By Lina Sinjab
BBC News, Damascus
Every day the sun rises over Syria you hear one voice across the country - Fairuz, the legendary Lebanese singer and greatest living Arab diva.
It has been Fairuz's first appearance in Damascus for decades
If you are driving, or in a taxi, public transport, in your office or a nearby cafe, Fairuz accompanies the start of your day. She is the morning breath for Syrians.
After more than two decades of absence from the Damascus stage, Fairuz has been back at the Syrian Opera House marking the start of a year of festivities celebrating the city as Capital of Arab Culture for 2008.
On the opening night, Fairuz told Dr Hanan Qassab Hassan, head of event organisers, that she felt it was a return to her second home.
The auditorium was packed, even though the public had already been told that the 70-something singer would be speaking her lines but miming to the songs.
"I have never seen such an audience in my life," she said.
I listen to Fairuz when I am in love and I am always in love
The musical Sah el-Nom (Good Morning), a well-known political satire about an autocratic monarch that Fairuz performed in the 1970s, was warmly welcomed by the Syrian audience, which sang along with every word of Fairuz's songs like a trained chorus.
Fares Zahabi, 28, was in tears as he watched the performance, the fulfilment of a lifelong dream.
"I knew this play by heart since childhood. I depicted the scenes and the characters and repeated their words throughout my life.
"I couldn't believe it that I am seeing her live. I listen to Fairuz when I am in love and I am always in love."
Young and old attended the short run of performances.
One of them, Naya al-Sawah, 8, knew almost every song and every play by heart.
She and her family didn't mind queuing up for more than three hours to buy their tickets.
Naya wrote a poem in Arabic to Fairuz after the performance, which included the heartfelt line: "You are very nice, Fairuz, I love your voice and I don't want you to die."
Fairuz wrote to the organisers after meeting a children's delegation
The last night of the run was dedicated for children and young with a specially discounted ticket prices.
Some at the earlier performances had seen Fairuz at the annual Damascus International Fair during the 1960s and 1970s.
Mrs Hafiza Khorshid Miqdadi, 80, had not wanted to attend, having been there at most of Fairuz's live shows in Damascus.
Yet her granddaughter encouraged her to go and share the joy with the audience.
"I was disappointed that she didn't sing live for Sham (Damascus), but still I was happy when I saw everyone around me emotionally taken by the scene."
Some anti-Syrian politicians in Lebanon had criticised Fairuz for going to Damascus, describing it as enemy territory in the grip of a brutal secret police force.
Just a few days into Fairuz's run, Syrian security services arrested the prominent pro-reform figure Riad Seif as part of a crackdown on dissidents that started last month.
Twelve other opposition activists of the so-called Damascus Declaration group have been arrested and charged with undermining the state.
But in a letter in Fairuz's own hand, a copy of which has been obtained by the BBC, the diva emphasised that her visit must be viewed on a cultural level.
"Damascus is not a cultural capital for this year only, but will remain a role model of art, culture and authenticity for the coming generations," she wrote to the organisers of the year-long festival.
Fairuz is the anti-commercial artist, the anti spectacle that is so dominant in today' art in the Arab, and world, music. Unlike hundreds of other artists, her albums are not sold because of sexy clips, gorgous looks - she is genuine and meaningful art personified.
Among all the political unrest in Lebanon today and years of civil war in the past, the only thing which the Lebanese remain united on is their love for Fayrouz and her music. She has been a rare unifying factor in Lebanon, using her music as an art that heals political wounds.
The first time I got the chance to hear her amazing vocal performance was in Lebanon part of the International Baalbeck Festival. Since then I became a big fan of her enchanting melodies. I learned a lot about Lebanese culture and moods throught her songs. I think having Fairuz in Syria is a great initiative of friendship between the two people independant of political bickering. God Bless this amazing living legend.
Andrew, London UK
Fairuz, simply put, is the best. Her songs will forever be engraved in my mind as I listen to her songs over and over. A voice that will make you feel strong through heartbreak and sing to you when you're in love. Thank you Farouz
I am a fan of Fairuz, although as Hassan says being Kurdish it was very difficult to see her only as a singer... her tunes would trigger deep emotional feelings because she was also an Arab artist who supported the regimes that suppressed the Kurds for centuries. Now being more relaxed about it I think I love her as an artist and hope to attend a live performance.
Dana , London
I saw Fairuz in Beitiddeen in Lebanon. It was a magnificent night, the crowd was one harmonious soul. Fairuz sang to everything in life and made daily things more beautiful. She sang for the sea, the river, for the cobbler and the ruler, for waking up, being sad, losing someone, and falling in love. She made a song out of everyday life. I am happy for the Syrians, they adore Fairuz and deserve to see her.
