Elias Rahbani: Dance of Maria
From Mosaic of the Orient (EMI Lebanon, 1972)

Some really far-flung, disparate regions have seen the rare groove reissue treatment in recent years. Scandinavia, the former Eastern Bloc, North Africa, the Far East, South America: they all seemed to have their pioneering clusters of mad musical geniuses and jazz iconoclasts in the ‘60s and ‘70s, and it’s been fabulous to have their respective musical riches brought again to the surface like so many Concepción ducats. Soul Sides readers might remember O-Dub’s September 2006 feature on the Turkish dancer Ozel Turkbas, and Turkey, too, has seen some attention recently (see the insane, insane Mustafa Ozkent and Selda reissues on Finders Keepers, for example). Which finally brings us around to nearby Lebanon and this loopy bit of Levant pop.

In 1972 you’d still come across references to Beirut as “The Paris of the Middle East“ in current issues of National Geographic; the city was, after all, the region’s nerve center of television, cinema, and radio. And Lebanese pop wunderkind Elias Rahbani was squarely in the middle of it all. His “Song of Maria” works precisely because of its cosmopolitan soul: it’s Eastern melody with Western circuitry, experimentalism with a sense of pop humor, and it’s crammed with flowing Farfisa organ lines, electric bass, keyboards that aren’t mizmars but sound exactly like them, bouzoukis, guitars, and even a few choice moments for you breakbeat aficionados. But, then again, this was 1972, a ravaging decade and a half of civil war was still a few years away, and, as far as Rahbani was concerned, there was room for all of it inside the pleasure dome.

The Lebanese Civil War sent the city’s artistic, intellectual, and musical life fleeing in droves to cities like Cairo and Paris. As of at least 2005, however, Elias Rahbani was still residing in Lebanon; with a prodigious career as a pianist, lyricist, producer, arranger, and pop and classical composer, Rahbani now does what any aging Lebanese hipster would do – he hosts SuperStar (سوبر ستار), the Arabic version of American Idol. It’s a show that, personally, I’d give my eye teeth to see. We wish him the best of luck.

–Little Danny (
Office Naps)