In less than a week, two giants of Lebanese and Arabic music and literature are no more. Sabah will no longer charm us with her eternal smile and enchanting voice nor warm our hearts with her simplicity and modesty. Said Akl will no longer speak to us in his characteristically intense and lyrically robust voice nor provoke us with his radicalism and idealism. Even though they have both left a treasure of cultural behind for generations to know and revere them, only we are lucky enough to have known them or at least to have lived during their times.
If the loss of these two legends was not enough, their passing has reignited the belief that Lebanon’s so-called golden era of culture is also slowly coming to an end. Because when Sabah and Said Akl are added to the growing list of Lebanese pioneers and legends in music, arts, performing arts and literature who left us before them, it truly does feel like a part of Lebanon is slowly drifting away. There’s Sabah and Said Akl, and before them Wadi el Safi and Onsi el Hajj, Assi and Mansour Rahbani, Zaki Nassif and Philemon Wehbe, Nasri Shamseddine and many others. To many people, this class of talent has no equivalent in today’s pool of talent. They were born in times of uncertainty and flourished in times of greater uncertainty and conflict. They were multitalented human beings that touched people in times of happiness and sadness. They were able to transcend borders and travel as far as language barriers allowed them to go. At the risk of using the ultimate cliché, they all transcended artificially-imposed divisions of class, geography and sect in the region and at home. In Lebanon, they were able to unite when so much and so often, people were artificially kept apart… Or maybe we are just being selfish, bearing on them more than they are meant to handle, because we know of nobody else that has understood and shared our joy and pain and had a voice loud and clear enough to sing and write about it…
Either way, it is an era of music and dance, of poetry and creativity, of fearless energy, freedom of expression, of inspirational and avant-garde thought that is slowly coming to an end. Few remain, who can claim to be part of this generation – including the legend of legends Fairuz, the Rahbanis (including Ziad), the Caracalla’s, Antoine Kerbaj and many more – and one would only hope that their legacies would be substantial enough for them to be an example of follow, and not just a memory to reminisce over. This may all be just nostalgia, given a simpler and predictable yesterday, only meant to console us in the face of an increasingly precarious and unpredictable tomorrow. But it still remains, that a Lebanon that knew greater beauty and cultural creativity, greater depth, intellectual passion and simpler pleasures is slowly drifting away, perhaps shifting, and it looks like things will never be the same again…
2 Replies to “To a Lebanon that is slowly drifting away…”
In the late sixties working in a Lebanese advertising agency called MEMAS as a very young freelance artist, I was asked to go and do some work with the great Said Akl. A project I can vaguely remember. But, I only remember it had something to do with designing and stylizing the Arabic alphabet for IBM Typewriters. (Even though I was not an Arabic calligrapher) Working with him in his office. It was truly an honer and a joy to work with and witness this great man’s sense of humor and patience to work with me all along telling me how great and talented young man I was. I ended up working with him for few consecutive days without really knowing who he really was, and how great of a writer he was.
It was only later on I was made aware of his greatness.
It is also worth mentioning the person who had asked me to work with him was another great man, The Frenchman, The Design Director of MEMAS, Gabriel Brenas. Affectionately known to his friends as “Gaby” who was a friend of Said Akl. Just wonderful memories, and wonderful period in Lebanon.
Many thanks for you and your rather sad article that evoked so many memories.
Thank you so much for sharing your story Levon! He was a unique man and it is almost impossible to talk about Arabic poetry, let alone Lebanese literature and the Lebanese language itself without talking about him…