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Nahawand - Laurette Keyrouz
Nahawand Laurette Keyrouz (1926 – 27 November 2014)
Born in Lebanon in around 1926, Laurette Keyrouz lived her teenage years between an orphanage and her aunt’s house because her mother was unable to care for her and defied her remaining relatives to allow her to pursue a singing career.
Laurette faced many problems with her family, who completely rejected the idea of singing. They did not accept the subject until she fled the house and tried to commit suicide at the Raouche rock in Beirut. Luckily, a man she did not know prevented her from jumping and returned her to her family, asking them not to stop her from singing.
Thus, her uncle accompanied her into the radio station and waited with her to bring her home. Her family moved from Yahshosh to Beirut, where they met their neighbor Issa Al-Nahhas, who worked to secure the singers’ clothes at the Teatro Grand Theater. Laurette persuaded him to accompany her to sing even a small piece on the stage .
And so it was that Laurette Keyrouz infiltrated Lebanon Radio in 1938, at about 12 years of age. She changed her name so that her parents would not know her, because every time they heard her voice on the radio they beat her. The poet Rami Ghantous chose for her the name Nahawand following the scene with her voice, fearing that she would spend her night alone in the cellar.
For the first time in her life, Nahawand stood on this stage, one of the most important theatres of Beirut in the 1930s and 1940s, and embraced the most famous female singers in Lebanon. Megana sang in front of a crowd of musicians and composers who stood up for the beauty of her voice and her youth. It was followed by the first presentation of the composer Yusuf Saleh and her first song “I’m a bird”.
In the mid-1930s, Lebanese melodies took on a new form. Lebanese folk music developed after taking the words of the villagers of the mountain villages, especially the peasants, and produced a strong lyrical formula.
These melodies begin to develop in a contemporary form, beginning in the 1940s .This is clearly demonstrated in this song. The melody has a simple, slow rhythm, dominated by the sound of Nhawand, which is far removed from the solid mountain sounds. Although her voice fell into small loopholes, its sweetness and its harmony with the melody made the song a resounding success.
Nahawand was from a poor family, and it was painful for her heart to see her mother tormented in their small house. So she decided to make money from singing, and kill two birds with one stone.
She told her family that she was going to the neighbors’ house and then sneaked into the Tanios restaurant. There, she persuaded the restaurant manager with her voice, which he heard until he sent a boy to help him buy her used dresses at the restaurant theatre. Suad Mohammed and other artists who tried to climb the ladder of fame in the early 1940s were singing there.
One night, Nahawand decided to borrow from Zakia Ahmed, her high-heeled shoes and sneak into the theatre. The shoes were big on her feet and she stumbled and broke a heel. The restaurant owner was furious and started yelling at the audience, but one of the attendees asked him to leave her alone and to pay for the shoe .
Although Nhawand was like a tiger that the audience entertained before the rest of the performers appeared, she was able to prove her voice, and soon became the most important event in the evening . It is clear from the recordings that Nahawand was a good performer, and this is evident in the song O Dawn of What to Expect, a landmark song in her career . The words were written by the Lebanese poet Mohamed Ali Fattouh and composed by Mustapha Creydiah who sang it himself before giving it to Nahawand. The song was best known in the mid-1940s, and was sung by a large number of artists, some of whom claimed to be Syrian heritage. The famous and audible version remained in the voice of Nahawand, with its proverbial instruments standing in the middle of the song – the twin of her voice. The song accompanied her throughout her life like a guardian angel, and remained present in her memory even after she succumbed to Alzheimer’s.
After receiving such attention, Laurette went to Cairo to participate in three films and perform annual roles. Although she played several roles, including starring in a film called The Punishment of Conscience by director George Al-Qa’i, she soon abandoned the dream of acting and left Cairo. She apparently disliked the crowded Egyptian scene and its brutality .
In a television interview, Nahawand said her real career began in Aleppo: “I went to Damascus with my mother, but they did not give me a license to sing because of my young age. Afif al-Taiba, called me and gave me a license.” He took her to Aleppo and she became a singer. In Aleppo she faced fierce competition from Lebanese female singers, but preferred not to reveal their names. She said she found her dresses cut before the parties, but she was silent so as not to lose the theater booking. From there she moved to Iraq in the early fifties, where the Iraqi song was witnessing the most important stage of its development after the emergence of the great composers such as the brothers Saleh and Dawood Kuwaiti, and the departure of the Baghdadiat theatre style.
She became famous in Baghdad and recorded several of her songs, including Ayna Yalil, which she said was her own tune.
Said Nahawand: ”I spread out a lot in Baghdad, and the Iraqi radio recorded a lot of songs and they loved me .”
Roda Ali gave her all the length of her stay in Iraq, which is an indication of her proficiency and ability. This was especially important because it followed the simplicity and smoothness of the melodies required by the singer and provided a qualitative leap in the renewal of Iraqi songs and the integration of the popular sense into a complex melody .
