French Algerian musical icon Souad Massi: ‘If we lose our humanity, we are lost’

French Algerian musical icon Souad Massi: ‘If we lose our humanity, we are lost’
Souad Massi’s newest album is inspired by the Gallo-Roman deity Sequana. (Supplied)
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Updated 25 October 2022

French Algerian musical icon Souad Massi: ‘If we lose our humanity, we are lost’

French Algerian musical icon Souad Massi: ‘If we lose our humanity, we are lost’
  • Ahead of her debut in Saudi Arabia, the singer-songwriter discusses her stunning new album, ‘Sequana’

DUBAI: In the darkest moments of the COVID-19 pandemic, Souad Massi would walk down to the river. The water inspired her, made her feel better about herself, helped her to reflect. It was there that she discovered Sequana, the goddess of the River Seine.

“It was a very strange and wonderful discovery for me,” says the Franco-Algerian singer-songwriter. “I didn’t know anything about her but she inspired me. She was a goddess of healing and that’s what I needed during COVID. That’s what we all needed, I think. I was impacted like a lot of people and we lived in fear in that moment and had time to reflect. So a lot of things inspired me in that moment.” 

‘Sequana’ is Souad Massi’s 10th studio album and an eclectic blend of genres and moods. (Supplied)

The Gallo-Roman deity would go on to not only lend her name to Massi’s new album, but its title track, too. In the latter she speaks directly to her two young daughters. “I wanted to tell them that life is beautiful, but it’s OK if you have problems, if you’re afraid of the future, if you don’t know what job you can do, or if you have difficulty communicating with other people,” explains Massi, who was born in Bab-el-Oued, a district of Algiers, and moved to Paris in 1999. “It’s very hard for them. So I asked Sequana if she could help me, give me courage. Because I want to give hope to my daughters.”

A collection of 11 songs, nine of which have been written by Massi, “Sequana” is the artist’s 10th studio album and an eclectic blend of genres and moods. Set for global release on October 14, the launch will be accompanied by a concert at Maraya in AlUla — Massi’s first performance in Saudi Arabia. She will also appear at London’s Barbican on October 29, cementing a stunning new chapter in her career.

Souad Massi has built an enviable reputation for herself over the course of the past 20 or so years. (Supplied)

Once a member of the Algiers-based hard rock group Atakor, Massi has built an enviable reputation for herself over the course of the past 20 or so years. Renowned for the powerful distinctiveness of her voice and the poetry of her lyrics, she released her first solo album, “Raoui,” back in 2001 and has been charming audiences across the world ever since.  

In “Sequana,” she sings about the causes that are closest to her heart, whether they be love and exile or the importance of human relationships. In that sense the album is a continuation of what has always been Massi’s calling card — an unfailing determination to speak out for what she values the most. 

“I talk about human connections, about the importance of empathy, the importance of love,” says Massi, apologizing for her broken English. “I understand that we are fragile, but if we lose our humanity we are lost.”



The first single from the album, “Dessine Moi Un Pays” (Draw Me a Country), came out in June and, although perhaps rooted in the loss of her own homeland, draws on the more recent displacements of people from Syria and Afghanistan. It is nature, however, that takes center stage in the album. In the press material that accompanies its release, Massi states that “what we must always maintain, whatever life brings our way, is our connection with nature, firstly for the beauty it offers, but also for its mastery in the art of resilience.”

The album’s cover also features Massi with two daisies delicately placed over her eyelids, representing what she says is a symbol of resistance. “This earth is beautiful and I want to stand with those people who try to protect it and fight for it,” she says simply. 



The musical palette that accompanies these themes is broad. Massi is known for her generous embrace of musical styles, incorporating rock and chaabi into an otherwise acoustic sound. On “Sequana,” she has branched out further, adding calypso, chanson and bossa nova to the musical traditions of her native North Africa. In doing so, she has created an often-hypnotic blend of genres, thanks in no small part to the English producer Justin Adams. Having worked with the likes of Rachid Taha, Juldeh Camara, Tinariwen and Robert Plant, Adams is no stranger to the world of successful global collaborations.  

