Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Wadih el-Safi - A Music Legend Dies Aged 91

Lovers of Music and friends of the Fes Festival of World Sacred Music will mourn the passing of a legendary voice - "the Frank Sinatra of the Middle East" - Wadih el-Safi

His real name was Francis Wadih Béchara, a Lebanese singer, oud player and composer. With more than 60 years' experience, an exceptional voice and more than 5000 song titles under his belt, he is widely considered to be the quintessential singer of the Arab world. Wadih El Safi retained the splendour of the Arab musical tradition and was regarded as a top performer of tarab in common with the tenor Sabah Fakhri. It's for this reason that he became known as the Voice of the Lebanon.

He started his artistic journey in 1938 at the early age of seventeen when he took part in a singing contest held by the Lebanese Broadcasting Network and was first among fifty other competitors. He was named then the first singer of Lebanon. It was at this time he adopted the name El-Safi. His first hit was Ya mersal al-nagha (messenger of melodies)

El Safi, a classically trained Baritone – having studied at the Beirut National Conservatory of Music - began composing and performing songs that drew upon his rural upbringing and love of traditional melodies. He blended poetry and zajal with an urban sound, and created a new style of modernized Lebanese folk music. He performed in venues throughout the Middle East.

In 1947, El Safi traveled to Brazil, where he remained until 1950. After his return to Lebanon, El Safi continued to develop folk music and chose poetry and zajal to inspire patriotism and focus on love, devotion, morals and values.

Wadih in Fez in 2012 (Photo Suzanna Clarke)

Wadih El Safi toured the world, singing in many languages, including Arabic, French, Portuguese and Italian. He took part in major international festivals and earned many high distinction honors in Lebanon, Tunisia, Jordan, Yemen, Morocco, Syria, Mascat and France.

He wrote over 3000 songs and was well known for his mawawil (an improvised singing style) of ‘ataba, mijana, and Abu el Zuluf. He performed and recorded with many well-known Lebanese musicians, including Najwa Karam, Fairouz, and Sabah.

Wadih El Safi's fame came to the fore in 1957 during the well-known Baalbek Festival.

Wadih farewells Fez (photo: Sandy McCutcheon)

His last performance in Morocco was on June 14 2012 at the Fes Festival of World Sacred Music. As locals told The View from Fez after the performance... "He is our Wadih."

Wadih -El-Safi was born November 1 1921. He died October 11 2013 aged 91. He is survived by his wife Melfina Francis and six children.  He will be sadly missed.

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