There is a saying in Arabic that goes "the nearby church does not heal" - which is perhaps why, when Fairouz did a concert in BIEL I was not the least interested in getting tickets - after all, I was one of the people who saw her in the comeback concert in 1994, I saw her in Baalbeck, and then twice in Beiteddine.... But when I got wind that the grande dame was going to be the closing guest of the Holland Festival, I activated my Dutch connections who managed to secure much prized and strategically located tickets for the concert.
In the meantime, I had to go through embassy hell, coordination over my summer semester, a million logistic problems, red tape, bureaucracy, a difficult connection in Frankfurt airport and God knows what else, but here I am tonight - having witnessed Fairouz at the height of her glory in Amsterdam.
First let me explain that the tickets for the concert sold out in an hour and resale prices shot up to 500 Euros.
Those of you who know me, know that I am ready to criticize where criticism is due, but tonight, I humbly have to pay my respects to a lady who at the age of 76 managed to capture an audience composed, not just of arabophones, but also of people who had no clue what she was saying. My Dutch friend - to whom I owe the ticket - summed it eloquently by saying "It's all in the voice, one high note and the audience understand she is being playful, another low one, and she is almost mourning."
The management of the festival had sent strict letters to all those who got tickets, that although the show was to start at 8:15 in the evening, it was better to be there early due to the draconian security check - not out of fear of a terrorist act but because no one was allowed to carry smart phones, cameras, recording instruments and devices of any kind - the plead was sadly left unheard because people kept coming to the theater until 8:45 not having forecasted the mess and the queue they were going to endure. So although the theater was sold to capacity, it was only 40 minutes after the original scheduled time that the concert began. As a matter of fact, this is also the reason why there are no original photos to accompany this post.
It is good to mention that Fairouz's voice was too crystal clear, and is improving with age - mind you, the 1994 affair was a technical disaster on all fronts (her voice was still untrained, the wind blew in the microphones, a giant screen never functioned, etc... ) - but this one a perfect gem. Fairouz's voice kept hovering over the orchestra, always higher, never drowned, as if they were simply accompanying someone singing a cappella. The synergy between the musicians, the backing vocals, and the lady herself was choreographed to the millisecond all while appearing relaxed and natural.
The concert was composed of Ziad Rahbani songs (her son) for the first part, and then of older Rehbani brothers material. Actually, these were kept to a strict minimum, maybe to avoid the copyright problem she was faced with last year, and even that period tended to focus mostly on songs writen by Elias Rehbani such as "ba3dana" (after us) and "el 2ouda el mensiyye" (the forgotten room).
The concert began with "Habaytak ta nsit il nawm" (I loved you till I forget to sleep) followed by "kifak inta" (and how are you?) and then "salimleh alayh" (say hello to him on my behalf)... These three up-tempo songs were followed by an interlude with the backing vocals and then three easy going ballads afterward. But the tone was set, the beat dictated and the audience enthralled (among the easy-going songs "Allah kbir" for example from her latest album "Eh... fi amal").
Fairouz's first appearance was in a black and silver dress, and in the second part of the show she adopted what seems to be a golden version of the first dress, her legendary frigid scene presence was there, but she knew how to work her charm on the audience by small gestures, a punctuation here, a wave there, a move of the shoulder....
Even the small interludes, were made bearable by the backing vocals singing classic Ziad Rahbani songs in the line of "ya di3anou" (what a waste) and the legendary "3ayshi wahda balak" (she lives alone without you) to which the audience went ballistic.
At the concert came to an end, and viewing her legendary refusal to do encores (can anyone forget the dictatorial Assi Rahbani (her late husband) and the way her ushered her into the backstage when the audience was pleading for an encore after her Olympia concert?) she went back to stage to what was obviously a programmed tease for the audience (meaning her first disappearance into the backstage was calculated so as for her to show up again) and she repeated the last song she had sang "Immi namet 3a bakir" (my mother slept early) and then, as a final greeting to her audience she did a small part of "Ougniyat al wada3" (the farewell song) which the whole room stood chanting along.
For those who do not know the lyrics of that song, suffice to repeat this part "tomorrow I shall stand with you again, if not tomorrow the day after for sure, you just talk to me, and I shall always hear you, no matter how far the voice."
As I went back in the subway with my Dutch friend, I was staunchly repeating the lyrics and he was humming the tune while the rest of the streetcar was idly falling asleep, oblivious that they have missed the event of the year.