can invoke an a phorism by Ziad. To be sure, Ziad was also (and remains) big for people of my generation. After all, he introduced a genre of satirical comedy that Lebanon did not know before (together with his comrade Jean Chamoun, who later became a well-known documentary filmmaker with his wife Mai Masri).

During the early years of the civil war, Chamoun and Rahbani would introduce daily brief exchanges on the radio about the current situation in Lebanon. These were smart and hilarious commentaries about political developments at the time. We used to eagerly await these daily sketches with no electricity and the sounds of bombs all around us.

Rahbani was a child prodigy. He composed music at an early age (his first song for Fairouz was “Sa’aluni al-Nas”) and wrote his first play, “Sahriye,” before the age of twenty. He grew up around the talents of his parents, but that is no guarantee for talent (his cousins, the sons of Mansour and son of Elias are an example – no matter how hard they try to mimic Ziad’s experience they fall short, extremely). But Ziad was not only a musician: he also was a political activist from an early age.

The occasion for writing about Ziad was the airing of a two-part interview with him on the new al-Mayadeen TV station. The interview was conducted by the always serious Ghassan Ben Jeddo, which led many to criticize the choice. But the interview was quite revealing for many viewers. The link to the interview has been feverishly circulated all over the Arab Internet and appears regularly on my Facebook newsfeed. It was an important occasion for Ziad’s fans particularly that Ziad – for political, psychological and health reasons – has been avoiding the press, although he writes (semi-regularly, or regularly sometimes) in Al-Akhbar newspaper.

Ziad explained that his political awakening came during the Tal al-Zaatar siege and subsequent massacre (the massacre that followed the assault on the camp). He was present when the chief of Syrian intelligence met at the house of his parents with key personalities from the Phalanges Party. He surreptitiously recorded those meetings and even reported about them to the PFLP- Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (many in Lebanon are not aware that Ziad’s early political activities were with the PFLP and its Lebanese sister party, the Socialist Arab Action Party-Lebanon, before he joined the Lebanese Communist Party). The Israeli-Syrian collaboration in the massacre, the involvement of the Lebanese Army and the various pro-Israeli militias of the Phalanges, Guardians of the Cedar, and the Ahrar militias influenced the formation of the political views of Ziad. He worked behind the scenes for years with the PFLP and composed many songs for the front (and he did not even sign his name – his work was on volunteer basis).

Ziad’s career quickly took off and he transcended the limitations of the Rahbani brothers. His production was rich, original, brilliant but intermittent. Ziad would disappear from the scene for years and then return back again. He initially disturbed stalwart Fairouz fans by introducing her voice in a new genre of music, but the songs by Fairouz that were written and composed by Ziad became quite popular. Ziad, like his father before him, monopolized the work of Fairouz, and that was not a bad thing – for Fairouz or for her fans.

Ziad is a most inventive and original artist and speaker. His sentences are uniquely structured and he is brave enough to not cater to the masses and their preferences. Like Mahmoud Darwish, he steered his audience in the direction that he chose, for his own artistic reasons. In the recent interviews, Ziad may have shocked some by expressing his views on Syria (he supports the stance of Syrian opposition figure, Haytham al-Manna), resistance (he wholeheartedly supports Hezbollah’s model of resistance to Israel without supporting their ideology), and his criticisms of Saudi Arabia and Qatar (he was about to offer his opinions on Saudi Arabian and Qatari media, before Ben Jeddo interrupted explaining that it would be awkward for him given his past work for al-Jazeera as their Beirut bureau chief). But the revelation of the evening was when he said that the political views of Fairouz are close to his own. That must have enraged the March 14 audience.

Comments

Ziad Elrahbani excelled at being a musician, but his lyrics amused
young Beirutis of left leaning devotions. His attested early affiliation with
the "Socialist Arab Action Party" does not merit much because the
afforementioned party did not play any significant role in people's lives
at any time.

True, his effects were evident however in spreading vulgarisms
and tasteless expressions far from decency.

Lastly his loyalty and that of his father to the Butcher Hafez Alassad
service no cause of arts and good taste to anyone with a fair taste.

Douri of The South
BintJbail, Southern Lebanon

So, a so-called Douri of The South aka the sectarian Abu Umar does not like someone's politics - i.e. not being a puppet of NATO/GCC/Zionists. So, DoTS, aka AU is attacking the person's poetry, language and political past. Very mature and very impressive LOL

It is funny that so-called "Douri of The South' does not call any Saudi royal, NATO official or Zionist "butcher". Sure, they are just a bunch of kittens, and DoTS aka AU never attacked anyone for sectarian reasons, only for being a "butcher", so Obama, Saudi king or Netaniahu are OK to him.

and he said that he supports the Russian solution on Syria, which supports the Syrian regime.
I think as As'ad AbuKhalil was so happy about Ziad talking about Tal al-Zaatar, that proofs his own believes, he mentioned nothing about Ziad's opinion on Syria, that he is with the Russian solution, not with Haytham al-Manna ... he respected Manna, but he is with Putin, Mr. AbuKhalil !
Also, he mention nothing about the "Israeli-Syrian collaboration in the massacre" of Tal al-Zaatar. This is from your own fiction and wishful thinking, that we (readers) always blame you about!
I wish next time to take all the "cult" of Ziad Rahbani, and not to be selective!

exactly, Ziad never talked about an Israeli-Syrian collaboration in Tal al-Zaatar... Ziad's view on the Syrian crisis is very close to Al-Akhbar's.

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