Lydia Canaan is a mezzo-soprano singer-songwriter, poet, feminist, human rights activist, social activist, animal rights activist, and hailed by the media as the first rock star of the Middle-East. Praised by Billboard magazine as having a “three-octave range and perfect pitch”, she was dubbed by MTV Europe as “the diva from the Middle-East”. She was born and raised in Lebanon during the country’s Civil War (1975-1990), of the Canaan family from Mount Lebanon. She is listed as a celebrity in her native village of Brummana, and studied at the renowned Brummana High School and the prestigious LAU (Lebanese American University).
At once defying convention, social stigma, conservative local and religious authorities, and breaking millennium-old gender barriers, Canaan’s musical splash was historically unprecedented on more than one front; her career began with her risking her life to perform amidst enemy military attacks, her concerts literally being held in vicinities of Lebanon which where simultaneously being bombed.
According to Arabian Woman magazine: “As…A girl who grew up in the midst of a bloody civil war…Canaan was breaking down seemingly insurmountable barriers…[She] rock[ed] the establishment”. As noted by The Gulf Today: “It is incredible that amidst the state of civil war that existed in Lebanon at that time, when most people had no idea if they would see another day, [she] managed to keep her ambitions alive”. Society magazine attests: “In a small country that was ripped [apart] by war, there was this young girl making a difference”.
From a young age, music and singing were her essential outlet and catharsis. Raised in a conservative family, her father forbid her artistry and deprived her of musical education and formal training. However, Canaan, an Arabic and French speaker, defied him, and early in life cultivated her own talents, writing lyrics and poetry in English, having an unusual ability to compose lyrics and melodies in her mind and store them by memory, unaided by any instrument.
At the age of eight-years-old, Canaan, a literary prodigy, won the first place award from her elementary school, College des Saints-Coeurs, Bikfaya, for a poem she composed about a child who wept for being scolded for trivial matters such as staining her fingers with ink when she writes. To Canaan’s disappointment, her parents ignored this early achievement.
As reported by the newspaper Campus: “For Lydia Canaan’s first gig, she had to throw her trademark short rockish black leather skirt and studs out of her bedroom window in Brummana, put on a long skirt, lie to her conservative father about where she was going, and, after changing into her leather gear, singing her teenage heart out as Angel with the band Equation”.
In 1983, Canaan, a preteen under the stage name Angel, joined heavy metal band Equation, who until then had been adamant on finding a male lead singer. Canaan first donned what would become her trademark revealing leather outfit, sporting her signature hip-length hair. They performed covers of heavy metal bands including Rainbow, Scorpions, Whitesnake, Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath, Ronnie James Dio, Deep Purple, Michael Schenker Group, and others. At the height of their success the band drew a crowd of over 15,000.
Canaan’s first original composition, “Why All The Hurt”, a tribute to a deceased friend that she wrote as a teenager, was a No. 1 hit on the radio charts in Lebanon.
Concerning Canaan’s first concert with Equation, The Gulf Today writes: “The first show produced a phenomenal reaction.” Society magazine states: “Tickets were sold out but more teenagers stormed in to see the young Angel perform…To accommodate the crowd, the concert organizers had to stamp on each fan’s hand as they ran out of tickets. It was…Her first success”.
Since her first public appearance, Canaan staged over twenty-five sell-out concerts in the country from 1984 until 1988, despite risks and dangers by warring militias and armies, recorded her songs for radio, and topped the charts in Lebanon.
Canaan’s last concert with Equation was in 1986. In 1987, she embarked on a solo career, performing her original compositions, such as “To Oblivion and Back”, “Does it Need Some Action”, “A Hard Situation”, “Hey Ritchie”, “The Christmas Wish”, all which were radio hits. Her music slowly evolved into alternative pop-rock. Her fame skyrocketed, massively expanding her fan base. Her charming personality, charismatic stage presence, and provocative costumes made her a sex symbol. With Lebanon under Syrian occupation, Canaan’s concerts were held in East Beirut, Mount Lebanon, and the north of Lebanon. In Tripoli, the second largest city in Lebanon, Canaan performed a sell-out concert under tight security after receiving numerous death threats.
In 1987, she performed to a crowd of 20,000 at the Beirut Rock Festival.
