Sabah: Just Call Me “Lady of Ladies”
By: Jihad Ayyoub
Published Friday, September 21, 2012
Al-Akhbar interviews the 83 year old Lebanese star who rocked the Middle East and beyond with her passionate voice and love lives.
Jihad Ayyoub: Do you follow what is going on these days on the Arab street?
Sabah: Of course. But to be honest, I’m not very convinced by what is happening. God protect the Arab peoples. Everything has changed.
JA: What do you have to say about the TV series Carioca [about the life of the Egyptian dancer and actress Tahiyya Carioca] which was critical of you?
Sabah: Why did they do that, even though I am loved in Egypt and I’m Egyptian to the bone? Lies and fabrications like that are a disgrace. It’s enough what Tahiyya’s cousin, the actress Ragaa al-Gadawi, said on broadcaster Tony Khalifeh’s program, that everything in Carioca is untrue. Why do they insist on fabricating? Doesn’t everyone have a story in their life? They should record and show the events in people’s lives honestly, not make up tales and stories to cause a sensation. My life story would take years to tell, not just 30 episodes, and it has enough stories, sensation and drama in it for everyone. In short, nobody can embody my life or write my story. That would take effort, love and seriousness. My story is like life, with the bitter and the sweet. I am a force to be reckoned with in life as in art.
JA:Why do they portray you in a strange way every now and then?
Sabah: I’ll get straight to the point. Everyone who wants to become famous talks about Sabah. They either attack me or try to make their story part of mine. Even at this age, they are jealous of me. I swear I never stood in their way. God is the provider. He opens up hearts to make us succeed. I don’t know why there is this ignorance about success. Every now and then they say “Sabah has died,” as though I’m living at their expense, eating off their plates, or getting in their way. Tell me, why do they still have a complex about me when I am at this age? I have become old, for God’s sake, give me a break and leave me alone.
People should understand that I did nothing in my life. God alone made me succeed and supported me. He sent me beautiful melodies and wonderful poetry, and I in turn chose my works well and carefully. There are people who claim to be religious but they are envious of other people. I have never known the taste of envy in my life. That is why I lived, married and succeeded and was different from everyone else. I don’t resemble anyone.
JA: Why this jealousy of you?
Sabah: Maybe because I was Sabah and I did not let myself down. I loved Sabah, and worked hard to make “The Songbird” different, successful, elegant, generous and giving. I lived my life at peace with myself. That is my secret which nobody knows. I was successful and different to everyone, so they felt inferior. Even some male artists felt jealous of me. But I apply the principle “turn a deaf ear and live.”
JA: Did Tahiyya Carioca’s husband fall in love with you?
Sabah: On the subject of Tahiyya Carioca, on which so much has been said, I’d say Tahiyya was a good-hearted friend, but her tongue was quicker than her thinking. She never wronged me, and we never fought for fame or such things. She has her world and I have mine. She has her style and I have mine in life and in art. After she advanced in age, she attacked me verbally so I replied in the way she deserved.
I draw a line with my colleagues, and nobody dares cross it. A lot has been said about me, but I lived out in the open, not underground. Despite all my frankness, my secrets and private matters are mine alone. There are no scandalous secrets in my life. Everything about me has been published and exposed and everyone knows it, and I have never regretted anything I’ve done. The idea of Tahiyya’s husband being unfaithful to her with me was a malicious fabrication, maybe a figment of the imagination of the author. Tahiyya’s husband was a respectable doctor, and he loved her even though she was harsh with him. He used to visit me at the hotel to share his inner thoughts about her. He was never in love with me or a lover. It would have been impossible for me to fall in love with him at the time, and I don’t make a habit of having affairs with my friends’ husbands. When I married Rushdi Abaza, he told me had divorced Samia (Jamal).
