Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Why Fairouz' upcoming "Bebalee" is no "Kifak Inta"

Artwork by Tarek Chemaly
It seems I am a harsh critic of Bebalee - the new Fairouz album - even before the album came out and after two snippets of songs which have made their way on the net via Reema (her daughter, currently manager and the person who wrote Arabic lyrics on international songs as part of the project). Do listen to parts of the songs here and here.
But let it be known, the scandal that Kifak Inta album was when it was released in 1991 was of epic proportions. The album is now a classic for sure, and no Fairouz concert ends unless she sings "oughniat al wada'a" (the goodbye song which featured on the album), but when it came out critics sent their venom for an album judged beneath the standards of "our ambassador to the stars" and so on and so forth it went.
So who knows? Bebalee will also join that long, long list of major hit albums by Fairouz. But Bebalee is no Kifak Inta. 
Kifak Inta (and I was one of those who immediately fell for it) was subtle, understated, complex, exceptionally well-put together. The title song stayed for four years in her son's Ziad Rahbani's drawer, knowing he is a self-admitted obsessive-compulsive (he was once asked in an interview on the now dead "El layle layltak" program about what he might ask his future girlfriend, he answered "how many days would you stand me playing two notes to know which one fits better in a song? Days, not hours.")
Fairouz does not need Bebalee - she is already a living legend. So her status is safeguarded. She was even rumored to be working with her son on a new album but apparently they had a violent row and eventually the work fell apart (or was halted) which perhaps leads us to Bebalee.
It sounds harsh to criticize an album which still did not come out (and which seems to be composed of Arabized international songs) but here I go back to Kifak Inta. I do remember how the album was reviled in the press, how the lyrics were judged cheap (if you go back to songs she did under the Rahbani Brothers repertoire, some lyrics were not that evolved but the Assi/Mansour oeuvre is never debated or discussed unless you intend to praise it) ad infinitum.
The album was indeed a breakthrough for Fairouz who had actually collaborated with Ziad Rahbani previously, their earliest tandem being the studio album Wahdon (they're alone) which gave us the now classic El Bosta (the bus) which she sang live at the Olympia but up to my knowledge - and I stand corrected - never did it again much to my chagrin.
Perhaps the genius of Ziad, either in the studio or live, was that he rearranged everything to fit with his mother's aging voice (if you, like me, watched her comeback concert in Lebanon in downtown Beirut in 1994, you'd recognize how untrained it was but which - thankfully - grew back to being crystal clear even if "evolved" from her earlier days), something which the new songs in Bebalee do not account for.
Kifak Inta was revolutionary at the time, it heralded her going into an uncharted territory, as a marketing analogy it was like Hermes growing out of the grandmother territory in terms of scarves. It brought Fairouz to a new legion of fans who discovered in her a new emblem for their generation rather than a stuck up voice from their parents' days. Funnily I am not one of those Ziad Rahbani fanatics who - over at drinks at Barometre - speak of every word he ever uttered (heck, I did not even watch the movies of his plays when they came out even though I got invited to the premiere!), which makes this article a bit unbiased I presume.
Fairouz did a series of concerts a few years back, there was no "new" material, but of course the auditoriums were sold to capacity, much like the frenzy of the Le Carre concert in Amsterdam which I still praise beyond logic (not just me, my music-degree armed friend does too). What actually irritates me, is that "Bebalee" could have been excellent - I myself Arabized songs which turned out to be quite good, it is just that the implementation seems to be (from what we are hearing from the songs) below standard - yep you heard the same comment from critics when Kifak Inta came out so what do I know! But the lyrics do not seem that well adapted either and as a friend commented "the piano seems odd, no good pianists in the Rahbanisphere?".
You do you remember the X-files motto? "I want to believe". I want to believe Bebalee is an exceptional album that is worth the wait. I want to be proven wrong and eat my digital words. But sadly, I am already preparing myself for the worst.
Fairouz... Kifik inti!