Sultry Lebanese singer Haifa Wehbe’s cover of “Beirut Love” is one of those tunes you just put on and find yourself singing for the whole day.
I was fascinated to discover that only time she performed it was at a free concert in May 2008 to celebrate a political settlement that resolved conflict and brought normalcy back to Beirut. Apparently Wehbe never sang the song again, and has never profited from it.
The original version of Beirut Love was recorded by Lebanese diva Fairuz, and while some say Haifa’s voice may not be as impacting, I find the beauty of the lyrics and the timing of her performance at the free concert deeply admirable.
A Fresh New Voice for Lebanon
Ms. Wehbe’s an interesting cat. A Shiite Muslim, born in a small farming town in southern Lebanon, she shot to fame as a model, and won the title of Miss South Lebanon at the age of sixteen. She won an ancillary title at the Miss Lebanon competition, which she had to give up as she was disqualified for having already been married and therefore not a “Miss”. In 2006, she featured in People Magazine’s 50 most beautiful people.
Haifa launched her musical career in 2002, and her first album, Houwa El-Zaman (“It Is Time”) became a hit, in part thanks to the popularity of her first single “Agoul Ahwak” (“I Say I Love You”).
Politics and freedom have always been issues close to Haifa’s heart. Her second album Baddi Eesh (“I Want to Live”) was released in 2005 and its lead single “Ya Hayat Alb·i.” was a huge success. Released after the assassination of Lebanese politician Rafik Hariri, the album’s title single speaks of “freedom, considered to be among the most basic of human rights.”
Taking The Name of the Nation Abroad
Wehbe was the first Arab artist appear on the Italian TV channel Rai Uno in Rome, performing in front of celebrities and fashion designers and has since performed with artists from outside the Arab world. In 2006, she became the first artist in the Arab world to perform with rapper 50 Cent when she opened for his first concert in Lebanon, at BIEL in Beirut.
All in all, I think she’s a strong and powerful voice for her country, and as you can see by the moving lyrics to Beirut Love, Lebanon is clearly her dearest and greatest love.
They closed the roads, they dimmed the signs
They planted the canons and deserted the grounds
Where are you my love? Still my love?
We became the screaming love, we became the distances
We miss those happy days
The days when we stayed up late in the streets
Crowded roads and long drives
and we met in the old restaurant
Oh love of Beirut, Oh love of the days
Come back Beirut, and those days will be back
The next summer came, the moon is still broken
Do you think you will forget me, my sad love?
I came back home, I couldn’t find my house
It was in smoke, with no flowers and no fence
They are disappearing
Lost under the night’s sky
Where do you think the friends will be?
Where will the tears and the tenderness be?