In 1988, Canaan performed sell-out concerts for three consecutive nights at Casino du Liban, the last performer to grace its stage until it resumed activity following the end of the Liberation War in 1990.
In 1989, Canaan left Lebanon and settled in Zurich. There she took vocal lessons with soprano Anita Monti. Canaan also lived in London and New York City, working with writers, musicians, and producers in Switzerland, the UK, and the U.S., such as Harry Borner, David Richards (Montreux Jazz Festival, Queen, Chris Rea, David Bowie), Barry Blue (Dina Carroll, Patricia Kaas), The Rapino Brothers (Kylie Minogue, Take That, Corona), Noel Cohen (Phyllis Hyman), Keith “Plex” Barnhart (Chaka Khan), and Tommy Mandel (keyboarder for Bryan Adams and Ian Hunter Band).
Canaan recorded duet “Love and Lust” with Roger Taylor (drummer of Queen) and duets “Spiritual Man”, “Guardian Angel”, and “The Bridge” with Robin Scott (group M with international hit “Pop Muzik”).
In December of 1990, Canaan gave an interview for and her songs received airplay on Radio Z in Zurich.
In February of 1991, Canaan gave an interview for and her video clip “Hey Richie” was broadcast by Super Channel in London.
In 1993, Canaan gave an interview and performed the duet “Spiritual Man” with Robin Scott on Channel 4 in London.
Canaan was signed for two years to London-based production company Spinny Music of Jim Beach (manager of Queen) to write and record her original songs produced by David Richards (Queen, David Bowie, Chris Rea, Montreux Jazz Festival) at Mountain Studios in Montreux, Switzerland.
In London, Canaan took vocal lessons with Tona de Brett, who also coached Annie Lennox, Sarah Brightman, Sade, and others.
In February of 1995, Canaan’s single “Beautiful Life” was presented to radio and media at the MIDEM in Cannes, France.
In the spring of 1995, Canaan’s international release of “Beautiful Life” by London-based Pulse-8 Records, gained her international critical acclaim, eliciting comparisons to Celine Dion, Cher, and Tina Turner (Billboard, Music Week, Music Monitor, etc.), radio promo tour in the UK, radio airplay in the UK, Europe, South Africa, and the Middle-East.
Canaan performed “Beautiful Life” at the launch of MTV Europe held in Beirut, with the participation of Pato Banton, Urban Cookie Collective, and Rozalla on May 12, 1995. President of MTV Europe Peter Einstein stated during a press conference: “MTV is proud and privileged to play Lydia’s videos on Music-Non-Stop Show…All at MTV have fallen in love with Lydia, her songs, and her performance.”
Canaan is the first artist from the Middle-East to have her music videos (filmed in London) played on MTV Europe, MTV Asia, MTV Russia, and MTV Arabia.
Canaan’s second single “The Sound of Love” was recorded at the Maison Rouge Studios in London.
In 1988, Canaan’s recordings, made in New York City at Jay Ward’s Dogbrain Music, were exhibited on Billboard’s TalentNet and topped the charts for months at No. 1. Iconic radio personality Casey Kasem endorsed her songs.
Canaan’s album The Sound of Love, recorded in London and New York City, released in the summer of 2000, is distributed by SIDI/XEMA in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, UAE, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, Egypt, Jordan, and Lebanon.
Canaan launched her album through a campaign covering all Middle-Eastern satellite networks (Orbit, Music Now, MBC, ART, LBCI, Future TV, Showtime’s MTV Arabia, Murr TV, Dubai TV, Bahrain TV), local television stations, radio stations and all pan Arab printed press. Canaan performed in Beirut, Lebanon, Jumeira Beach Hotel, Dubai, UAE and Savage Garden Club and Rifaa Golf Club, Manama, Bahrain in support of the album release.
Canaan was the first artist to participate in the chatrooms of Maktoob.com, Radio One (Lebanon), and was featured on many Internet portals (Khaleej.com, Arabiata.com, PlanetArabia.com, ArabToronto.com).
Canaan was dubbed by prestigious Arab newspapers Asharq Al-Awsat, Al-Hayat, and An-Nahar as the “…International Lebanese singer whose voice invaded the European market, making its mark”.
Canaan was received by His Excellency General Emile Lahoud, President of the Republic of Lebanon, and the First Lady on January 16, 2002 at the Presidential Palace in Baabda, Lebanon.
