American Univesity of Beirut

Music of our giants celebrated, preserved and passed on

​Sally Abou Melhem, Office of Communcations,​

​​In line with its mission to preserve and promote the musical heritage of Zaki Nassif, and to foster excellence in the teaching of music by contributing to its advancement, the AUB Zaki Nassif Program for Music (ZNPM) is shedding light on an era of Arabic music renaissance, extending between the 1950s and 1970s. This era featured several of Lebanon’s most celebrated composers including Zaki Nassif, the Rahbani brothers, Romeo Lahoud, and Walid Gholmieh and iconic singers such as Fairouz, Sabah, Wadi’ Al Safi, Nasri Chamsedine, among several others, who have contributed to a major development of Lebanese and Arabic music and the preservation of our cultural heritage.

A Cultural Program Committee from the Zaki Nassif Program Friends Club oversees the activities of the ZNPM and helps raise funds to sustain the program. On that basis, the ZNPM organizes and facilitates different activities and initiatives. This includes competitions, concerts, conferences, seminars, presentations by professional performers and scholars, fellowships, scholarships, prizes, as well as seeking to initiate new courses and programs in Lebanese and Oriental music at AUB.

Chairperson of the Zaki Nassif Program for Music, Dr. Nabil Nassif spoke to us about the work being implemented by the program. “Honoring our musicians, honoring our composers, it’s a long task, it’s a long cycle. We have so many people who have contributed, and went now in the shadows. We have to bring them back, because they have done things that have to be brought back to the memory of our new generations. This is something that is part of our mission.”

Tributes to the giants

The ZNPM has organized several concerts as tributes to honor the great musicians of the Arabic music renaissance era: Zaki Nassif on the occasion of his centennial in February 2016, Salwa Al Katrib and Romeo Lahoud in February 2017, Sabah in May 2017, Walid Gholmieh in June 2017, and most recently, a tribute to Nasri Chamsedine in February 2018. More tributes will be organized as the list of contributors to the regions’ musical heritage goes on.
Nassif talked about the wide range of people to be looked into, explaining that by doing this we are reclaiming our national music and cultural heritage. “This part of the world has been rich, and somehow we have to dig this rich heritage and bring it back to the public,” said Nassif.

The tributes are performed by the ZNPM’s Arabic Ensemble, in which a number of talented AUB students, staff, and alumni come together as vocalists and musicians to perform under the baton of Retired General Herro pieces from the Lebanese and Arabic musical heritage.

Archiving for future generations

In January 2008, Zaki Nassif’s musical notes of published and unpublished songs were transferred to AUB's Jafet Library, for preservation in the university archives. In June 2017, Walid Gholmieh’s rich archive—which included recordings, photos, musical notes, and some writings—was also donated to the AUB University Libraries. In February 2018, after the Tribute to Nasri Chamsedine event, Chamsedine’s son announced that the family is donating a copy of his father’s archive to AUB as well.

In a conversation with associate university librarian for archives and special collections, Dr. Kaoukab Chebaro, about the importance of preserving such archives, she said, “In many ways music is a kind of crystallization of various aspects of any culture, of any society, and it is also a very fragile medium, because it is part of intangible heritage.” She continued, “There is a lack of awareness about preservation of our cultural heritage in the region, sadly, specifically about people-based material.” She said that words, rhythm, as well as manner of dissemination and consumption, are all very telling aspects of any culture. Chebaro added, “It is really important to preserve this heritage in all of these aspects for future generations.”
In addition to the importance of preserving this heritage, Chebaro explained why having it available at an academic institution is of great value. She explained that this would allow opening up the material and looking at in measured ways, away from the pulls of the market, and in ways which can valorize what she described as truly unique, a real contribution to society, and very genuine reflection of that society.

Transferring the knowledge through education

ZNPM collaborated with AUB’s Continuing Education Center (CEC) to create the Arabic and Oriental Music Studies Program at CEC, which offers intensive courses leading to a certificate and a diploma in Arabic and Oriental music practice. This music studies program aims to provide a balanced education between theoretical and practical aspects of Arabic and Oriental music. It is open to people of different ages, and no previous musical knowledge.

Dr. Nassif concluded the conversation about the ZNMP’s activities, reminding us of the bigger picture behind all the efforts and actions, which is “raising awareness about our musical heritage and teaching new generations the ownership of this heritage, and its transmittal for future generations.”

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