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Ziad Rahbani Interview, translated by Ali Abou Dayya 3 Aug 2010

Ziad RahbaniZiad el Rahbani: An artist by all means, writing, composing, and acting.

He is the son of Assi Al Rahbani and Feiruz; born on the 1st of January 1956.

His first appearance on stage was in the play " Mays al Reem ". His first personal work was 1973, a play named "Sahriyye". Then "Nazl el Sorour" 1948 where he was established as a gifted play writer.

His other plays and musical works then followed, securing him a lead position in the Lebanese artistic scene.

1- What did you inherit from Assi Al Rahbani?

In terms of art, everything. My father used to spend a lot of time teaching me differences between chords and notes that I only realized their importance later on as I progressed with my career in the arts.

2- How do you describe your relationship to Feiruz?

Our relationship is very difficult especially when it comes to live performances. During trainings, I would find Feiruz singing a wrong note or disagreeing with me regarding a certain distribution or production issue and that would create a major problem as to the case of how can a person argue against his mother? It is a difficult situation. We'd similarly have this situation with Assi when Feiruz and myself would disagree with Assi regarding the flow of a certain symphony. Assi always favored the simple tunes that can be easily memorized by the audience rather than heavily intonated and extravagant pieces.

3- It seems that throughout your career you have tried to make a name for yourself independently from your father and mother that was a difficult task, how did you do it?

This question needs to be reviewed, I did not intend to deviate from The Rahbani's work. Instead I perceive myself as building upon the works of my predecessors. Jazz music in Lebanon has a problem of weak marketing and production. As an avid follower of international music, I noticed that oriental instruments can fit perfectly into jazz pieces and that's what I set my mind to work on. Consequently, Assi's influence on myself and his great capabilities led to my success in the world of music and play writing.

4- Your genuine musicĀ  has not been classified into a specific genre but many refer to it as oriental jazz. Under what genre do you classify your music?

I don't like to call it oriental jazz, it is classical jazz. The scales I play at are under the classical jazz genre. Sometimes I propose certain variations to accommodate for the capabilities of oriental instruments such as the Oud or the qanoun yet they would still be classified as classical jazz scales.

5- Why do musicians go to Greece or somewhere else to record their music?

Shortage of skilled musicians and more importantly musical rights. The law is very weak in Lebanon and music is considered as an undignified accessory. In my trip to Greece, I was recording a 3.5 minutes piece. I took something around 20 minutes to record this piece which entailed a preliminary reading, one time practice and then a successful record. Regarding the musical rights, in Lebanon we are very limited in terms of rights, so limited to an extent that our musical dreams are limited as well. The state has neglected the importance of musician's rights and music can be easily stolen amongst various artists some of the frauds. Hence musicians will go to where the law protects their rights and thus musicians will go to Greece or any other country to have their rights protected.

6- So it's just an issue of governance?

It is more than that, it has to do on all aspects of life socially and then governmentally. In other countries a person can be a musician as a job not as a hobby. Music is dealt with in a manner similar to science, a symphony well written is similar to an important doctorate; that is in other countries. In Lebanon, one has to work three jobs to support himself, one of them would have to be his music. Another issue the absence of higher educational institutes for music. When I finished school, I didn't want to specialize in anything but music, finding out that all of this is unavailable frustrated me.

7- Why are you outside the musical scene?

A sequence of events lead to this situation. My case is similar to the case of all of the students that have left their schools and universities due to the regional situation. My study of music was interrupted by the war. I was under the supervision of a very talented foreign Maestro, he tried to come teach me in western Beirut a few times then he decided not to go further because of the dangers he faced every day. These dangers a musician cannot tolerate because he has to go from place to place and play. Thus, the factors of absence of enforcement of musician's rights, the low wages for musicians and the absence of security in this country have lead to a decline in the music industry.
The fact that I have to support myself through music has not allowed me to work on the "oriental jazz" project. This is the case in Lebanon, when you work to support yourself through music, there would be no time for creativity.

8- What happened to your play writing?

You can't force people to be creative. The issue is that producers demand complete works on a very short notice. Yet in order to deliver high quality plays, time must be taken for writing, producing, practice, casting etc... Hence I cannot produce such plays on very short notice, and I have no financial capability to support myself for at least 2 years per play.