Talal Maddah: Late Saudi singer to be honoured in a star-studded show in Riyadh

Nicknamed 'the Golden Throat', Maddah is considered a pioneer of Saudi folk music

Singer Talal Maddah was one of the first musicians from Saudi Arabia to perform widely abroad. Photo: Wikipedia
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A giant of Saudi music will be celebrated in a concert in Riyadh on Wednesday.

As part of the event, taking place at the Mohammed Abdo Theatre in The Boulevard, leading regional artists will honour the career of Talal Maddah, who died in 2000.

The artist, honoured with a Google Doodle in 2018, is viewed as a pioneer of Saudi folk music and is one of the first musicians from the kingdom to perform widely abroad.

More than a dozen artists will gather in Riyadh for the event, including Saudi singers Mohammed Abdo and Rabeh Saqr, as well as Nawal Al Kuwaitia from Kuwait and Emirati singer Ahlam.

Also taking to the stage will be Syria's Assala Nasri, Tunisian crooner Saber Al Rebai and Lebanon's Nawal Al Zoghbi.

The geographical span of these artists reflects Maddah’s wide-ranging influence.

Through nearly 1,000 progressive and elegant compositions, paired with evocative lyrics exploring everything from heritage to love and family, his work resonated far beyond the kingdom.

Such was his success, before his death from a heart attack at the age of 60, he was nicknamed the Golden Throat.

Born Talal bin Abdul Sheikh bin Ahmed bin Jaafar Al Jabri in Makkah in 1940, Maddah's talent was spotted from a young age performing in school concerts.

It was during his teenage years that he committed himself to a life in music after being reportedly transfixed by a wedding performance in the Saudi city of Taif, featuring vocalists and an orchestra.

At the event was a representative from the fledgling Radio Jeddah, who invited Maddah to visit the studio and record a batch of songs.

One of those was Wardak Ya Zarea Al Ward (Grower of Roses), a song synonymous with the birth of Saudi radio stations in the mid-1950s and played widely across the kingdom.

With songs such as Shai Ghareeb (Strange Thing) showcasing his rich tone and prodigious oud playing, Maddah’s talents eventually reached regional ears through being broadcast on Egyptian radio stations.

In addition to being one of the first artists from Saudi Arabia’s more conservative Hejaz region to find national and regional fame, Maddah’s music also brought a fresh take to the table.

He laced songs with tight rhythmic couplets and disregarded some of the more elongated verses, inspired by Arabic poetry, that was common at the time.

Maddah was also known to compose songs featuring different and interlocking movements, in addition to adding western musical influences.

This can be heard in epic works such as the 16-minute Ahrajtini (You Embarrassed Me) and the operatic Zaman Al Samt (Days of Silence), which both featured a string section and electronic keyboards.

With key works such as 1976's Muqadir becoming a pan-Arab hit, due to radio and the onset of the cassette recorder, Maddah would go on to play outside Saudi Arabia, as far as Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Tunisia and Libya.

Despite the fame and acclaim, he was said to have struggled financially throughout his career, according to quotes from peers in Lisa Urkevich’s book Music and Traditions of the Arabian Peninsula.

Maddah suffered a cardiac arrest and died during a live performance broadcast on the Saudi TV programme Al Methafa.

A new generation of artists have since continuously paid tribute to the artist by covering his work during concerts.

The Talal Maddah Theatre was officially launched in 2019 in Abha in south-western Saudi Arabia and has already hosted major shows by Abdo and Ahlam.

However, Wednesday's concert, organised by Saudi Arabia's General Entertainment Authority, is viewed as a celebration truly befitting Maddah's cultural contribution.

In a recent interview with Al Arabiya, the musician's son, Abdullah Ibn Talal Maddah, described the event as a labour of love for the family.

He also revealed there are "about 50 songs” from Maddah yet to be released, hinting we haven't heard the last of the Golden Throat just yet.

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Updated: January 31, 2023, 2:30 AM