‘Golden voice’ known throughout Arab world


Lebanese singer Wadih al-Safi acknowledges the crowd during a concert in his honor with the Syrian Al-Farah choir at the Damascus Opera House in 2010. (Khaled al-Hariri/REUTERS)
October 14, 2013

Lebanese singer and composer Wadih Safi, whose strong, clear voice propelled him to fame throughout the Arab world, died Oct. 11 at a hospital in Beirut. He was 92.

The state-run National News Agency said that Mr. Safi fell ill while staying with his son. The cause of death was not disclosed.

Mr. Safi, whose real name was Wadih Francis, helped spread colloquial Lebanese Arabic outside his country. He became known to many Arabs as “the man with the golden voice.”

During a career that spanned seven decades, he worked with a string of legendary Arab composers and singers, including Egypt’s late Mohammed Abdul-Wahhab, the late Syrian-Egyptian Farid al-Atrash and Lebanon’s Fayrouz.

The son of a policeman, Mr. Safi was born in the mountain village of Niha. The second of eight siblings, 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 in its choir. At the age of 12, he dropped out and began working and singing in order to help his family make ends meet.

When he turned 17, his elder brother, Toufic, showed him an announcement about a singing competition at state-run Lebanon Radio. Mr. Safi placed first out of 40 contestants and began working at the station.

He later lived in Brazil for several years before returning to Lebanon.

Mr. Safi left Lebanon at the start of the 1975-90 civil war, travelling first to Egypt, then Britain and finally France.

His hit songs included the nostalgia-laden “Lebanon, You Are a Piece of the Sky” and “We Are Coming,” about Lebanese migrants.

Syria’s state-run news agency SANA described Mr. Safi as “the giant of Arab singing.”

In addition to Lebanese, Mr. Safi held Egyptian, Brazilian and French citizenship.

Survivors include his wife, Melfina Francis, and six children.

— Associated Press

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