Fouad Alchami, Cardiff (Lebanese)
I'm a Brit living in Damascus at the moment and was fortunate enough to get tickets to the show last week. Like you said in your article, she is worshipped like a goddess over here and her performance didn't disappoint! The crowd were magnificent and the whole performance was superb. I'e since bought several of her CDs and am becoming quite the devotee.
Before emigrating to the USA in 1968, I worked at a TV Station in Beirut for over two years and I always volunteered to work the shift when she was performing live. The last time I saw her perform was in 1982 in San Francisco... I was a few rows from the front, she looked at me and sang a song after song. Later in the "program" I read that she picks a listener and concentrate her energies and songs toward that person. Writing this now still gives me the chills.
Sami, California, USA
I attended Fairuz concerts several times and I listened to her every day. Now, I try not to listen to her as much because it makes me nostalgic for how my two countries, Syria and Lebaonon, could have been. Fairuz sums it all up. She talks about past glory and tragedy, memories, longing, love, the poor and ordinary men and much more.
Amin Tabbaa, Montreal, Quebec, Canada
I am absolutely in love with her song "habbaytak" and keep playing it obsessively.The words are so beautiful and her voice is so full of emotion, one can't help but feel bewitched!
Esra Karatash Alpay, Istanbul, Turkey
I grew up in Lebanon and every mornring, on the way to school the bus driver would play her music. Today, I wake up to the sounds of her voice every morning, I am proud that she is the voice of Lebanon and the Middle East (The Om Kalthoum of Lebanon I guess). Her songs are filled with so much love and emotion it really does make my day much better!
Jad D., Newcastle, England
Fairuz's voice is the fragrance of Damascene Roses! I grew up in Syria, and don't know any person who do not like Fairuz. She's always been separate from politics, and always sang for the people. The concert tickets in Damascus were overpriced, and I agree that the regime used it as propaganda, but the beauty of Damascus has nothing to do with politics.
I'm Lebanese and I am proud of what Fairuz does for Lebanon. However, I was disappointed when I heard that she was singing in Syria because Syria represents the country that is killing Lebanese and stopping the reformation of our system after thirty years of Syrian occupation. They are sending us car bombs that kill our politicians and civilians and we are sending them our culture and art.
Kasem Raidan, Lebanon
I was fortunate enough to see her perform in Beiteddine, Lebanon, late summer 2003. Although her voice is not as strong as it once was, it was wonderful to hear her sing live. She mesmerized everyone as she stood with her trademark grace and dignity. Hearing her voice echo through the mountain air of Lebanon is an experience I will never forget.
Ruba, Denver, CO, USA
Fairuz has a powerful angelic voice that sings from Heaven. She is the epitome of love, passion, sadness, nostalgia, and homeland.
Rania Salah , Austin, Texas
I grew up in Southern Turkey where our radio used to pick Syrian and Lebanese signals on the AM dial and listened to her in my childhood. We also speak an Arabic dialect very close to the Lebanese Arabic which made the lyrics completely understandable. After emigrating to the US while in college, I remember an Egyptian friend asking me what some of Fairuz lyrics meant: here I, the Turk, was translating Lebanese Arabic to English so the Egyptian friend could understand!
Okkes Kelleboz, St Louis, USA
I have seen Fairuz perform live in London. Her songs symbolise love, tranquillity, and tolerance. I grew up in Damascus where hardly any morning passed without listening to her songs. Her voice and music inject your soul with placid and peaceful feelings. Fairuz is no stranger to Syria, her second home, and her songs about Damascus give you a hair-raising sensation. It is exremely disapponting for such a star to be criticised by some ignorant politicians simply because she wanted to take part in Damascus festivities as the capital of Arabic culture for 2008.
Mohammed Dayoub, Coventry, United Kingdom
In 1960 when I was studying at the American University of Beirut (AUB) and serving as the Vice President of the Engineering Student Corporation, I invited Fairuz to a student assembly where she gave a talk and sang a song without music. That was the most memorable event in the life of a student from Afghanistan who did not speak Arabic. I cherish that encounter and listen to her songs as much as I can.
Haider Noori, grand Rapids, MIchigan, USA
My dream hasn't come ture to see her performing. Fairuz is part of who I am. Her music lifts me up close to heaven, while touching the simple reality of my daily life and emotions. It refines my soul.
May Amouri, Haba,Syria
I'm a fan, but sometimes I hate listening to her. Her songs remind me of a place that once existed and makes me care about it all over again.
DG, Toronto, Canada
Fairuz's relationship with Syria can be traced back to even before the Baath regime came to power. It is a cultural tie of love adoration and respect¿ towards a voice that has echoed our happiness and sorrows, from lullabies to love ballads to patriotic songs. Her popularity has never waned throughout the years despite her long absence.
