Monday, December 08, 2014

Growing popularity of Fairuz in Israel?

On December 1, 2104, Eyal Sagui Bizawe, one of Ha'aretz's most interesting writers (see what he has written about here) published an article entitled "Lebanese singer Fairuz is 
finally fashionable in Israel." He starts by telling us about traveling to Amman in 1999 to see Fairuz in concert (at that time it was somewhat normal to go to Jordan for such events.)

He goes on to say that Israeli society has "opened up somewhat to Arab music since then," although it still looks down on Mizrahi music. As evidence, he cites, first of all, the fact that Palestinian-Israeli singer Lina Makhoul, the winner of the second season of the Israeli TV program The Voice of Israel, performed a Fairuz song, "Bizakker Bel Kharif" (I remember autumn), at her audition in 2012. The song, set to the tune of "Autumn Leaves," was a great success with the judges as well as the audience.

Bizawe also cites the Israeli band Turquoise (Fairuz means turquoise in Arabic) which recently released a mini-album in tribute to Fairuz. It includes a version of Fairuz's "Sa'louni Al-nas," (The people asked me). 

Turqouise's release has stirred up some controversy, with Abdul Rahman Jasem, a Palestinian writer based in Beirut writing in Al Akhbar that the recording was yet another example of Israeli Zionists stealing Arab culture, as they had done with hummus, felafel and tabbouleh. Turquoise argues however that they are just trying to bring Arab culture to the Israeli public, in the interests of bringing people together. I'm not unsympathetic to that project, but musically, I don't find Turquoise's version very appealing, as it seems to have very much toned down the Arab quality of the original, I guess with the idea of making it acceptable to a wider Israeli audience. Here's the original, you decide.

I also learned from Bizawe that Fairuz's son Ziad Rahbani is reportedly considering moving to Russia. Or, at least, moving to Russia for a time to work on a TV show. 

Eyal Sagui Bizawe, meanwhile, is of Egyptian Jewish origin, and his grandmother was a cousin of the great Egyptian Jewish actress and singer Leila Murad. Bizawe has made a film, called Arab Movie, about the screening of Egyptian films on Israeli TV. You can see a clip and read about the film here. Bizawe is also a DJ, who spins discs on occasion at the very hip Jaffa bar Anna Loulou, which has a mixed (Palestinian and Jewish) clientele. 

When I posted Bizawe's article on FB, I got varying reactions from FB friends. A Palestinian remarked, "they steal everything." One Israeli said that you couldn't attribute Israeli fans of Fairuz to a right-left split, whereas another Israeli claimed that it was leftists who were into Fairuz.

More research needed. Meanwhile, please follow Bizawe on Ha'aretz.

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