‘Allo Beirut’, sang Lebanese singer Sabah in her famous tribute to the capital. The time has now come for the country to bid a gracious farewell to the legendary icon.

Sabah, born Jeanette Gergis al-Feghali, one of the great entertainers of the Arab world, died Wednesday. She was 87-years-old. The singer leaves a legacy that is almost unparalleled, having released over 3,000 songs, starred in 98 films and over 20 stage plays.

(Photo via NOW Media)

Renowned not only in the Arab world, Sabah’s career spanned over six decades and saw her perform at the most prestigious of international venues, including the Olympia in Paris, Carnegie Hall in New York, Piccadilly Theatre in London and the Sydney Opera House. In reference to her roots in the Mount Lebanon village of Bdedoun and subsequent rise to stardom, she was once quoted as saying, “I'm proud that I'm a village girl but I had a lot of ambition".

She released her first song in 1940 at just 13-years-old. Shortly after, she was signed by Egyptian film producer Asia Dagher. It was the film, ‘El-Qalb Louh Wahid’ (The heart has its reasons), which bestowed upon her the lifelong name of the title character, Sabah. She would go on to become one of the leading personalities of the Golden Age of Egyptian cinema.

Popularly known as Shahroura (the singing bird), Sabah was famed for her music and exceptional voice. In particular, she was celebrated for having mastered the folk tradition of Mawwal, a genre that has strong links to Arabic poetry and is sung in colloquial Arabic.

Sabah was just as prominent off the stage as she was on it, gaining notoriety for her stubborn refusal to conform to the norms of Lebanese society. "She broke so many taboos. I don't know if she was even aware of it," Chady Maalouf, head of programming at Voice of Lebanon radio is quoted saying. "She was the example of a star, she was totally complete in her appearance, behavior and voice. She shocked people all the time."

As well as marrying eight times, Sabah had flings with far younger men, she spoke openly about plastic surgery at a time when it wasn't de rigeur, and continued to make extravagant public appearances, causing controversy within the upper echelons of society, well into the autumn of her years. She was at home in the limelight and her unique air of eccentricity consistently raised eyebrows.

Tributes to the late singer have come from public figures from all walks of life, including Prime Minister Tammam Salam, who was quoted by The Daily Star newspaper as saying "Lebanon and the Arab world lost a valuable artist with the demise of the great diva Sabah, whose departure from this world turned a page on our bright cultural heritage". Singer Ragheb Alameh tweeted: "Our giants are leaving, our cedars are diminishing. Farewell our Shahroura, our beloved, rest in peace".

The embodiment of pre-war Lebanese glamour, a contradictory mix of traditional folk songstress and scandalous avant-garde icon, Sabah will not be quickly forgotten. So, as the song goes, “From Bab Idriss to Hamra, Furn el Shebak to Dowra,” Beirut says goodbye to the legend that was Sabah.


Avatar 1
Post to facebook