It’s clear that this reissue of Wahdon is marketed to those with a taste for Middle Eastern-tinged disco and funk.
Recognized as the most popular living Lebanese artist, Fairuz’s career spans more than half a century. Hers is a sound firmly rooted in her homeland, built on Middle Eastern instrumentation, modalities, religious sentiment and a deep love of her region and country, if not necessarily its politics. Beginning in the late-‘40s and having released her most recent album within the last several years, Fairuz has been an unstoppable creative force in Lebanese music who has flitted back and forth between spiritual and secular music for the better part of her career. While she has long found herself more comfortable in the spiritual, it’s her forays into a more secularized format that has resulted in some of the most recognizable Middle Eastern music to Western listeners. Indeed, the primary draw to 1979’s Wahdon for such ears will be its B side, which incorporates Fairuz’s classic, decidedly-Eastern phrasing into a contemporary Western framework of disco and funk.
For instance, “Al Bostah” (“The Bus”), a revered cult classic, sounds very much a product of its time in production and instrumentation. But with Fairuz’s haunting vocals carrying the otherwise straightforward arrangement, it becomes something far more profound, almost surreal in its effortless mixing of Eastern and Western modalities within a highly commercialized context. The searing strings, pulsating bass and skittering drums make it a rhythmic and melodic delight that, at nearly nine minutes, never once overstays its welcome.
If anything, the album’s second half feels more like a release by Ziad Rahbani (Fairuz’s son with Assi of the revered Rahbani Brothers), with Fairuz’s vocals on top. “Al Bosta” and the title track both sound like a continuation of the sessions that produced his Abu Ali, made when he was 22. We Want Sounds saw fit to release this album recently as well, and with good reason–they were cut concurrently in Greece using much of the same late-‘70s studio session vibe throughout. It’s a stark contrast to the album’s more traditionally-minded first side, but shows Rahbani’s strength as composer, arranger and producer.
With his father having largely succumbed to the deleterious effects of a brain hemorrhage six years prior, Ziad here steps into the role previously occupied by his father through much of his mother’s career, bringing with him a decidedly more modern sound and feel, much to the delight of crate diggers everywhere. According to accompanying press materials, this modernization of the beloved Lebanese diva’s sound was not terribly well-received by longtime fans, the secular nature of the lyrics raising concern given their unvarnished looks at love. Listening now, this all seems rather innocuous.
However, when heard in contrast to the album’s first side, featuring a sound more familiar to Fairuz’s devotees, it’s easy to see how jarring this would’ve seemed at the time. Opening track “Habaitak Ta Neseet Al Naoum” (“I Loved You so Much I Forgot to Sleep”) is all Eastern strings and Fairuz’s fluttering vocals built around an incessant, percussive backing. Meanwhile, “Baatilak” rides a minor key melodic figure that at times seems to borrow brief melodic fragments from the Beatles’ “Within You Without You.” “Ana Indi Haneen” (“I’m Nostalgic”) again relies heavily on traditional strings and heavy percussion, rounding out the album’s trio of more classically-informed material.
And while it’s all pleasant listening, without a deeper understanding of the region’s musical history it comes off as little more than that. It’s clear that this reissue of Wahdon is marketed to those with a taste for Middle Eastern-tinged disco and funk, but it may well help serve as a key entry point into the more traditionally-minded aspects of Fairuz’s storied career. Regardless, the B side is well worth the price of admission for all those adventurous listeners looking for something a little more eclectic to wrap their ears around.