JOUNIEH, Lebanon: The first edition of the Jounieh International Festival got off to a cracking start at Fouad Shihab Stadium Saturday evening with a patriotic concert by Majida al-Roumi. Appropriately enough, a number of (otherwise rival) politicians attended. Eye witness reports suggest the politicians enjoyed the show as much as everyone else.
The evening’s entertainment started with “Saufa Nabqa” (We will stay), one of her many much-loved tunes of the evening – this one with lyrics composed by Saeed Aql.
After this opening number, the white-clad Roumi made a small speech, during which she said she was very happy that several political leaders had gathered for the concert. Among the noted politicians in attendance were President Michel Sleiman, Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun and Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea.
Roumi is known to sing about her great love for Lebanon, freedom and human dignity. Her Saturday evening playlist was comprised of a selection of tunes from her old and new repertoires. She paid tribute to her father with the song “Sa’alouna” (They asked us). She also belted out a version of her song her new song “Lebanon,” whose lyrics she wrote herself.
Roumi herself was born in the village of Kfarshima in 1957 but her father, the prominent Palestinian-born musician Halim al-Roumi, was born in Nasra (Nazareth) in 1919. The elder Roumi migrated to Lebanon in 1936, the year that Palestine’s Great Revolt against the British Mandate commenced. Though Roumi has been known to sing emotionally charged songs devoted to occupied Palestine, this evening she focused on her patriotic Lebanese songs.
Though no numbers were released confirming whether the concert was performed before a capacity audience, anecdotal evidence suggests that the 3,500-seat stadium was densely populated for the show. One report pointed out that the audience began to fill the stadium at 7 p.m., anxious not to miss the 9:30 p.m. curtain call.
Accompanying Roumi’s Saturday evening show was an orchestra led by Elie al-Alia, who, like Roumi herself, is a protégé of Lebanese music impresario Simon al-Asmar, as well as a large contingent of dabke dancers.
As has become conventional for performances of this type nowadays, Roumi’s soaring vocal pyrotechnics were also accompanied by video displays projected against a giant screen.
More unusual, indeed unique to this show, were the performances of Lebanese pantomime experts Faik Humassi and Aida Sabra – whom, it seems, really impressed their audience with their miming along to songs like “Biddi Ilak” (I want to tell you) and “Itazalet al-gharam” (I quit love).
It isn’t unusual for Roumi’s soaring vocals to inspire ecstatic responses from her audience members, and after her famous song “Kalimaat” (words), one spectator was heard to shout, “May you live and sing, Majida!”
After the show was done, Sleiman indoctrinated the vocalist into the Order of the Cedars, the highest honor that can be bestowed upon a citizen by the Lebanese state. – The Daily Star
Street performances and other outdoor activities continue, at various venues, within the framework of the Jounieh International Festival until July 3.