A quarterly specialized journal
The Message Of Folklore from Bahrain To The World

The historical background of the Levantine folk song "Alruzana": An analysis of Sabah Fakhri's performance of the song

Issue 60
The historical background of the Levantine folk song

Elias Budin 

Doctor of Musicology at the Higher Institute of Music in Tunis, Tunisia

In terms of the poetic legacy of the Levant, the folk song stands out. It's a traditional tune that first surfaced in the Levant and Syria at the turn of the nineteenth century AD and it quickly gained popularity in the lyrical theatre, live music venues and private celebrations throughout the country's urban centres and rural communities. One of the foundations of folklore is folk singing, which has its roots in folk poetry, whether it is sung in modern Standard Arabic or in a more regional or Bedouin dialect.

Rural and Bedouin songs, two of the most well-known types of folk music, are stylistically distinct from other types of folk music. There are two main types of national music: religious and national anthems; and satirical social songs.

The mawals of Dal'una, Ataba, Mijanah, Al Shruqi and others are just a few of the rural types of folk song.

As an example, the classic Levantine song "Alruzana” is widely regarded as one of the most beautiful folk songs due to the remarkable simplicity of its melody. Its widespread acclaim in the Levant at the turn of the last century and the subsequent revival of the song by Syrian vocalist Sabah Fakhri also played roles in my decision to use it as a case study. 

As a popular folk song in Syria, Lebanon and Palestine, “Alruzana" is well-known throughout the region. Many musicologists and authors have attempted to trace the history of this old Levantine folk song, but its creators and performers remain a mystery.

The Ottoman administration at the time barred the Mount Lebanon Mutasarrifa, an entity that had enjoyed a special form of self-rule inside the Ottoman Sultanate, from exporting the apple harvest during the First World War. Despite the fact that there have been conflicting accounts of this incident, it halted wheat shipments to the country.

Even Istanbul had trouble supplying its citizens with food during the conflict, so nobody would have been interested in buying items at their actual costs just to resell them in Lebanon at symbolic rates, flooding the country's marketplaces and damaging its economy. 

But why did the Ottomans lay siege to Mount Lebanon in the first place? According to the findings, this occurred at the same time as the genocide of the Armenians in Turkey and it was a direct result of the Allies’ blockade of Levantine ports during the war to block the arrival of Ottoman ships.

There was a famine and a shortage of wheat in the markets of the Levant, including Palestine, and so the people of Aleppo went to meet a rescue ship named the Ruzana. When they saw that it was loaded with apples instead of wheat, they were so disappointed that they began singing a folk song that mentions the ship, and it became part of the Levantine lyrical heritage.

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