Lana A. A., Montreal, Canada
I am Lebanese, 39 years old. I listened to Fairuz and lived in Lebanon for the first 29 years of my life, yet I never liked her songs. They are so sad, she's always crying. I needed cheerful songs during the war, and I just hate her whining voice. The quality of her voice is superb, no doubt about it, but her whole life is a misery with her abusing husband, so it reflects in her voice. I just can't stand listening to her songs and I can't help it.
Salim Bousleiman, New York , NY
Fairuz is not only a Lebanese treasure, but a treasure that belongs to all of those who value the Arab culture! To start accusing her of being politically aligned with one ruler or another is lacking in maturity and logic. When Um Kulhum used to sing praising Nasser's regime, those who opposed him kept listening to her! Let's not be childish, please!
Sam Shoshara, Bloomfield, NJ USA
I saw her in Los Angeles in 1982 (when the voice was in her prime). In her heyday, her vocal style, delivery and stage presence were incomparable. She is the soul of Arabia...which is a tough thing to be as a woman and a Christian.
Carlo Achdjian, La Jolla, California
I totally disagree with what Mr Hassan from Dublin is saying. Fairuz never sang about Arab leaders, she sang for capitals in the Arab world. Please stop that hatred for Iraq and Syria.
I am Egyptian, based in Geneva. I was in Damascus for work last week, and when I heard that she would be performing, I called everyone I knew to try to get a ticket. Miraculously, I did. When she came on stage in Damascus, there was an outpouring of love and emotion from the audience, who rose immediately to their feet, and gave her the warmest and loudest round of applause I've heard. Then her beautiful voice filled the hall, and it was magical, transporting. She is indeed, a living legend.
Shaden Khallaf, Geneva, Switzerland
I love Fairuz, all the Lebaneese love Fairuz, we grew up listening to her music, I remember my mom used to wake us up every morning singing "tik tik tik yamm sleiman" a very famous song for Fairuz... God bless her, and I hope she will lead the Lebanese politicians by example and know that we can't live without Syria, we share borders culture and love to Fairuz, I pray that we will have peace again in our region.
Mireille Diab, Lebanon
I have seen Fairuz performance twice in Egypt and in Jordan and I was really captivated by her angelic or celestial voice, as it is called in the Arab world. Apart from her wonderful voice and performance, Fairuz is enormously respected in the Arab world for never leaving Lebanon or holding any concert during the Lebanese civil war and taking a neutral standpoint.
Farah Hanna, East Jerusalem, Palestine
I am Lebanese, Canadian-born and married to a Syrian citizen. Fairuz to us is like the air we breath, she is an icon and a legend no question about that. She unites us through her music when everything is apart. Her voice is amazing and gives you the warmth and comfort to feel free and alive.
Eva Assaff, London, Ontario Canada
...To this day - I am almost 60 - there are two most revered cultural icons for me from my birthplace Lebanon. One is Um Kalsum and the other one Fairuz. Two completely different spectrums, but revered deeply. There is no day that I don't revel in her music. There is no one who equals her or comes anywhere close. She is the ambassador of Lebanon in all the world. Long live Fairuz, who so artistically calms our nerves and carries us to the Lebanon we knew, each and every time.
Ovsanna Kadian, Vancouver, BC. Canada
It is great shame for Fairuz to go and sing in the country of murderers. The Syrian regime has been killing the leaders of Independence for years, the third anniversary of Harriri is within a few days. Fairuz should stop singing " I love you Lebanon" becauses if she was really loving Lebanon , she would not sing before the killers of Lebanon.
H. Ajouz, Rotterdam - The Netherlands
I think Fairuz should never have gone to Syria. How can you sing in a terrorist country that does nothing but kill her people in the worst ways possible? She's just wrong.
Yes I saw Fairuz in Detroit in September 2003. It was a great concert and I felt my soul travelled to Lebanon, I saw all my past childhood, I saw the war and the peace in her songs. Every Lebanese lives Fairuz and has a private memories with her songs.
Hassan Mrad, Montreal Canada
I've seen Fairuz (the legend) performing twice in Beiteddine Festivals, Lebanon in 2000 and 2003. Not only am I a fan of her music, but I'm also a believer in her and in what she does; I won't be exaggerating if I say, she is the reason I enjoy every bit of my life because she sang for every single feeling in everyday life...those who don't know Fairuz, still miss a lot in their lives.
Barakat, Edinburgh, Scotland
I grew up in Kurdistan/Iraq, I could hardly understand the lyrics but we all loved hearing Fairuz in the morning. Radio Baghdad used to have half an hour every morning of Fairuz songs before the 8 o'clock news. Her popularity dropped when she came to Baghdad in 1970 invited by Ba'ath party and praised Baghdad as she has praised Damascus today. Ba'ath used it for propaganda as Assad is doing now. It's a well known ploy to boost popularity by inviting popular artists to sing in your capital. For Fairuz and her band is another well paid day.