The Lebanese Lydia Canaan is the first female rock star in the Middle East. She is also the first Middle Eastern to be listed and cataloged in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and Museum’s Library and Archives in the United States, next to Elvis Presley, The Beatles, Frank Sinatra and many others.
In Lebanon, she was known by her stage name Angel before her career kicked off internationally.
“My stage name in Lebanon has always been Angel, but when I embarked on my international career, it was so important to me that people all over the world would know me as Lydia Canaan! I gave Angel away for my Lebanese name,” she told 961 in an exclusive interview this week.
During the interview, Lydia shared her story of how she rose to fame in Lebanon. She was raised in a conservative household during an “imported civil war in Lebanon,” as Lydia calls it, and she was asked to stay away from music, especially rock music.
But Lydia sneaked out one day to audition for the spot of a male lead vocalist in a rock band, and her life took a turn, leading her into the path of fame and also of humanitarian activism.
Lydia shared that being raised in a war-torn country has magnified the humanitarian activist in her, as she now is a UN delegate.
Musicians do struggle to make it in their careers, especially in the first years, however, for Lydia, as for many artists back then, the struggles were harder than normal.
“We never were able to sell the tickets for our concerts because of the peril in the country. We would sometimes perform right next to bombing sites and shelling. It was so significant to be able to do that in wartime.”
Significant and even heroic, one would say, but music and songs were hope-infusing for the Lebanese people coping with the war, and artists kept going with what they do best.
Lydia couldn’t stress enough her love for her fans and the journey of self-discovery they escorted her on.
When asked about the challenges she faced as a woman rock musician, Lydia said: “My rebellion started at home, against my own family. I have a character that thrives when met with adversity.”
Like the feminist that she is, Lydia wouldn’t even know where to start on the injustices that Lebanese women are still confronting, such as not being able to pass on their national identity to their own children.
“We have antiquated laws that should be updated! I believe that our constitution should be rewritten to adhere to the 21st century. It’s more about human rights than rules and regulations,” she stressed.
“Discrimination against women, LGBTQ+, or even interfering with women’s autonomy over their own bodies is unacceptable! Do we really have to keep on comparing ourselves to neighboring countries? Why can’t we compare ourselves to Switzerland or Sweden?”
Not being allowed to pursue her musical career by her conservative family, and thus, never learning how to play an instrument exploded a unique talent in Lydia, where she would write and compose her own songs by only imagining the melody in her head and singing it out loud!
“I want to give this message to everyone who wants to follow their dreams. Lydia doesn’t come from a supportive family and had no musical background,” she said. “Nothing was granted to me. I rebelled and did what I wanted to do, never allowing anyone’s misogynistic views to get to me! I achieved the impossible for a Lebanese and for a woman!”
This is something that Lydia would like to share with the Lebanese youth losing hope in the country:
“Lebanon is a crown I proudly wear on my head. I was born in a world of barricades and demarcation lines, and since I couldn’t change the world around me, I created a world inside me and held on to it. A world of hope.”
“I witnessed the atrocities of war, but I never gave up on my country. I was doing concerts in the midst of bombings!”
“I have so much respect and admiration for the young Lebanese generation, for demonstrating on the streets and not caving in.”
“I am also a Swiss citizen, and a lot of people call Lebanon the Swiss of the Middle East, but for Switzerland to get to where it is today, it took years of work!”
“If a mere individual like myself did it, so can any of you! Wherever you go, keep Lebanon as your headquarters and never forget the source.”
Lydia expressed that she has always been proud to be recognized by her family name, which also represents her heritage in the international scheme.
According to her, an archaeologist at the National Museum in Beirut told her once that the Lebanese are allegedly not Phoenicians, but Canaanites, hence her pride in her family name.
It is worth mentioning that the “inhabitants of the Phoenician city-states along the Eastern Mediterranean coast (like Sidon and Tyre) might have called themselves Kenaani (Canaanites),” according to historians.
The DNA study led by the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in England in 2017 demonstrated that most of the Lebanese ancestry is Phoenician and that the links go further back to the Canaanites, the historic and biblical people – who include the Phoenician people.