In times of national pain, music can often help the healing; and Lebanon has seen more than its fair share of conflict and trauma.
As a result, its musicians have released a monumental body of work over the last 50 years that has not only inspired generations, but has also often provided a level of truth-telling rarely demonstrated by leaders.
The country is once again in the grips of crisis after the devastating August 4 explosion, compounded by its spiraling economy,
And so the Lebanese people, again, are in the position of having to get back on their feet. And here lies the importance of its artists.
From the civil war and other multiple conflicts to the turmoil of the present, Lebanese musicians have always played a key role in encouraging resilience among the people.
Their songs for country are not your typical patriotic anthems: they are more soulful and humane.
With lyrics that appeal to high ideals, these songs point the way forward in times of uncertainty.
From legendary artists Wadih Al Safi and Fairuz to modern day singers Ragheb Alama and Assi El Hallani, here are nine stirring odes to Lebanon.
1. ‘Ma’lesih Ya Lebnan' by Wadih Al Safi
If there is single quality defining both Lebanon and its people, it is resilience. With Ma'lesh Ya Lebnan (It's Okay, Lebanon) the late, great Wadih Al Safi created a song that has acted as a balm for his homeland over the decades.
A reason for the song’s enduring power is the understated manner in which Al Safi sings the lyrics, written by Shukri Nasrallah. Al Safi’s mountainous tenor is replaced by a gruff and almost conversational style that allows the words to hit home harder.
“It’s okay, O ‘Lebanon, what's important is that you remain strong," he begins. "We may be hungry, that's okay / We may be dying, that's okay. What's important is that you live O ‘Lebanon.
2. ‘Bahebak Ya Lebnan’ by Fairuz
In the mid-1970s when Lebanon was in the midst of its bloody civil war, songstress Fairuz delivered this heart-stopping track that argued for a moment of reflection amid the carnage.
“I love you Lebanon my country,” the song opens. “They said what goes on in the land of festivals, strewn as it is with fire and dynamite? / I said our land is being reborn / The Lebanon of dignity and a people that perseveres / How could I help loving you? / Even in your madness I love you.”
3. ‘Beirut, Set El Donya’ by Majida El Roumi
The Lebanese singer Majida El Roumi turned this poem by Syrian writer Nizar Qabbani into an uplifting and orchestral ode to Lebanon.
Released in 1995, the track is as much a love letter as a note of condolence to a city that has seen too much violence over the years. "We confess now: we were not fair to you nor merciful," El Roumi sings. "We did not understand you or excuse you. We presented you a knife instead of a rose."
4. ‘Habibetna Ya Beirut’ by Ragheb Alama
Sometimes, lyrics can say so much more than standard words.
In one his first remarks after the Beirut explosion, singer Ragheb Alama simply posted lyrics from Habibetna Ya Beirut (Our Beloved, Beirut). Released in the mid-eighties, the song highlights Beirut's capacity to overcome war with its trademark energy and zeal.
The song concludes with this evocative description: "O Beirut, your soil is a bed of jasmine and silk.”
5. ‘Ghabet Shams El Haq’ by Julia Boutros
This track is seared into the memory of those who lived through the civil war. Released in 1985, the defiant lyrics take aim at the presence of Israeli soldiers in southern Lebanon at the time.
“The home shall remain ours,” Boutros coos over soulful strings and regional percussion. “And the laurel tree will once again bloom with pride upon your earth, oh south”
6. ‘Rajeh Yittammar’ by Zaki Nassif
Another song that's timely three decades on. In the middle of the civil war, when much of the country was destroyed, Nassif released this optimistic ode to recovery..
Translated to 'Lebanon will be rebuilt,’ Nassif cities examples of the country’s diverse landscape and its strong citizens as reasons for its survival.
"You will be rebuilt, Lebanon," goes the key refrain. "It will be more green and beautiful than it once was."
7. ‘Beirut’ by Assi El Hellani
One of the best of El Hellani's many patriotic tracks. At nearly eight minutes long, this epic track is a trip through memory lane as he recalls his city's storied history and many golden qualities.
What makes it more powerful is that he intersperses those rallying lyrics with personal snapshots of his youth in a country he calls "his greatest love.”
8. ‘Lebnan Al Dunya Koulaha’ by Sabah
From sunny city streets and gardens to its calm lakes and snow-flecked mountains, in Lebnan A Dunya Koulaha (Lebanon is the whole world), singer and actress Sabah tells us that her small homeland is home to all the earth's natural wonders: "Lebanon, my country Lebanon... a paradise"
9. Li Beirut by Fariuz
Released not long after Lebanon emerged from its civil war, this song (translated to For Beirut) remains the quintessential anthem of the city.
Like a mother tending to her wounded child, Fairuz's crystalline vocals are etched with pain and love for a city that has seen so much pain, but somehow managed to survive.
"She is made from the people’s soul, from wine,” Fairuz declares. “She is from his sweat, from bread and jasmine. So what does her taste become? A taste of fire and smoke.”