American University of Beirut

President's Speech - Majida El Roumi

President Peter Dorman's speech
introducing Majida El Roumi 
June 27, 2009 

An incomparable musical voice for Lebanon was born in the city of Kfarshima in 1956, a voice not only wedded to her art but to her personal conviction in the dignity of the human spirit. Majida El Roumi grew up in a highly educated family, whose members were blessed with musical talent. Her childhood home in Kfarshima was filled with singers, musicians, poets, and writers-figures such as the song writer Philemon Wehbi, the singer-composer Melhem Barakat, and the composer Issam Rajj. Though her family was aware of her extraordinary talents, the wider public discovered her vocal brilliance when she was just 17 years of age, when she was persuaded to enter Tele Liban's Studio el Fan talent show against the wishes of her father, and was promptly awarded first prize for best female singer. Her public career was suddenly launched. 

At the same time the cultured environment of her youth was being disrupted by the growing civil war in Lebanon, although El Roumi was able to complete her BA at the Lebanese University in 1975. That same year saw the appearance of her first, and hugely popular, single, Amm Bahlamak Ya Helm Ya Lubnan (I dream of you, O Lebanon), and in 1976 she he starred in the award-winning film directed by Youssef Chahine, Awdat al ibn al dal (The return of the prodigal son), for which she earned the Egyptian Critics' Award. 

Between 1977 and 2006, her release of 12 CDs and disks brought her worldwide renown. While initially performing in concerts primarily in the Arab world, from Morocco to Oman, she soon branched out further abroad, including venues in New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, Europe, and Australia. Her crystalline voice has graced festivals in the Arab region, including Beiteddine, Jerash, Bosra, and Carthage, as well as the Cairo Opera House and New York's Lincoln Center. 

More significantly, her interpretation of words and rhythms are linked to her passionate response to significant causes. Majida El Roumi has always been firmly opposed to the Israeli occupation of Lebanon and Palestinian lands. While giving a concert in Beirut in April 2002, she asserted, "What is going on now in Palestine is a crime against humanity, and I am here to say a final 'No!' to the Israeli occupation. To the Palestinians, I say, 'Our hearts are with you; our souls are with you; justice is with you, and the land will always be yours.'" Following the brutal destruction and deaths of civilians during the Israeli bombing of the town of Qana in southern Lebanon in 1996, she produced the eponymous song, "Qana." During some of the darkest hours of the Lebanese civil war her songs gave hope and inspiration to her listeners. 

Her close personal friend, the Syrian poet Nizar Qabbani, whose poems she has put to song, spoke of her character as follows: "I liked her thoughts and her clarity of mind before loving her velvety voice . . . [She] resembles me in depth as a rebel. She's promising; she feels and intelligently understands the word, which is a rare quality. I believe Lebanon is in great need of her . . ." 

Throughout her career Majida El Roumi has been recognized with innumerable awards and honors, not only for her extraordinary voice, but for her work as a human rights activist. She has been referred to as "a symbol of patriots in Lebanon and an idol for global audiences." 

The music and personality of Majida El Roumi continue to move and inspire the people of Lebanon, the Arab world, and beyond. May they always do so. 

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