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

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 has been revealed.

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

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

Saudi singer Sulainman 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.”

Kuwait 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 noted: “You will remain a source of pride for authentic Middle Eastern music.”

Born in Abu Qaws in Aleppo in 1933, Fakhri’s artistry is informed by rigorous training at the Academy of Arabic Music of Aleppo and the Damascus conservatory, from where he graduated in 1948. His stage name is in honour of mentor and Syrian politician Fakhri al-Barudi.

Where peers relocated to industry hotspots such as Cairo and Beirut, Fakhri focused his efforts in his homeland in order to feel connected to the Syrian folk songs he was beginning to master. Early performances include one before former Syrian president Shukri Al Quwaiti at the presidential place in 1948 and a relentless touring schedule around the country.

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

All that behind-the-scenes work paled in comparison to his artistic contribution with his mountainous tenor popularising Qudud Halabiya, a traditional form of Syrian music linked with Aleppo that combines classical Arabic poetry with religious inspired melodies. These songs of love, longing and spirituality were realised by Fakhri in powerful pieces such as Halla Ya Jamlo and Ya Teira