Invited by the First Lady Mrs. Andree Lahoud, Canaan performed at the Presidential Palace in Baabda, Lebanon on Mother’s Day, March 19, 2002 in honor of the wives of the Presidential Guard Officers.
In 2004, “Libnan”, written and performed by Canaan, is the title song of the advertisement “Rediscover Lebanon”, produced and broadcast by CNN to over one-billion viewers, commissioned by the Lebanese Ministry of Economy & Trade to promote Lebanon as a tourist destination.
Internationally acclaimed British author and publisher Naim Attallah (Chairman of Namara Group/Quartet Books, London) wrote in his blog “Canaan’s voice, as shown in her repertoire of song, possesses a rare resonance and a devastating effect in its evocation of love and sensuality in the refined area of the poetic dimension.”
Activism and Humanitarian Work
Lydia Canaan, Awarded for Her Humanitarian Work by UNDP in 2001 in Beirut, Lebanon [photo caption]
President of South Africa Nelson Mandela chose “Beautiful Life” as the theme song for a charity event in South Africa under his auspices.
On March 17, 2014, Canaan was invited to give a speech at the 25th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland. Islamophobia and Art gained her a standing ovation and media attention.
On December 5, 2001, Canaan performed at the United Nation’s International Volunteers Day in Beirut, and was awarded for her humanitarianism by Yves de San, Head of UNDP (Lebanon).
Canaan supports War Child Holland-Lebanon (Syrian Refugees), Beirut, Lebanon, SAWA for DEV & AID (Syrian and Palestinian Refugees), Beirut, Lebanon, and The International Campaign to Prosecute War Crimes in Iraq (chaired by former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clarke) in Beirut, Lebanon.
Canaan performed at charity and fundraiser events including American Women’s Club, Beirut, Lebanon, Salmaniyah Hospital Children Care Unit, Manama, Bahrain, Rotary Club, Adliyah, Bahrain, American Community School, Beirut, Lebanon, Association Pour La Promotion Feminine, Beirut, Lebanon, CARITAS Liban, Beirut, Lebanon, Centre Renee Wehbe Le Vieillard Malade, Mansourieh, Lebanon and BETA (Beirut for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), Beirut, Lebanon, Lion’s Beirut Code Club, Beirut, Lebanon, Unite Lebanon Youth Project (ULYP), Beirut, Lebanon, Arab Resource Center for Popular Arts (ARCPA, Al-Jana), Beirut, Lebanon, Social Support Society Active Ageing House, Refugee Camp Burj Al Barajneh, Beirut, Lebanon, NASMA Foundation, Beirut, Lebanon, and Association Amour et Partage, Beirut, Lebanon.
Canaan was invited as Speaker of the Month by American Community School (ACS), Beirut, Lebanon.
In March of 2012, Canaan performed in support of International Women’s Day in Beirut, Lebanon, under the Patronage of Her Excellency Minister Leila Solh Hamadeh, organized by the Women’s Committee of the Lions Club District 351 Lebanon.
In July of 2010, Canaan performed at The Summer University of Palestine in Lebanon, a summer camp to educate and raise the level of awareness of the participants from all around the world on Palestine, the culture of the wider Arab region, and Lebanon’s crucial part in it, with renowned speakers like Norman Finkelstein, Gabi Baramki, Ghada Karmi, George Galloway, and many others. The event was organized by Viva Palestina Arabia, (founded by British Member of Parliament George Galloway, founder of the Respect Party in the UK).
The Asian Conservation Awareness Programme (ACAP/WildAid), London, UK, World Wildlife Fund (WWF), Gland, Switzerland, Le Roselet Foundation, Saignelégier, Switzerland, and BETA (Beirut for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), Beirut, Lebanon.
Canaan was awarded by Caritas in 2005 in Beirut, Lebanon.
Canaan was awarded by Association pour la Promotion Feminine in 2003 in Beirut, Lebanon.
Canaan was awarded for her humanitarian work by UNDP in 2001 in Beirut, Lebanon.
Canaan was awarded the Scoop D’or by Scoop magazine in 1988 in Beirut, Lebanon.
Canaan was awarded by the Lebanese Ministry of Tourism in 1997 in Beirut, Lebanon.