BEIRUT: Lebanese music lovers took to the Internet over the weekend to demand a national day of mourning in honor of the iconic singer Wadih al-Safi, who passed away Friday at the age of 92. The Lebanese Higher National Conservatory for Music announced it would close Monday out of respect for Safi. Andre Hajj, the head of the Lebanese Oriental Orchestra and a professor at the conservatory, called on caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati to follow suit.
“The state has its own considerations, but it would be shameful if they didn’t announce a day of mourning,” he told The Daily Star, adding that the conservatory did not hesitate to close Monday as soon as word of Safi’s death spread.
Last fall, Hajj helped organize a special concert to honor Safi’s 75 years on the stage, a responsibility he described as one of the great honors of his life.
“[Safi] left so much more to Lebanon than we realize,” Hajj said. “Now people are noticing because he died, but I would say he lived a full life.”
Safi suffered a stroke at his son’s house in Mansourieh Friday night and was transferred to the Bellevue Medical Center where he passed away.
Safi’s funeral service is scheduled to be held Monday at 3 p.m. at St. George Cathedral in downtown Beirut. As of press time Sunday, Mikati had not announced a day of mourning.
Safi’s family, through their media liaison, issued a call Sunday for the “greatest possible popular participation” in the funeral procession, asking the public to bid him farewell with roses, rice, pictures and prayer.
The funeral procession will begin at 9 a.m. from Mansourieh and head towards Beirut, passing through Mkalles, Dikwaneh, Sin al-Fil, Jisr al-Basha, Hazmieh, and Furn al-Shubbak.
Born in the Chouf village of Niha, Safi burst onto the music scene at the tender age of 17 when he won a radio singing competition. Over the years, he recorded more than 1,000 songs and collaborated with some of Arab music’s greatest talents, including the Rahbani brothers and Farid al-Atrash.
Safi was considered a giant of Lebanese classical and folk music and often rhapsodized about his homeland in song. Some of his most famous tunes include “Andak Baharia” (You Have Sailors), which speaks of Lebanon’s proud seafaring history and “Lubnan, Ya Qataat Samaa” (Oh Lebanon, Piece of Heaven).
Many fans and artists echoed the Professional Artists Union’s call for a national day of mourning. They used Twitter and Facebook to bid the Lebanese legend farewell, share videos of his concerts and urge the state to officially honor Safi.
The hashtag #Nationaldayofmourningtowadihelsafi was trending nationally on Twitter over the weekend, with celebrities such as Carol Samaha and Najwa Karam tweeting their support for the idea. The Twitter generation of singers and artists also took to social media to post personal remembrances and messages of condolence.
The sultry Haifa Wehbe tweeted “the great ones never die,” adding: “ Lebanon will miss you and live on forever in your voice. God rest your soul.” Lebanon’s sweetheart, Nancy Ajram, tweeted “ Lebanon is in pain, and we [are] all in pain. Wadih el safi, the immortal symbol of Lebanon, we [are] praying for [you], may your soul rest in peace.”
“You are like the majestic cedars and the firm mountain,” wrote Lebanese singer Alaa Zalzali. “You will never leave us because you are in our hearts and our history.”
Renowned Syrian singer George Wassouf tweeted a picture of himself kissing Safi’s hand and added the caption: “God bless the giant Abu Fadi [Safi], who has departed but remains in our hearts.”
Legendary Lebanese singer Sabah – Safi’s long-term collaborator – also issued a statement mourning her colleague. Additionally, politicians from across the political spectrum paid homage to the late Safi, releasing statements praising his music and contribution to national pride.