A Small Cultural Thank You to 10,452 sq km
Thursday, November 19th, 2009
No matter which Arab country you happen to visit, there is no avoiding the dark and powerful voice of Fairuz.
Whether sitting in a bus or being more or less forced to listen to a neighbor’s radio, the Lebanese diva with the golden throat, who is now 73, sweetens every Arab morning, singing full of passion and romantic about the beauty of her homeland, celebrating the holy city of Jerusalem or remembering wistfully life in the countryside.
Her mixture of European rhythms and traditional Arab music culture delights and inspires millions of Arabs – be they Moslem, Christian or Druze; be they Palestinian, people in the Gulf Sates or Moroccans. And even we in the distant West, far away from where she is famous, profit totally unnoticed from the art of her singing. For example, the pop singer Shakira reflected on her Lebanese roots and undoubtedly surprised some fan in 2008 with her confession of love for the Arab icon.
But tiny Lebanon, its people and their descendents, give delight to East and West not only in the field of music. The country has also made a major contribution in matters of literature with Gibran Khalil Gibran. Hardly a bibliophile can pass this great author by. His mixture of philosophy and lyric poetry about love, life, and death touches the hearts of Arabs, Americans, and Europeans alike because Gibran created a bridge in his work that connects the Orient and Occident and merges the strengths of both cultures in fascinating and inspiring stories and thoughts. Particularly with his best known novel, The Prophet, he was, in a brilliant way, able to combine a Western view of the world with Eastern romantic and melancholy. It is said he labored 25 years on the worldly wisdom of his protagonist, Al-Mustafa. Over 80 years after publication and almost 70 years after Gibran’s death, people around the globe are still impressed and captivated by his stories.
Whether in the far-flung West or in the Near East, Arab artists enrich and leave their mark on culture, intellect and entertainment as much as do Western artists. Those who still believe that the Arab world remains outside modern art and culture and has nothing more to offer than 1001 Arabian Nights or religious fanaticism, is once more hiding behind vague delusions or negative stereotypes. Lebanon is proof. “Small but impressive” is what one wants to exclaim when thinking of the country that brought forth such greats as Fairuz and Gibran.
But also the fashion designer Elie Saab, whose creation Halle Berry wore when she accepted her Oscar, as well as Tony Shalhoub, the two-time Emmy winner and star of the TV series Monk, have their roots in the 10,452 sq km Mediterranean state, and their Arab background is characterized in their being and work. Perhaps such artists could sometime serve as mediators between cultures and break down prejudice, fears, and lack of respect between the Arab and the Western worlds through their work and smooth the path for a productive and respectful dialog.
Whoever has once had the fortune of listening to Fairuz’s musical interpretation of one of Gibran’s poems will certainly cherish such reveries and will want to go on to explore Arab culture and art with enthusiasm and passion.