Wadi al-Safi’s voice carried over almost a century.When Lebanese singer and composer died on 11 October 2013, at nearly 92 years of age, his professional career which began when he was only 12 years old, spanned 80 years. Born Wadi Francis on the first of November 1921 to a poor family in the Mount Lebanon village of Niha in Al-Shuf district, his father, Beshara Gabriel Francis, a police officer, and mother, Shafiqa Shadid al-’Ujil, moved their family to Beirut when Wadi was nine.
Pop music in the Arab world is an expanding industry, creating both a strong fan base among the youth and several outspoken voices of criticism. Here, the term “pop music” refers not to popular music, which includes a breadth of Arab musical traditions dating back to the early 20th century, but rather to a relatively new genre of music characterized by its quick tempo, repetitive lyrics and healthy dose of technology used in producing its unique sound.
Fall of the Moon
By Marcel Khalife
Traditonal Crossroads Records, 2012
Composing the text of classical Arabic poetry is a tremendous challenge typically avoided by musicians seeking the rewards of mass appeal. Regional dialects are favored due to the supposed ease on listeners, especially adolescent consumers of CDs and music DVDs. So when a composer dusts off the poetry of the little-known Abu al-Mughith al-Hussayn Ibn Mansur al-Hallaj, who was brutally executed in Baghdad in 922 for his pacifist Sufi writings, it is an indication of a rare musical confidence.
I had the rare good fortune recently to experience a fine singer working at the top of her form. Rarer yet, I was privileged to enjoy the performance in a small and intimate setting. Perched high above Los Angeles at the Skirball Center, the singer was Yasmin Levy was taking part in the Skirball Center’s current series, “Elles, Voices of Women” celebrating ideals of “tolerance, friendship and shared humanity.”
A division has long existed between large Western-style orchestras and ethnic ensembles of all types. Western Orchestral musicians are rigorously, classically trained and precisely follow a conductor while they read from common music sheets that preserve the details of the compositions. Members of smaller ethnic ensembles, on the other hand are often centered around one star instrumentalist or vocalist. They may have varying levels of musical training, but they are linked by a common musical or ethnic background, and are often given to improvisation.
Modern Arab music was shaped by a few highly creative individuals throughout the 20th century. Three of them were members of one family: the Rahbanis of Lebanon, comprised of the two brothers Assi and Mansour, and a singer named Nuhad Haddad who married Assi and took the name Fairuz. Their documented journey has become legendary; for nearly three decades, the Rahbani Brothers wrote and composed songs that Fairuz sang and musicals in which she starred. Their prolific works are considered a treasure by generations of Arabs worldwide.
Layla Murad, one of the most powerful and significant Arab singers to emerge from the golden era of the 20th century, passed away 10 years ago in Cairo. At the time of her death in November of 1995, she had been retired from both singing and acting for close to 40 years; however, an entire generation of loyal followers remembers the 77-year-old star and her contribution to Arab music and cinema through her powerful legacy of 27 films and nearly 1200 songs produced from the mid 1930s to mid 1950s.
Mention of the "Star of the East" or the "Diva of Arab Song" can only bring to mind the beloved Um Kulthoum. She is gilded in Arab memory as the voice of the 20th century, yet remains timeless, continuing to strike emotional chords in the hearts of the millions who adore her, even 30 years after her death. Her image, voice, and symbolism are inscribed in the collective consciousness of the Arab world and passionately fused with nationalist and Arab cultural identities.
As Iraq makes daily news coverage for the rapidly progressing political events many are concerned about the preservation of traditional Iraqi arts. Among them is the uniquely Iraqi music genre called Maqam Baghdadi, a style of singing distinguished from the rest of the Arab World in the performance, composition, and instrumentation. In an effort to highlight this art Inaya Jaber, an art critic and a columnist in the As Safir Lebanese newspaper, recently wrote two pieces on the subject featuring female Iraqi singers of this genre, the late Salima Murad and Maida Nazhat.