Arabic tarab loses its 'Shahroura': We won’t cry, Sabah

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A file picture dated 1974 shows late Lebanese diva Sabah during rehearsals for her musical play "Sitt al-Kil" in Beirut's Starco theatre. AFP / Archives

By: Pierre Abisaab

Published Thursday, November 27, 2014

Sabah asked us not to cry over her loss, and indeed we won’t. We didn’t even consider crying despite our great grief. In any case, we are sad for ourselves and for the golden age.

We are sad because the last stage of Sabouha’s life was difficult. She was on the brink of destitution and living in between rumors about her death.

We are sad because the ambassador of our golden age, this timeless singer who transcends all epochs from the Lebanese village to Cairo, the capital of renaissance and art in the 1940s and 1950s, brings to an end a time when the artist was first and foremost a singer. A time when all the rest, all the madness, extravagance, spectacles, private life, and “scandals” – if inevitable – came much later, after the voice, talent, and creativity were displayed.

We will be very sad, but we won’t shed any tears. How is it possible to cry over Sabouha? Just her name [which translates to ‘morning’ in English] is a companion to joy, happiness and love of life.

As you remember her face and her legend, you cannot but reminisce about her trademark overzealous laugh and her distinguished vibrato that gave her voice special depth, authenticity, charm, seduction, and coquetry.

That laugh, though associated with her spontaneity and heart of gold, was also her way to rebel against restrictions and to celebrate life and its pleasures. We can say her laugh was a “manifesto of happiness.”

Sabah, whose real name was Jeanette Feghali and nicknamed Shahrourat al-Wadi [the singing bird of the valley], appeared in over 100 films and plays, recorded 3,000 songs and married eight men. She was a woman who spread joy, euphoria, love, and optimism in everything she sang, embodied, and lived. Sabah was a delight to the senses, starting with our sense of hearing.

She was more than a feminist icon ahead of her time, and more than a link between the flavor of the mountains and rural culture on one hand and Arabic tarab and the culture of the city on the other, a city in which “she lost her heart” [as she says in one of her famous songs].

This woman, who did all that she wanted in life, lived through so many different eras that we almost cannot believe her official age was only 87.

She bears witness to our own lives as well, managing to carry them outside mythology, and outside perfectionist and metaphysical notions. With Sabah, everything started and ended with the body, even the love of one’s country.

Her path is a record of the last century. She rose to stardom after the death of Asmahan, and landed on the banks of the Nile, following in the footsteps of Laure Daccache, long before Souad Mohammed and Najah Salam.

Al-Sunbati got Sabah out of her village, and her musical career merged Zaki Nassif, Philemon Wehbe, the Rahbani Brothers, Wadih al-Safi, Walid Ghoulmieh, Halim al-Roumi, Issam Raji, and… Najib Hankash on one hand, and Kamal al-Tawil, Makhmoud al-Sharif, Baligh Hamdi, Sayed Makawi, Mohammed al-Kasbaji, Mohammed al-Mougy, Farid al-Atrash, and Mohammed Abdel Wahab on the other, and the list goes on.

The history of Arabic songs is embodied within a single woman; our cultural, political, sentimental, and intimate history is embodied in her voice.

Sabah may be gone but her voice lives on. We hear her singing the lyrics of Salah Jahin to the melody of Sayyed Makkawi, “I am here, good man, I need no prestige or fortune, I dream of a home that I will fill with joy and happiness, I am here, good man.” She looks at the mute times we live in, and... laughs.

Pierre Abi Saab is the vice-editor of Al-Akhbar. Follow him on Twitter: @PierreABISAAB

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

The views expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect Al-Akhbar English's editorial policy. If you would like to submit a thoughtful response to one of our opinion pieces, send your contribution to our submissions editor.

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Nice article.

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