I will tell you this fact which I haven’t divulged before: I married Rushdi to spite all women. He was their target, their prey, their axis, and their passion, and I stepped in and won him. I left Rushdi because when we were out driving in the Raouche district, he told me he was the most important star on earth. I told him I’m a star too and not just you, and made him let me down and returned home in a taxi. That day, I decided to separate from him. The next day he sent me roses and apologies, but I didn’t accept them. Rushdi would change into a different person when he met his fans, and forget that his feet were on the ground. What annoyed him and annoyed others is that it was me who asked for a divorce and not him. That is why he remained faithful to my love until the moment he died. He used to shout at his wife Samia Jamal whenever she spoke about me, and ask her not about to talk about Queen Sabah because she is precious and her morals are high.
JA: What title do you like to be known by?
Sabah: When I visited Kuwait in 2004 and did some humanitarian and social tours, an officer stood up and said to me: “You are the Lady of Ladies. You are modest, even though you are so famous.” To be honest, I liked that name. I thought it suited me. I wish I had given that name to one of my films, songs or plays. But age overtook and I forgot. Yes, I am the Lady of Ladies in my devotion, patience and giving. Once, I was nominated for the title and prize of Arab Woman, but that prize was never launched, perhaps because MP Bahiyya al-Hariri was busy.
JA: How would you sum up your journey today?
Sabah: I was happy in my life. I never lied to myself. I took my life seriously. I was never a “tramp” in my loves, friendships and affairs. I made my happiness, and I made sorrow afraid of me. I traveled the entire world, and did not deprive myself of anything. When I decided to keep company with a man I married him. I was never obsessed with men, sex or money. But I knew how to take what I needed from life. I was generous and preserved my own honor and that of others. Faith enabled me to overcome all tragedies. Oh, how many conspiracies and successes I’ve seen!
JA: What memories of politicians do you have?
Sabah: President Gamal Abdul-Nasser did not used to like me at the start of my career, because people who were jealous of me used to do me down to him and he believed them. But thanks to my intelligence and seriousness, I made him respect and appreciate my art. The song For the Magic of Your Eyes, Yah! was for him, for Gamal’s eyes. It was composed by Muhammad Abdul Wahhab, who said “there is no Arab chanteuse who can indulge herself with the word ‘Yah’ other than Sabah, because it needs daring and boldness.” In those days the late author Naguib Mahfouz was in charge of censorship, and he banned the song from radio and television and asked me not to sing it on stage. When I sang it in front of President Gamal, and I told him that it is banned for everyone and from live broadcast on radio and television, he ordered me to sing it again, and ordered it to be broadcast every day. The next day, the entire Egyptian street was repeating “Yah!” Art requires intelligence and gentle plans which a woman must know how and when to hatch.
That’s my story with Abdul-Nasser. My story with President Anwar al-Sadat was the opposite. He liked my art very much, and used to ask me to convey his social ideas through my songs. He asked for the song al-Galabiya. I used to sing at all his family parties. He used to be incredibly fond of Lebanese folklore, and he loved Dabke with all its movements, and it held an important place for him. He was a strong president who fought with his mind, and I consider his wife Jihad Sadat to be the most important lady I ever met in my life. She was devoted to me, and would not let a single word be said against me.
As for King Hussein, he was faithful to me, and intelligent and popular. I am the one who gave the name Ali to the son he had with his wife Queen Alia.
I also have an indescribable love for Sheikh Abdallah al-Mubarak, the sheikh of generosity, taste and love. The people of Kuwait are especially dear to me. He made sure I did not need for anything, and I have a great love story with Kuwait.
As for King Faisal, he was intelligent and well-mannered. He liked me and Abdul-Haleem Hafez. One day I asked him to give the artist Abdul-Salam al-Nabulsi a car as a gift, and of course he carried out my request immediately.
Also, I used to consider President Camille Chamoun a true king. Whenever I asked anything of him he would do it immediately. Chamoun and his wife wanted Lebanon to be the beacon of the East.
President Hafez al-Assad also was not an ordinary person, but a leader in every sense of the word. He knew every dot and detail about art and culture, and his look was piercing. His son President Bashar is also good-hearted, and helped me find solutions for the problem of my daughter Howeida (medical treatment at his expense).
I was friends with a lot of other important people, above all Saeb Salam, Othman al-Dana, and President Elias Sarkis, who was my childhood friend. We used to play noughts and crosses together.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.