Lebanon's Beiteddine Art Festival to pay tribute to late music icon Zaki Nassif

Ahram Online , Monday 11 Jul 2016

Nassif was one of Lebanon's most iconic musicians and left behind a repertoire comprising 1,100 songs and music compositions

Tribute to Zaki Nassif
(Photo: Fragment from promotional material)

The 2016 Beiteddine Art Festival will this year celebrate the iconic Lebanese composer, singer and songwriter Zaki Nassif who died in 2004 with a music concert scheduled for 29 July.

The celebration is being organised in collaboration with the American University in Beirut and the Zaki Nassif Program for Music, and will see the coming together of Lebanese singers Soumaya Baalbaki, Joseph Attieh, Ziad Ahmadiye and Ranine Chaar who will perform and revisit a selection of the legendary artist’s songs.

The group will be accompanied by Lebanese-Armenian musician and producer Guy Manoukian on the piano. Also participating in the celebration will be a 60-piece orchestra and choir conducted by Elie Aliah.

Born in 1916 in Mashghara in Lebanon's southwest Bekaa region, Nassif was treated to an array of influences which would later inspire his music vocation, including classical Arabic singing by Egyptian Sheikh Salama Hijazi, Quran recitation by Sheikh Mohamed Rifaat and Sheikh Mustafa Ismail, as well as his "attendance of Syriac and Byzantine (Greek Orthodox) church services," reads Nassif's biography section on the American University in Beirut’s official website.

Nassif’s “exposure to traditional dabkeh developed also his conviction that…Lebanese folkdances could be a true expression of collective celebration, of joy, and of solidarity, or 'dalouna.'”

Between 1936 and 1941, Nassif embarked on his study of music by joining the Institute of Music of the American University of Beirut, after which he resumed his classical music studies with Bertand Robillard.

He then went on to mould his music vocation, in the process becoming one of the most notable contributors to what came to be known as the "Lebanese Renaissance,” along with other music pillars including Philemon Wehbeh and the Rahbani Brothers. 

At first Nassif engaged in collaborations with different Lebanese artists, at one point forming a quintet titled The League of Five with El Bacha, Assi and Mansour Rahbani, Fairouz, Abdel Ghani Chaaban, which according to AUB’s website, “was modeled after the Russian circle of composers “The band of Five” (1856-1870) whose objective was to promote musical modernism alongside the local musical identity.”

He launched his solo career in 1965, performing in major festivals including Baalbeck festivals and composing music for choruses, as well as iconic singers like Sabah, Wadi El Safi, Nasri Chamseddine, Najah Salam, Samira Toufic, Majida El Roumi, Ghassan Saliba, among others.

Nassif left behind an array of chef d’oeuvres, including Raje'h Yit'Ammar Loubnan (Lebanon will be rebuilt), which became “an extremely popular song, rivaling even the national anthem,” reads his biography section on AUB’s website.

The 2016 edition of Beiteddine Art Festival opened on 8 July and runs until 9 August,

Launched in 1985, the festival "came as an act of faith in Lebanon’s cultural role and power of creativity, a call for normality amidst the chaos and madness of war. It was born and has grown in very difficult times and made it against all odds," the festival's website reads.

"As of 1987, when Nora Jumblatt and an executive committee took over the organisation of the festival, it gradually gained regional and international recognition" and throughout the years it has hosted hundreds of important international artists and spans across music, performing and visual arts.

All events take place within the 200-year-old palace in the Chouf mountains, considered a jewel of Lebanese architecture.

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