x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

The Rahbani Brothers' lasting musical legacy

The legendary family's history will be celebrated as part of the Abu Dhabi Festival.

Oussama Rahbani will perform pieces from the family's history. Courtesy Abu Dhabi Festival
Oussama Rahbani will perform pieces from the family's history. Courtesy Abu Dhabi Festival

More than 60 years ago, Arabic and classical music were poles apart. And it was at that time that the Rahbani Brothers began demonstrating that the two genres can coexist.

The Beirut-based family of music composers was the first to successfully inject orchestral flavours to Arabic pop, which went on to be performed by legends including the Lebanese songstress Fairuz and Egypt's Mohammed Abdel Wahab.

The family's influential history will be celebrated tonight as part of the Abu Dhabi Festival.

In a commissioned piece, Oussama and Ghadi Rahbani are set to enchant audiences with a selection of pieces from the family's history in addition to performing their own solo works.

Backed by the National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine, The Rahbani Legacy will also include singers such as Ghassan Saliba, Hiba Tawaji and Elie Khayat.

"It will be a mixture representing who we are and the story of the Rahbani family," Oussama says.

"The performers that are coming are trained by us and they all have amazing voices and have starred in many lead roles in Arabic theatre productions."

Oussama's confidence in his vocalists stems from the family's legendary knack of finding quality singers. He puts it down to the family's tough-as-nails approach to training and says it takes more than good looks and a decent voice to survive the Rahbani teaching regimen.

"Your voice has to have character; that's one of the keys to success and this is what will distinguish you from the rest," he explains. "You have to have intelligence to withstand the intensity. It is a very challenging experience. If some people don't like it, well, there are plenty of television programmes they can join."

A former student himself, Oussama says his boyhood training eliminated all sense of pre-performance nerves.

"There is no pressure as we grew up under pressure and the strains of performing," he says. "The most important thing that we were taught is to present a performance that is up to the standard. Then the next challenge is how to raise that bar. As an artist, you ask yourself if you are happy at this level or do you want it to go to the next stage."

Oussama says the quest to raise the level results in good old-fashioned competition between himself and Ghadi.

"It keeps us pushing forward," he says. "That's part of the beauty of being an artist. It always keeps you evolving."

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The Rahbani Legacy by Oussama and Ghadi Rahbani is performed tonight at the Emirates Palace Auditorium at 8pm. Tickets cost from Dh295 at www.timeouttickets.com

sasaeed@thenational.ae