BEIRUT: “I spend most of the year in self-isolation composing but this time is a little special and we have an opportunity to think and reflect,” Lebanese-Canadian composer and pianist Steve Barakatt joked. “We can still work, creating new ideas and content.”
At a time some consider to be among the most turbulent in Lebanon’s modern history, the country this year celebrates its 100th anniversary. To mark the centenary, Barakatt has spent the last few months creating an anthem titled “Motherland,” amidst protests against the political class, demands for reform, economic collapse and, most recently, a pandemic.
“The country needs a good vibe and positive energy and our responsibility as musicians is to bring something positive,” the self-isolated Barakatt told The Daily Star over the phone. “It’s necessary and I know the challenges are real and will not be easy to overcome. It’s a crisis in a crisis, but it’s essential to have faith and the 100th anniversary will carry on regardless so we needed to do something for it.”
Born and raised in Canada from a family of Lebanese decent, Barakatt visited Lebanon on several occasions, including an official visit as UNICEF Canada Ambassador in 2008 to present the UNICEF International Anthem, a musical work he composed to mark the 20th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
“I’ve been asked on several occasions to write anthems for organization and cities ... When I wrote the UNICEF anthem in 2008 it was a very profound and meaningful experience,” he said. “This time, as a Lebanese, I was very touched by the situation now.
“My relationship with Lebanon was rather poetic. It started at an early age when I was in Canada and I always had this deep desire to reconnect with Lebanese culture and I had the chance to discover Lebanon later,” Barakatt added. “I felt the need to connect and say thank you to my ancestors. The Barakatt family were musicians and transmitted my passion for music so it was already in me to try and give back, with a very personal and artistic initiative.”
Barakatt’s instrumental number weaves together a delicate piano melody for the main theme, bolstered by an oriental-style accompaniment with a wind, percussion and string section. Forgoing the usual brass sections that are often part of national anthems, “Homeland” instead incorporates the sounds of tablas, nays and ouds.
Blending the scales of western music for the piano and the Arabic maqams for the rest, the anthem celebrates Lebanon’s international medley of cultural influences over the years. The finale combines the various elements for a grand finish, introducing a few brassy tones for that typical national anthem feel.
Gathering Lebanese musicians Rony Barrack (percussion), Wissam Abdelnour (oud) and Joseph Karam (nay), the anthem features the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra, as conducted by Nic Raine.
Recorded by Grammy-winning engineer Jan Holzner, who has worked with Adele and Toni Braxton, the anthem is set for digital release this year. The music video will be directed by Lebanon’s Badry Moujais.
“I wanted to express the joie de vivre [zest for life] and the Lebanese spirit and I know the country has faced so much in the last 100 years and wanted to stay artistic and propose something that could bring pride, without having a particular or political message,” Barakatt said. “I’m an idealistic person and I wanted to stay authentic to the real roots of Lebanon.
“The music will be able to reach everybody in the digital world we live in and be able to listen to it, without knowing how the world will be in a few weeks or months,” he added. “I wish to perform it live with an ensemble. We’re taking about doing a release event to make the launch official, but for now, considering the situation, the digital platform will allow it to travel all around the world.”