The everlasting morning, Sabah

The everlasting morning, Sabah
4 min read
27 Nov, 2014
Lebanese actress and singer Sabah died at home in Beirut on 26 November, aged 87.
Sabah was an much-loved figure across the Arab world [AFP]

Can you translate the song of a blackbird into words?

Can her refrain become a call for love for life for prayers?

Can my childhood be the same without these Sunday family lunches of 40 people at my grandmother's house in the Bekaa, her voice filling the air between the clinks of arak glasses, the ringing of dabkeh steps on that beautiful terrace hanging between earth and sky, with the smell of barbecues mixing with laughter and my dad drinking to her long life and health?

Can my friend Wadih forget that she was his first love, his first infatuation, igniting his adolescent fantasies?

     Can every word she sang, every note she released relinquish how they tasted and sounded coming out of her?

Can the mulberry trees of her village in Lebanon forget how they grew faster when she walked singing down those dusty roads?

Can these women weaving silk threads, embroidering their wedding dresses, forget how she made them dream of love, of men stealing their hearts, of being swept off their feet?

Can every word she sang, every note she released relinquish how they tasted and sounded coming out of her?

Can every person who dressed her, who coiffured her, who embraced her beauty, find the inspiration they found in her joyful generous inner beauty that made them dare, create and challenge norms?

Can all the men she loved and married, and the ones she loved and never married, and the ones who loved her without her knowing, ever love again the way they loved her and were loved by her?

Can the female performers and singers of her times and of our times feel as free and as liberated without her opening a path, or breaking norms, or challenging the negative stereotypes that surround female singers and performers?

Can all the people she helped and cared for along the way remain silent out of fear of revealing the secret that she had always been there for them?

Can her laughter still resonate in our hearts?

Can her love of life stop after life?

The answer is No.

The answer is Sabah (her nickname, "morning"), the Sabbouha, the Chahroura (the female blackbird), the Chahrouret el Wadi ("the blackbird of the valley" - referring also to the name of her home village, Wadi Chahrour).

Born Janet Feghali in 1927, the Lebanese singer marked the memory of nations and marked the music, the cinema, and the music theatre history of the Arab world. Her career spanned six decades with 3,000 songs, 27 plays and 82 films.

She performed at the prestigious Olympia in Paris, Carnegie Hall in New York, Piccadilly Theatre in London, and the Sydney Opera House.

Many wondered when she might stop. But she never wanted to stop. In a 1980s TV interview, she said as long as she had the breath and the strength and the love she would never stop.

Age, she said, what is this word? And she laughed her ringing laughter with a lavish 1980s hairdo and a dress a shade of turquoise.


This resilience in her was so contagious. When she would appear on television during the war it was a message of love, of peace, of togetherness.

"I love life," she always said, "and I live it at peace with myself, this is my secret."

Everyone who met her said that she touched a part of them they had forgotten existed, a place of truthfulness. She was spontaneous and transparent with a wit and intelligence that always came with a flirtation, seemingly simple and naïve but oh so deep in its simplicity.

The sadness I feel today is not only at her leaving and passing, it is at her taking with her a golden era that I barely tasted, but which I lived vicariously through people such as her and the legacy they left behind.

Her era was one when dreams of nations were being forged in the Arab world, when censorship was being challenged, when singers and performers were artists, when women were making their own freedom not asking for it, when Egyptian cinema was opening doors, hearts and minds all over the Arab world, when art had a role, a say, a presence, when life stopped at an Om Kalthoum concert, when demonstrations were for the people and by the people, when leaders were still leaders, when my Lebanon could have been the Lebanon I still try to create now.

Sabah is one of those people who made it possible for us to dream of the impossible.

She was not just about all those marriages, and all those outstanding dresses, hairdos, and a daring lifestyle. She was simply about creating a self that resembled who she wanted to be - not what others or society wanted her to be - a free soul.

If in every sector we had a free soul leading - without knowing that they are leading - maybe, maybe we would be building ourselves and our nations instead of destroying them.

Sabbouha, you took a part of me - of us - with you. But I'm sure that this other place you are going to will dance to your voice and celebrate your love of life because your love of life can not stop after life itself expires.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the original author, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.