Popular Lebanese poet, Omar Zeinni was born in 1889 in Zokak El-Blat, Beirut. He attended the Ottoman College in 1900 and in 1901, he 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, Al-Zeinni travelled from Beirut to Homs, Syria where he joined the Military School.
Following the 1916 uprising and the execution of the martyrs by Jamal Basha on May 6, Omar Zeinni was deported to Palestine and did not return until 1918. In Palestine, Omar worked as a teacher. Following his return to Beirut in 1919, he served as the director of the Islamic College 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 ‘Arab Voltaire’, and 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 Zeinni, the owner of Ya Dia’nik ya Beirut, and other poems and songs that ruled the era between the 1920s and 1961.
Whilst writing his poetry, Zeinni mixed between the spoken (vernacular language) and the written Arabic language so that everyone would understand it. He used songs or melodies as a means of conveying his poetry – a unique experience in the history of contemporary Arabic poetry in which the writer performs his poetry himself.
Zeinni 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 colour of poetry in Lebanon, which I adopted’.
Zeinni 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, Zeinni collaborated with Habib Al-Andashli who played the Oud. Influenced by popular French poets, Zeinni’s poems were inspired by the conditions of the working class. He was also influenced by songs for Sayed Darwish.
Zeinni criticized the class disparity between rich and poor and called for justice among members of the society. He also called for wealthy people not to exploit the poor and for the strong not to exploit the weak.