The album’s opener, “Dessine Moi Un Pays,” features Kabyle-style acoustic guitar, a violin quartet, and the Syrian flautist Naïssam Jalal. Elsewhere, the mandole (an Algerian steel-stringed instrument akin to the mandolin) helps to transform “Dib El Raba” into a joyful mid-tempo groove. Other collaborators in what is an entirely new musical line-up for Massi include the English singer Piers Faccini and the singer-songwriter Michel Françoise, who wrote the lyrics for both “Une Seule Etoile” (A Single Star) and “L’espoir” (Hope).



“You know, I grew up in Algeria and was at the crossroads of Africa, Europe and the Middle East,” says Massi, who listened to chaabi and the songs of the Kabyle (a Berber ethnic group) growing up. “We were really at the center of it all and that was really interesting for me as an artist, because I heard all this music and I travelled a lot and met a lot of people. So when Justin and I spoke about my songs, the lyrics and my inspiration, he told me to be natural and to follow my instinct. So it was simple. I can play traditional music, I can play rock music, I have a classical base, so why would I limit myself? I don’t want to limit myself. I want to be free like I am in my life and I want to translate this in my music.”

Folk music and the guitar — two hallmarks of Massi’s sound — remain a central component of “Sequana.” It is they, she says, that provide the kind of intelligence required to transform pain into song and feature prominently on both “Sequana” and “Dib El Raba.” 

Souad Massi performs at the Radio 3 Awards For World Music Winners Concert at the Carling Academy Brixton on April 7, 2006 in London. (Getty Images)

“Folk music was my first love and I’m one of those people who need a story, who need to understand, who need to live a song with its lyrics,” says Massi, an admirer of Bob Dylan and Joan Baez. “The first folk songs were just one person with a guitar speaking about their pain, about the difficulties of life, of oppression, of heartbreak. Music was there to accompany what they wanted to say. And when the lyrics are rich and true, that’s when music is at its most powerful.”

Nowhere is this truer than with the Chilean folk singer Victor Jara, to whom Massi has dedicated the album’s final song. Inspired by the folk traditions of his homeland and by singer-songwriters such as Violeta Parra, Jara wrote songs of protest that advocated political reform and social justice. He was tortured and executed by the regime of Augusto Pinochet in 1973.

“I love this man who died for freedom and I have a lot of respect for him. When I discovered his life and the story of his death, I was very sad, but I wanted to transform this sadness into something real. I have a lot of respect for people who are generous, who don’t care about their life, who are gentle, who think about others, who give their life for us,” she says. “Because freedom is a gift to others. People like Victor Jara give us this gift.”

US actress Megan Fox stuns in Lebanese label at Grammys 2023

US actress Megan Fox stuns in Lebanese label at Grammys 2023
Updated 14 sec ago

US actress Megan Fox stuns in Lebanese label at Grammys 2023

US actress Megan Fox stuns in Lebanese label at Grammys 2023
  • Beyonce broke the record for the most Grammy wins of any artist, scoring her 32nd prize ever

DUBAI: US actress Megan Fox opted for an elegant white gown from Lebanese couturier Zuhair Murad as she supported her musician-fiance Machine Gun Kelly (MGK)  at the 2023 Grammy Awards on Sunday night.

The couple, who were going for a “Romeo & Juliet” look wore complimentary outfits in matching metallics, with Fox opting for a more toned-down look to shine light on her partner.


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Fox’s stylist took to Instagram to share the story behind her look. “Story time, when Adam shared the sketch of MGK’s look, I immediately thought of Baz Luhrmann’s ‘Romeo and Juliet.’ I wanted to find a simple classic white gown for Megan but still something that felt like her with a bit of an edge.

“I knew this was the dress the second I saw it and begged them to ship it in from Paris for me. It was exactly what she wanted and was the only thing she tried on. Tonight was his night so we really wanted to keep her look simple and classic so he could shine,” posted Maeve Reilly on Instagram.


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The "Transformers" actress, 32, added to the glam with a custom 14K carat white gold and diamond nail set by Marrow Fine Jewelry and Nails and jewelry from designer Lorraine Schwartz.