Nahawand describes how she sat in her Baghdad home next to the radio, listening to Iraqi radio, when the famous Yaba Yaba Schlon Ayoun song came out. The song ended and she was surprised by the voice of the announcer who said: “You were with the singer Nahawand. ” The poor woman did not know that it was her voice, and she danced around her house alone. The voice of Nahawand in this song moved to a new stage. She developed her ability to sing and no longer fall in the euphoria of making her voice read faintly, and added the Iraqi dialect to create a kind of magic . The Iraqi dialect had rekindled the new Baghdadi rhythm, so some thought it was a new Iraqi singer.
In Fi Ayn Ya Lail, the first song that Nahawand sang in simple dialect, her voice seemed clearer. If we close our eyes and try to imagine the form of the singer we will get the image of a woman in her 40s mounting the stage with confidence and singing with a strong voice. The poem was accompanied by a lot of interpretations about who wrote and melody. Some attributed it to Saif al-Din and w’Layi, although Saif al-Din was famous for writing songs in the simple Iraqi dialect. Others attributed it to the Iraqi poet Ali al-Sharqi, who came close to this style of words, with the song Fi Ayn Ya Lail, and clearly manifested in his poem “Wedding Candle”, but nothing official confirms the reference of the words to him. Information about the identity of the composer also fluctuated, and some of the novels were likely to be composed by Munir Bashir, and some came to say that it was composed by Nahawand. But other said that the song is on the sikah and therefore there is not necessarily a composer. All that Nahawand needed was to control the place and find the appropriate poem, and she seduced the audience to a stage that many avoided. If we compare her voice to the voice of Yousef Omar, which is more than the finest of directing the Iraqi Maqamat and twisting in its mold, we find that it touched the song in its own way and increased the beauty of it.
During the 1940s, 50s and 60s Nahawand was a star to equal Sabah and Fairuz. She sang for Kings at palaces across the Arab world, in theatres in Beirut, Aleppo, Damascus, Baghdad and Cairo. She recorded 70 songs, which were played on rotation on the Lebanese National Radio, at a time when singers were rated by their radio output and when the average artist had around 30.
Nahawand appeared in three Egyptian films and was contracted for more. And then suddenly she was gone …
In the period spent in Iraq, Nahawand continued to visit Syria, until she married an influential Syrian man who prevented her from traveling and singing for many years: “He banned my songs from the radio and burned my photos with the celebrities. His brother-in-law was an interior minister in Syria. They wanted to teach me a lesson. They broke my future and my Life .”
Nahawand disappeared after the marriage, and her voice remained captive until her husband died and she returned to Beirut.
Nahawand did not hide from marriage despite this harsh experience. She returned to Beirut and loved a Lebanese man this time. Her new husband did not stop her from singing, but made her stay in Lebanon impossible. “He was my reason for traveling to America, he met another woman and loved her, and put me in a house of obedience. I traveled to forget him.”
So she left Lebanon and with a wounded heart, arrived in Brazil and sat on the sidewalk of a Sao Paulo alley.
Hours later, a Lebanese man found her. She told him her story and he helped her find a place to live and work in a Lebanese restaurant, where she returned to sing the “Ataba and Majana”. She stayed in Sao Paulo about 15 years. The Lebanese community there loved her and followed her from place to place and from party to party. But she did not sing new songs. After a period of time, she recorded a bar in which she sang a melody, and it spread widely in Brazil .
In the mid-nineties, Laurette decided to return to her hometown and her people, and settle in Lebanon again, to start again, a new journey late in proving itself .
“Nahawand they call me, to the throne they put me, then they forgot me ” – With this song, Laurette returned with her weary body of aches and tragedies. The Lebanese producer Michel Alvitriadas saw her in her only interview and decided to bring her back to the stage, even though she was in her late seventies. Her voice was strong, and she had acquired an unexpected maturity and vitality.
It was not the oud or the xylophone this time. Alvitriadas decided to return Nahawand with a new and different arrangement.
For Alvitriadas, the sound of the electronic instruments was louder than the sound that tries to match the fast rhythm. This is what Alvitriadas preferred to use to attract a new audience and achieve commercial success. But despite all the noise, the noise of the guitars and the absence of Oriental machines, Nahawand managed to infiltrate .
In the Jbail festivals in 2001, organized by Alvitriadas, Nahawand first appeared on the stage of Jbail, and proved that her age attracted the audience. Alvitriadas asked her to start performing concerts at the Music Hall, one of the most famous night clubs in Beirut, where most of the audience is less than half her age.
She performed two more opening performances at Byblos in 2002 and 2003 followed, a massive show at the Al Madina Festival in Tunis in 2004, regular nights at Music Hall since it opened its doors also in 2004, and perhaps her biggest gig at the 2006 International Francophone Summit held in Romania. At the latter she performed in front of an 8,000 strong crowd including heads of state including French President Jacques Chirac, and received a ten minute standing ovation.
Perhaps it is that emotion combined with an incredible natural talent that makes her such a comprehensive, powerful singer. She has the gift of taking a normal classical Arabic song and making it special, making it tarab – the state of ecstasy aroused in the listener when they hear this form of song that was best personified in the voice of Um Kulthoum. Tarab is also the higher state of consciousness Sufi Muslims aim to reach with their chanting and dance.
In 2002, former President Emile Lahoud awarded Nahawand Laurette Keyrouz the Lebanese Order of Merit.
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