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Wadih El Safi - The eternal Voice of Lebanon

 

 
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Wadih El Safi - The eternal Voice of Lebanon
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Byblos Festival 2010

Wadih El Safi is a Lebanese singer, songwriter, and actor. He is a Lebanese cultural icon, and is often called the “Voice of Lebanon”. He became nationally known when 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 won the vocal competition and was first among fifty other competitors. He was named then the first singer of Lebanon.

El-Safi is a classically trained tenor, having studied at the Beirut National Conservatory of Music. He began composing and performing songs that drew upon his rural upbringing and love of traditional melodies, blended poetry and zajal with an urban sound, and creating 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. During this period, he used to sing for the Lebanese Diaspora about their motherland. He performed songs about the land of their ancestors, the countryside, the village and the family. "Loubnan ya Kotaat Sama" (Lebanon a piece of heaven), "Beyty" (My home), "Ya Oukhti njoum el leil dawiha" (Light the stars of the night, my sister) and "Yabni" (My son) are among the many songs which moved every immigrant and unleashed his nostalgia.

After his return to Lebanon, el-Safi continued to develop folk music and choose poetry and zajal to inspire patriotism and focus on love, devotion, morals and values.

El-Safi toured the world, singing in many languages: Arabic of course, but also French, Portuguese and Italian. He took part in major international festivals and earned many honors in Lebanon, Tunisia, Jordan, Yemen, Morocco, Syria, Mascat and France.

In the spring of 1973 el-Safi recorded and released a vinyl single with the songs "Grishlah ldi" and "Iman Ya Zawna", both in Assyrian. Nuri Iskandar did the music arrangements and the songs were produced especially for the Assyrian UNESCO Festival, which occurred in Beirut at that time where el-Safi participated as a singer.

Opera singer Luciano Pavarotti remarked on the spiritual qualities of el-Safi's singing when he claimed, "this man does not sing alone, it feels like somebody sings with him."

A prolific composer, Wadih el-Safi spent some time acting as well. He worked on a large number of plays including "Mawsam el 'izz" (The good times), "Ardouna ila el abad" (Forever our land), "Kasidat houb" (A love poem), "Al anwar" (The lights), and "Ayyam sayf" (Summer days). He also worked in cinema and participated in "Mawwal" and "Nar el showk" (The fire of passion) with Sabah.

He has written over 3000 songs and is well known for his Mawawil (an improvised singing style) of 'ataba, mijana, and Abu el Zuluf. He has performed and recorded with many well-known Lebanese musicians, including Najwa Karam, Wael Kfoury, Fairouz, and Sabah.

His records are played throughout the Arab world and he still carries the message of Lebanon in his voice, which crosses all the frontiers. Throughout 70 years, he devoted his art to the human values he believes in. He was able to make his songs known by all in Lebanon and the Arab world. His audience gathered people of all ages, tastes, classes and regions, in a new school based on tradition and inspired by folklore. Wadih el-Safi is simply a great artist who has preserved the glow of his presence and the brilliance of his performance.
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