Lebanon’s maestro Elias Rahbani dies, leaves six-decade legacy

Elias was the youngest brother of celebrated musicians Mansour and Assi Rahbani, known together as the Rahbani brothers.
Tuesday 05/01/2021
A 2000 file shows Lebanese maestro Elias Rahbani conducts his orchestra during a concert at the Casino du Liban. (AFP)
A 2000 file shows Lebanese maestro Elias Rahbani conducts his orchestra during a concert at the Casino du Liban. (AFP)

BEIRUT--Elias Rahbani, who wrote songs for Lebanon’s most revered singer Fairouz among many others, died on Monday at the age of 83, local media reported.

Elias was the youngest brother of celebrated musicians Mansour and Assi Rahbani, known together as the Rahbani brothers.

Fairouz’s songs, written by the Rahbanis, were listened to across religious and factional divides throughout Lebanon’s 1975-1990 civil war and they continue to transcend divisions in Lebanon and beyond.

“Another branch from the Rahbani tree falls after a journey full of refined music production,” Prime Minister-designate Saad al Hariri wrote on Twitter.

The Rahbanis’ music and lyrics have drawn admiration from across the Arab world.

In a career spanning almost six decades, Elias Rahbani wrote music for many famous Lebanese singers including the late Wadih al-Safi and Sabah.

“Your departure takes with it a large part of the romanticism of our wounded country,” Lebanese singer Ragheb Alama said.

Elias was the younger brother of Mansour and Assi Rahbani, the Arab world’s iconic musical duo known as the Rahbani Brothers, who wrote music and plays for Fairouz and other celebrities. Assi Rahbani, who was married to Fairouz, died in 1985, while Mansour passed away in 2009.

The three brothers were pioneers of a Lebanese golden age of music and culture, before the country was plunged into a lengthy civil war in the mid- 1970s. Many Lebanese still start their day listening to their songs and see them as uniting figures, beloved across the country’s divided political spectrum.

Born into a musical family in the town of Antelias, north of Beirut, Elias quickly forged a path for himself in the music industry. He often worked with his brothers but went on to compose his own songs for veteran Lebanese artists including Fairouz, Sabah, Melhem Barakat, Majida al-Roumi and others.

Elias Rahbani distinguished himself from his brothers, who were the industry’s best known duo, with his more modern styles and mix of Middle Eastern and Western music that won him international awards. He wrote some of Fairouz’ best hits, as well as the music and lyrics for many patriotic songs.

Rahbani composed hundreds of songs and music for the theater and the soundtracks to dozens of films and TV series, including “Habibati,” or my Love, “The Night Player.”

Local and Arab media reported that Rahbani had been taken ill with COVID-19 a few days ago and died in a Beirut hospital after battling COVID-19, his family said.

Rahbani was hospitalised last week suffering low oxygen after he contracted the coronavirus and succumbed to COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus, on Monday.