Lebanese singer and actress Hiba Tawaji  has always admired local music legend Oussama Rahbani.  The Rahbani family, of course, needs no introduction – every Lebanese knows who they are and the crucial role they play in the country’s musical heritage. In 2007, Tawaji’s dream came true – she finally started working with Oussama Rahbani, and has never stopped since. Those previously unacquainted with Tawaji may have discovered her talents at “Rahbani Summer Night,” an exceptional performance that took place July 17 as part of the Byblos International Festival, gathering many prestigious Lebanese singers, among them Ghadi and Oussama Rahbani. Tawaji was chosen to participate in this unique tribute to the Rahbani works.
Tawaji’s latest album was released in 2011, and was made in collaboration with Oussama Rahbani. The album, “La Bidayi Wala Nihayi” (“The Windmills of your Mind,” a song originally composed by France’s Michel Legrand), is comprised of 12 tracks. Produced by Rahbani himself, the album mingles Oussama and Ghadi Rahbani’s orchestration and lyrics, accompanied by the Lebanese orchestra.
A text by Oussama Rahbani provides context for each composition in the album’s liner notes.
Rahbani explains that he first heard Legrand’s version of the title track in 1986. From there his will to adapt and orchestrate the popular French song sprang into being. Rahbani needed someone with a powerful, yet sensual, voice to interpret this composition. Enter Tawaji.
Rahbani and Tawaji’s rendition of “The Windmills of Your Mind” embarks the listeners on a romantic journey as they digest the ballad filled with metaphors of a quest for love. Tawaji’s voice accentuates the meaning and emotion behind the lyrics. She ends the song with a 25-second scream, which is – as Rahbani writes – “reminiscent of Barbra Streisand’s in the musical ‘Yentl.’” The raw feeling in Tawaji’s scream is powerful enough to make some listeners teary.
The album switches between soft tunes and more upbeat, groovy ones. “Zat Ellafti” (“Same Glimpse”) is a funky number, which Rahbani writes was inspired by his personal approach to Arabic music and drummer Dave Weckl’s style. “A lot of hard work was required,” he notes, “given that the melody requires a leggero interpretation in order to get through the fast notes.”
Particularly while listening to this track, it becomes clear that Tawaji not only sings Rahbani’s compositions but also interprets them, in a way that gives incredible depth to the musical arrangements. Her voice remains in perfect harmony with the instruments.
Many tracks on the album immerse listeners in an imaginary world. For “Tango el Horriyyi” (“Free Tango”), the bandoneon – an accordion used especially in tango – wind instruments, piano and percussion conjure up an Argentinean tango, two dancers swinging and swaying through steps such as “colgadas,” “ruedas” or “volcadas.” Tawaji’s voice dynamically punctuates the beats of the song.
Rahbani reveals that he first heard this style of music in a documentary about Argentinean football legend Diego Maradona.
It seems Legrand has had a profound influence on Rahbani. Another track, “Bel Omr Elli Baki,” (“What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?”) is also inspired by Legrand’s compositions. Unlike some other tracks, this one is jazzy, and features soft saxophones in the background – plunging listeners into a mellow, musical ambiance.
Tawaji’s voice is certainly impressive. The singer switches from jazz to pop to more lyrical numbers. Her voice is as sensual and smooth as it is powerful. Lucky for us that it is. Rahbani writes in the liner notes that he wrote several of the tracks a while ago but was unable to find a voice powerful enough to sing them until he began to collaborate with Tawaji.
Oussama Rahbani and Hiba Tawaji’s “La Bidayi Wala Nihayi”  is available at Virgin Megastore .By Chirine Lahoud