A popular Lebanese poet, he was born in 1889 in Zokak el-Blat, Beirut, and attended the Ottoman College in 1900. The following year, Omar joined the school’s musical band until his graduation in 1913. He then worked as a teacher in his school until 1914, when World War I broke out. As a result, Omar al-Za’ni traveled from Beirut to Homs, Syria and joined the military school, where he graduated six months later as an administrative officer. After the uprising in 1916 and the execution of the martyrs by Jamal Basha on May 6, Omar al-Za’ni was deported to Palestine and did not return until the end of the Ottoman Empire in 1918. In Palestine, Omar worked as a teacher. When he came back to Beirut, he served as a director at the head of the Islamic College in 1919, and as a music teacher at the Marie Kassab School. He then worked as an officer in the primitive court and started his academic studies at Saint-Joseph University. His real journey in poetry began with the poem “The Veil” which lasted until his death in 1961.
He was given the nickname of “Molière of the East” and the “Arab Voltaire”, and he was known as “the son of the country”, “the conscience of Beirut” and “poet of the people”. These titles were repeated at a recent ceremony in Beirut as part of the celebration of Beirut as the World Book Capital when “Nadi Lekol Nas” presented a tribute to the late poet Omar Al-Za’ni, the owner of “Ya dia’nik ya Beirut”, and other poems and songs that ruled the era between 1920s and 1961. When writing his poetry, Al-Za’ni mixed between the spoken (vernacular language) and the written Arabic language so that all people understand it. He used songs or melodies as a mean of conveying his poetry to the people which was a unique experience in the history of contemporary Arabic poetry in which the writer performs his poets himself. Al-Za’ni declared that this type of modern singing emerged first in France and was very popular during the reign of Louis XVI. “These modern poets were the ones who provoked the French revolution that broke out in 1789 and led to the establishment of this color of poetry in Lebanon, which I adopted it”.
Al-Za’ni was famous for his personality. He was a poet in every sense of the word. His poems are a golden mine for anyone who wants to explore the conditions of Lebanon in his time. He used sarcasm and criticism when tackling politicians.
At the beginning of his artistic career, al-Za’ni collaborated with Habib al-Andashli who played the Oud. Al-Za’ni was responsible of composing and singing and Alandashli played the melody on the oud. Influenced by popular French poets, al-Za’ni’s poems were inspired by the conditions of the working class. He was also influenced by songs for Sayed Darwish.
Al-Za’ni criticized the class disparity between rich and poor and called for justice among members of the society. He also called for wealthy people to not to exploit the poor and for the strong to not to exploit the weak. He wished in his poem “If I were a horse” to be a horse in the stable of wealthy families to receive some care. He criticized the Lebanese state, which was interested in setting up a clock in the center of Beirut, while the famine spread among the people, so he called for feeding people instead of setting up the clock!