The late Wadih El Safi comes back to life in a tribute concert at Beirut Holidays
Ktnown as the “Voice of Lebanon,” Safi became a cultural icon after he rose to fame at the age of 17, when he was selected as the winner of a singing contest organized by Radio Lebanon. He died in October 2013 due to a long-term heart problem.
The concert took off with the four artists performing together to “Allah Ya Trab Antoura,” after which each singer appeared in turn, giving voice to wildly popular hits by Safi, who is rumored to have sung over 3,000 songs. Lead by Maestro Elie al-Alya, Georges El Safi sang the major crowd-pleaser “Andak Bahria,” followed by “Zaraana Tlalek Ya Bladi” and “Abali Ya Asfourat Al Nahrein.”
In keeping with Safi’s practice, each song was accompanied by a Mawwal, a traditional Arab musical-cum-poetic interjection used to introduce each number.
Antoine El Safi’s performance proved equally entertaining. He treated the audience to heartfelt renditions of “Bel Saha Talkaina” and “Lebnan Out’it Sama,” during which his son, a third generation Safi, accompanied him on the violin.
The emotional performer thanked the audience for being there, adding that their mere presence automatically made them his siblings. He then bowed to the crowd before remarking in a play on words that his father “was a piece of heaven on earth and now he is a piece of earth in heaven.”
In between performances, the audience was regaled with video montages of footage of the late Safi, who passed away at the age of 91. For most part, these clips showed him talking about Lebanon. “Lebaneseness” was thus allowed to become a central theme of the chosen program and was reflected in the selection of songs, which were mostly Safi’s better known tracks, familiar to audiences from years of radio play.
Patriotic footage of the Lebanese flag often accompanied the singers on stage, dwarfing performers on the video screen backdrop. Although Safi is undoubtedly a symbolic figure in Lebanon, the insistence of nationalistic imagery seemed incongruous and a little over the top.
Pop star Attiyeh charmed the crowd, thanks to his extensive experience in the entertainment business. A reflection of a night that seemed to be more about entertainment than serious artistry, his interjections and asides to the audience succeeded in cajoling attendees into abandoning their seats to stand up and clap along. Many chose to sing and dance along with Safi’s more famous numbers.
Attiyeh included a rendition of one of his own numbers, “Lubnan Rah Yerjaa,” saluting the author of the song’s lyrics, the famous Lebanese poet Samir Nakhle and adding that he was in attendance at the concert.
In the end it was Hani, dressed in a blue sequined dress, who stole the show, thanks to her powerful voice and onstage poise. She also augmented her renditions of Safi’s repertoire with a song of her own, “Ya Leil.”
The performance seemed to please the audience, but it was not quite in keeping with the spirit of Safi’s work. In spite of the purported aim of the concert, the emphasis seemed to be on the pop stars on stage, rather than Safi himself.
Safi’s own sons performed with a humbleness more in keeping with their father’s memory. While the music was not up to the caliber of Safi’s own performances, the concert was ultimately held together by the maestro Alya, who appeared more attuned to Safi’s music than any of the performers. Moments of particular musical virtuosity were greeted with approving cries of “Allah!” from the audience.
The Beirut Holidays festival continues Aug. 21 with a performance by Lebanese singer Elissa. For more information, please call 01-999-666.