Syrian singer Sabah Fakhri dies aged 88: 'The light of music went out in the Levant'

The beloved star's career spanned seven decades

Syrian singer Sabah Fakhri has died aged 88.

The news was announced in a joint statement by Syria's Ministry of Information and the Syrian Artists Syndicate, on Twitter and Facebook. No cause of death was revealed.

The beloved musician had a remarkable 70-year career during which Fakhri was hailed as the ambassador of the Syrian folk music genre, and a major influence on generations of Arab artists across the region.

Quote
You will remain a source of pride for authentic Middle Eastern music
Neshan, TV host

This has been reflected in the outpouring of tributes from an eclectic array of artists.

Saudi singer Sulaiman Al Manah called Fakhri a "master" of the Syrian folk song. "This is sad news. My sincere condolences to his family, his artistic family and fans across the Arab world."

Kuwaiti composer Fahed Alnasser paid tribute to "the melody of Aleppo. And the light of music went out in the Levant. Farewell."

Syrian actor Moatasem Al Nahar posted a picture of Fakhri performing in his prime, with the caption: "Goodbye Sabah Fakhri. Goodbye.”

Lebanese television host Neshan said: "You will remain a source of pride for authentic Middle Eastern music."

His life and background

Fakhri, whose real name was Sabah Abu Qaws, was born in Aleppo in 1933. He was a muezzin in Al Rawda Mosque in Aleppo in his youth. The role earned Fakhri the attention of musician Sami Al-Shawa, who began taking him on singing tours across Syria.

He studied at the Academy of Arabic Music of Aleppo and then at the Damascus music conservatory, from which he graduated in 1948. The tenor then adopted the stage name Fakhri in honour of his mentor, Syrian nationalist leader Fakhri al-Barudi.

With his raw talent and grasp of classical Arabic music, Fakhri quickly made a name for himself in the Syrian music scene. One of his first public shows was at the Presidential Palace in Damascus in 1948, where he performed in front of then Syrian president Shukri al-Quwatli and prime minister Jamil Mardam Bey.

Throughout his career, Fakhri was a luminary in revitalising forms and techniques of traditional Arabic music, namely Qudud Halabiya (musical measures of Aleppo) and the Muwashshah musical genre. He often found his lyrics in the works of the 10th-century poets Abu Firas Al Hamdani and Al Mutanabbi. Some of his most famous songs include Ya Mal al-Sham, Ana Wa Habibi and Oul Lel Maliha.

Fakhri was fiercely devoted to Syria and identified the country’s heritage as being the roots of his musical style and prowess. His musical lineage included several great Syrian musicians, including Sheikh Ali Al-Darwish, Sheikh Omar Al-Batsh, Majdi Al Aqili and Aziz Ghannam.

A deep connection to Syria

That connection to his homeland also manifested in the industry leadership positions he would go on to hold, such as twice leading the Syrian Artists Syndicate and as a member of the People's Assembly of Syria.

His reputation, however, traversed far from the borders of his home country and he, eventually, followed. He performed in countries across Asia, Europe, the Americas and in Australia. In 1968, the Addouka Al Mayass singer was honoured by the Guinness World Records for performing on stage non-stop for 10 hours in Caracas, Venezuela. He is believed to have been the first Arab musician to be recognised by the world records body.

Leaving a musical legacy

Fakhri won numerous awards for his performances across his career, including the gold medal at the 1978 Arab Song Festival in Damascus. He also received an honorary certificate at the 2004 Fes Festival of World Sacred Music in Morocco. That same year, he was also awarded by the Arab League Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organisation.

Several Arab and international leaders honoured Fakhri for his contributions to Arabic music. In 1975, he received the Tunisian Cultural Medal from president Habib Bourguiba. In 2000, Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al Said of Oman presented him with the Omani Order of Merit for his work. In 2007, Fakhri was awarded the Order of Civil Merit by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for his role in reviving classical Arabic music.

Fakhri’s music showcased the intricacies of classical Arabic composition and poetry. His legacy leaves a lasting imprint on classical Arabic music, with his influence discernible in the works of the genre’s most contemporary practitioners.

Updated: November 2nd 2021, 12:22 PM