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World Music

A Powerful Mideast Voice Comes to Vegas

May 07, 1999|DON HECKMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

She is known as "The Pride of Lebanon," and with good reason. Her name is Fairouz, and her voice, her image and her presence have been central to Middle Eastern cultural life for decades.

On May 15, she makes her Las Vegas debut in a one-night U.S. appearance that is sure to draw fans from around the country. It takes place at the Grand Garden arena of the MGM Grand, with ticket prices ranging from $50 to $300.

It's not hard to understand the appeal of Fairouz's music. Almost from the beginning of her career, her performances have made subtle blends of Middle Eastern and European elements. Her voice moves smoothly and lyrically through the complex melodic demands of Eastern music, then adapts to the more timbral orientation of Western songs. Her accompaniments usually include Middle Eastern instruments such as the oud, a kind of lute; the ney flute; the tablah hand drum; and the quanan, a kind of zither. But they are used in a seamless interaction with European instruments and contemporary dance rhythms.

Now in her 60s, Fairouz adopted her stage name (which means "turquoise") in the early '50s when her first hit song, "Itab," was recorded. Since that time, she has been a high-magnitude star, one of the first international divas with an impact reaching well beyond her native country.

Virtually all her songs were composed by her husband, Assi Rahbani and his brother Mansour Rahbani, and more recently by her son, Ziad Rahbani. This trio has worked with remarkable symbiotic creativity, producing music addressing the kind of universal themes that are unlimited by national borders. Although Fairouz and the Rahbanis retain an intimate connection with their Lebanese roots in their music, the thematic content and the cross-cultural style in which it is expressed speak to a universality that will undoubtedly pack the MGM Grand for this rare performance by a unique diva.

* Fairouz at the Grand Garden arena at the MGM Grand, 3799 Las Vegas Blvd. South, Las Vegas. Tickets $50-$300. (877) 984-7263.

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Summer World Music: The free summer series at the California Plaza Watercourt--now titled "Grand Performances"--has once again scheduled a long string of appealing world music artists. Among the highlights: Emil Zrihan, an Israeli cantor who sings in the Judeo-Andalusian and Moroccan folk traditions, performs on July 13 at 8 p.m. On July 18 there will be a 1:30 p.m. parade and 2 p.m. performance celebrating the Oaxacan festival Guelaguetza. The hard-hitting Cuban band Cubanismo appears July 23 at noon and 8 p.m. The rumbling rhythms of the San Jose Taiko Drummers will resonate around the plaza on July 30 at noon.

Sam Mangwana and Habib Koite display the music and rhythms of Angola, Zimbabwe and Zaire on Aug. 13 at noon and 8 p.m. And the annual Africa Fete tour, returning to the Plaza for the third time on Aug. 29 at 7 p.m., features Baaba Maal, Oliver Mtukudzi and the African American group Kulanjan, a collaboration between American blues singer Taj Mahal and Malian artist Toumani Diabate.

* Grand Performances at the California Plaza, June 3-Oct. 30. 300-350 S. Grand Ave. Free. (213) 687-2159.

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On Record: Atlantic Records has announced a long-term agreement to issue albums from the Havana Caliente and Caliente Records labels. The initial releases are "Havana Cafe," by Cuban lute player Barbarito Torres (who plays the Conga Room next Friday), "Jugando Con Candela" by Cuban son artists Adalberto Alvarez Y Su Son, and "Pedro Luis Ferrer," a self-titled album by Cuban guaracha musician Ferrer.

Also coming soon on Nonesuch: the debut album by 72-year-old Cuban master of song Ibrahim Ferrer. Scheduled for release June 1, the album, produced by Ry Cooder, includes the rhythm section from the Grammy-winning Buena Vista Social Club and pianist Ruben Gonzalez. The music ranges widely, touching on the interactive, Cuban American big-band style of the '50s, ballads and country-style son.

Ferrer also appears on one track on Putumayo's new omnibus collection "Cuba." Other artists included in the diverse survey are Eliades Ochoa, the jazz-oriented Irakere, the charanga band Orquesta Sublime and the son ensemble Sierra Maestra.

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