This year, MGK was up for best rock album for “Mainstream Sellout,” but ahead of the ceremony, the win went to Ozzy Osbourne's “Patient Number 9.”

Meanwhile, superstar Beyonce broke the record for the most Grammy wins of any artist, scoring her 32nd prize ever and fourth of the night to resounding applause.

She won the title by winning the Grammy for Best Dance/Electronic Music Album for her smash “Renaissance,” surpassing the late classical conductor Georg Solti, who had 31 awards.

“I’m trying not to be too emotional,” the singer-songwriter said as her husband Jay-Z stood and applauded her. The singer thanked her late uncle, her parents, Jay-Z and her children for supporting her. “I’m just trying to receive this night. I want to thank God for protecting me. Thank you, God.”

Former One Direction member Harry Styles won the award for Best Pop Vocal Album for “Harry's House.” The singer said recording the song was one of the “greatest experiences of my life. It’s been my greatest joy.”

Also, notably, actress Viola Davis emerged from Sunday's show an EGOT — a term for those who have won an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony — after her win for best audio book, narration and storytelling recording.

US actress Tessa Brooks shows off Saudi label Eman Alajlan in Los Angeles  

US actress Tessa Brooks shows off Saudi label Eman Alajlan in Los Angeles  
Updated 05 February 2023

US actress Tessa Brooks shows off Saudi label Eman Alajlan in Los Angeles  

US actress Tessa Brooks shows off Saudi label Eman Alajlan in Los Angeles  

DUBAI: US actress, social media star and dancer Tessa Brooks showed off a sleek look by Saudi designer Eman Alajlan at the 2023 MusiCares Persons of the Year event in Los Angeles over the weekend.  

US actress and social media star Tessa Brooks showed off a sleek look by Saudi designer Eman Alajlan. (Getty Images)

The 23-year-old multi-hyphenate showed off an all-black ensemble by Alajlan at an event that honored retired American record executive Berry Gordy and legendary Motown singer Smokey Robinson at the Los Angeles Convention Center. 


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The pair of creatives are the architects behind a generation of soul-pop hits and they stood side-by-side on Friday night to accept a double-billed MusiCares Persons of the Year honor. MusiCares is non-profit wing of the Recording Academy and holds the annual gala ahead of the Grammy Awards, which took place on Sunday night.  

Brooks opted to show off a Saudi design on a red carpet that welcomed the who’s who of the entertainment industry — performers who took to the the stage at the event included Brandi Carlile, Jimmie Allen, PJ Morton, Trombone Shorty, John Legend, Sheryl Crow, Mumford & Sons, Isley Brothers, Michael McDonald, The Temptations, Rita Wilson and The Four Tops, Molly Tuttle and more.  


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Musical icons Stevie Wonder and Lionel Richie also made on-stage appearances.  

Brooks chose a sculptured look by Alajlan, featuring a form-fitting bodice and skirt topped with a wrap-around collar dusted with gemstones.  

The social media star showed off her outfit of choice to her 19 million Instagram followers by way of a set of Instagram Stories.  


A post shared by Tessa Brooks (@tessabrooks)

The model and actress also recently posted about her visits to Saudi Arabia, where she attended the Red Sea International Film Festival in December before jetting back to the Kingdom to visit the historical site of AlUla in January.  

“Sunrise in AlUla,” she captioned a carousel of shots on Instagram in which she can be seen basking in the Saudi sun wearing a toweled robe.  


A post shared by Tessa Brooks (@tessabrooks)

Alajlan, who has a store in Riyadh, established her label in 2007 and specializes in couture, bridal and pret-a-porter dresses. She has dressed a number of regional celebrities for international events, including the 2019 Venice Film Festival when Saudi actresses Mila Alzahrani and Dae Al-Hilali hit the red carpet in her creations. 

