Wadih el-Safi, 91, a Favorite Singer in the Arab World
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published: October 14, 2013
Wadih el-Safi, a Lebanese singer and composer whose strong and clear voice propelled him to fame throughout the Arab world, died in Beirut on Friday. He was 91.
His death was reported by the state-run National News Agency.
Mr. Safi, whose real name was Wadih Francis, helped spread colloquial Lebanese Arabic outside his country, becoming known to many Arabs as “the man with the golden voice.” Over seven decades he worked with well-known Arab composers and singers like Mohammed Abdul-Wahhab, Farid al-Atrash and Fayrouz.
He was much beloved in Lebanon, which has issued postage stamps bearing his likeness. “His passing is a loss to the nation and every Lebanese home,” President Michel Suleiman said in a statement on Saturday. “He embodied the nation through his art.”
The son of a police officer, Mr. Safi was born on Nov. 1, 1921, in the mountain village of Niha. He lived in near poverty in the village until his family moved to Beirut when he was 9. There, he enrolled in a Catholic school and began singing with its choir. At 12 he dropped out and began working and singing to help the family make ends meet.
When he turned 17, his brother Toufic showed him an announcement about a signing competition at state-run Lebanon Radio. He placed first out of 40 contestants and began working at the station. He later traveled to Brazil, where he spent time before returning to Lebanon.
Mr. Safi left Lebanon at the start of the 1975-90 civil war, traveling first to Egypt, then Britain, and finally, France.
In addition to Lebanese, Mr. Safi held Egyptian, Brazilian and French citizenships.
Survivors include his wife, Melfina Francis, and six sons and daughters.
Wadih El Safi (Arabic: وديع الصافي, born Wadi' Francis) (November 1, 1921 – October 11, 2013) was a Lebanese singer songwriter, and actor. He became a Lebanese cultural icon, and was often called the "Voice of Lebanon". Born in Niha, Lebanon, Wadih El Safi started his artistic journey at the age of seventeen when he took part in a singing contest held by Lebanese Radio and was chosen the winner among fifty other competitors.
Wadih El Safi was a classically trained tenor, having studied at the Beirut National Conservatory of Music. He became nationally known when, at seventeen, he won a vocal competition sponsored by the Lebanese Broadcasting Network. El Safi began composing and performing songs that drew upon his rural upbringing and love of traditional melodies, blended with an urban sound, and creating a new style of modernized Lebanese folk music.
In 1947, El Safi traveled to Brazil, where he remained until 1950.
El Safi toured the world, singing in many languages, including Arabic, Syriac, French, Portuguese and Italian.
In the spring of 1973, El Safi recorded and released a vinyl single with the songs "Grishlah Idi" (lyrics by Ninos Aho) and "Iman Ya Zawna" (lyrics by Amanuel Salamon), first one in Western Syriac and second one in Eastern Syriac. The music arrangements were done by Nuri Iskandar and the songs were produced especially for an Aramean Festival, which occurred in the UNESCO building in Beirut at that time where El Safi participated as a singer.
El Safi has written over 3000 songs. He 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 , Fairouz, and Sabah.
In 1990, Wadih El Safi underwent open heart surgery. In 2012, he broke his leg and had to have surgery to mend the fracture. After the surgery, his health declined quickly. In 2013, he was admitted to hospital, suffering from pulmonary consolidation. On October 11, 2013, he fell ill at his son's home and was rushed to the Bellevue Medical Center where he died. His funeral was held at Saint George Maronite Cathedral, Beirut on October 14, 2013.
The discography of Wadih El Safi as a singer includes the following:
- Best of Wadi – Vol. 1
- Best of Wadi – Vol. 2
- Best of Wadi – Vol. 3
- Inta Omri
- The Two Tenors:Wadi Al Safi Aad Sabah Fakhri
- Wadih El-Safi and José Fernandez
- Wetdallou Bkheir
- Rouh ya zaman al madi atfal qana
- Chante Le Liban
- Wadi El Safi / Legends Of The 20th Century
- Mersal El Hawa
- Mahrajan Al Anwar
- Youghani Loubnan
- Ajmal El Aghani
The discography of Wadih El Safi as a composer includes the following:
- Cantiques de l'Orient
- Psaumes Pour Le 3ème Millénaire
The discography of Wadih El Safi as a sideman includes the following:
- Music of Arabia, Hanaan and her ensemble (withWadih El-Safi on oud)