Famed historian Lucy Worsley explores Agatha Christie’s life at Emirates Literature Festival in Dubai

Famed historian Lucy Worsley explores Agatha Christie’s life at Emirates Literature Festival in Dubai
Lucy Worsley (center) and Ragnar Jonasson (left) at the Emirates Literature Festival. (Supplied)
Updated 05 February 2023

Famed historian Lucy Worsley explores Agatha Christie’s life at Emirates Literature Festival in Dubai

Famed historian Lucy Worsley explores Agatha Christie’s life at Emirates Literature Festival in Dubai

DUBAI: In a sold-out, hour-long session at the Emirates Literature Festival, British historian and broadcaster Lucy Worsley and Icelandic thriller writer Ragnar Jonasson talked about all things Agatha Christie (1890-1976), the venerable British detective author. Actively writing for more than five decades, the best-selling “Queen of Crime” led a remarkable life and career of highs and lows.


A post shared by Lucy Worsley (@lucy_worsley)

She taught herself to read at 5 years old, wrote 66 detective novels, surfed in Hawaii, and survived infidelity and a painful divorce. She sold over 2 billion books and was knighted by the queen in her 80s. One can say that Christie was a fighter, and the pen was her weapon of choice.

Both Worsley and Jonasson are long-time admirers of Christie. Worsley has a new biography about the writer, while ever since his teens, Jonasson has translated more than a dozen of Christie’s novels into Icelandic. “You go back to the books again and again, just like comfort reading,” he said.

“Somebody like Agatha Christie can sometimes be put into this box that’s marked with the words ‘difficult women.’ You aren’t immediately likable, aren’t immediately knowable, aren’t all sweet and light,” Worsley told the Dubai audience. “It strikes me that very often when a woman is put into that category in people’s minds it’s because she is breaking the rules as they are perceived for women at the time.”


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Worsley, who wrote her book during the pandemic, had access to Christie’s family archive and conducted research at her Georgian holiday home in Devon, England. Christie began seriously writing her books in the 1920s, often dubbed the “golden age of crime fiction.” Worsley believes it was the First World War, when Christie was a nurse, that kicked things off for her.

“She turned to writing detective fiction during the quiet hours in the hospital dispensary, when she was waiting for the prescriptions to come in,” she explained. “It was her job to mix up the drugs and produce the medicines (and) poisons that could either save life or take life.”

During her peak years, between the 1920s and 1940s, Christie always seemed to outshine other contemporary crime authors. “She was simply the best one,” said Jonasson, complimenting her genius plots. “The others were writing very good detective stories, but she always had this extra layer of a twist at the end…Her ideas are sometimes so simple that you explain them in one sentence.”

The session also delved into Christie’s personal hardships, including her infamous 1926 disappearance, when she hid away from society for 11 days as a result of her first husband’s adultery. In the later years of her life, suffering from the early stages of dementia, Christie’s books were not as successful as her previous ones.

But there were some positive points too. Her adventurous trips to the Middle East gave the world all-time classics, such as “Death on the Nile” and “Murder on the Orient Express.” It was in Iraq that she would meet her second husband of 40-plus years, archaeologist Max Mallowan. Interest in Christie’s writings remains high, as films and TV shows inspired by her books continue to be in production. Not only do these attract longtime fans but also, and perhaps most importantly, they introduce her work to younger generations.

Saudi creative Ahmed Al-Saif showcases African tribal life at Xposure International Photography Festival

Saudi creative Ahmed Al-Saif showcases African tribal life at Xposure International Photography Festival
Updated 05 February 2023

Saudi creative Ahmed Al-Saif showcases African tribal life at Xposure International Photography Festival

Saudi creative Ahmed Al-Saif showcases African tribal life at Xposure International Photography Festival
  • Fascinating culture in Ethiopia’s Omo Valley, says artist
  • Sharjah event features 74 photographers with 1,794 prints

DUBAI: Creatives are gearing up for the seventh edition of the Xposure International Photography Festival, which is set to take place in the UAE from Feb. 9 to 15.

Organized by the Sharjah Government Media Bureau, the event at the Expo Center Sharjah will feature 74 world-renowned photographers and a display of 1,794 prints.

One of the participating artists is Saudi photographer Ahmad Al-Saif, who specializes in travel and culture-focused photography.



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Al-Saif said his work would take visitors on a journey to Africa to learn about the tribes of the Omo Valley in Ethiopia.

“The focus of these nations in my work is to illustrate their fascinating lifestyle and heritage. They distinguish themselves from other tribes with unique body paints, scarification and lip and ear plates,” he said. “These body modifications and beautifications, as they consider them, have a deep-rooted heritage and reasons.

“I wish I could find the words to describe what it feels like to visit these tribes and I aspire to convey a little bit of their beauty in this exhibition,” he said.



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One of his favorite pictures to be showcased at the exhibition is “Glance” — a photograph taken of the Karo tribe.

“This picture was taken (in) the first few minutes when I reached the Karo tribe land,” he said. “The picture captured a child’s curiosity to see me for the first time, which had a similar reflection of my curiosity when I saw them.”

“Glance” was awarded an honorary award in the Sheikh Hamdan International Photography Competition in 2016.



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Al-Saif’s infatuation with photography started in early 2007 when he was only 20 years old.

He started experimenting using his father’s compact camera at first. He then bought his first DSLR camera in 2009 and started taking professional photos of Saudi Arabia’s local communities and cultural heritage, especially in his home city of Al-Ahsa.



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“As a child, I was curious and liked to try new things. Similar to photography, I have practiced swimming, football and drawing,” he recalled. “However, the love for photography kept growing inside me until I had the chance to get my own camera when I was 21 years old. At this age I knew that I had the passion and the drive to pursue photography professionally.”

Al-Saif considers photography an integral part of his identity. He believes that travel photography has made him “a different person.”



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“I learned to see all things with a beautiful eye, and I became more accepting with respect to the difference in people, cultures and religious beliefs,” he explained.

However, being a travel photographer does come without its challenges. “One of the main issues is the restriction that is imposed in some regions or countries as well as safety. The other thing is expenses of these trips that limit our travel duration and frequency,” he explained.



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Despite having a photography career that spans over 13 years, Al-Saif believes he is only starting.

“The first thing I always tell myself and other ambitious youth is to start sailing in the world of exploration and travel, and to capture beautiful moments that you see with your eyes, to share experiences with the world,” he said.

Sabah, the ‘Empress of Lebanese Song’ who excelled in movies and music 

Sabah, the ‘Empress of Lebanese Song’ who excelled in movies and music 
Updated 04 February 2023

Sabah, the ‘Empress of Lebanese Song’ who excelled in movies and music 

Sabah, the ‘Empress of Lebanese Song’ who excelled in movies and music 
  • For this week’s edition of our series on Arab icons, we profile one of the Arab world's most popular stars
  • Over a career spanning seven decades, the Lebanese legend appeared in almost 100 films and released more than 50 albums 

DUBAI: “Empress of Lebanese Song,” “Sabbouha” and “Al-Shahroura” (The Singing Bird). These are just some of the nicknames given to the Lebanese singer and actress Sabah, whose remarkable career spanned seven decades.  

Sabah was born Jeanette Georges Feghali in November 1927 in Bdadoun near Mount Lebanon. She was the youngest of three daughters. Her family life was troubled — her father reportedly bullied and neglected her, and even tried to steal her earnings from her early movies. She once told an interviewer that she was crying one day because she hadn’t had any food and one of her uncles told her parents “that I had a beautiful voice when I sobbed.” Her traumatic childhood only got worse when her brother murdered their mother because he believed she was having an affair. 

Sabah in the 1958 film 'La Rue de L'Amour.' (Image credit: Abboudi Bou Jawde)

It was her talent that offered her a way out. Sabah started singing aged four, and released her first song in 1940, aged just 13.  

Five years later, she starred in her first movie, the Egyptian film “El-Qalb Luh Wahid” (The Heart Has Its Reasons) and adopted her character’s name — Sabah (morning). Still a teenager, she quickly became famous across the Arab world. She went on to star in almost 100 movies and release more than 50 albums, becoming internationally famous — performing in Paris, London, Sydney and New York. She reportedly had around 3,500 songs in her repertoire and carried on performing well into her eighties, finally retiring in 2010 due to illness. She died in Lebanon on Nov. 26, 2014, at the age of 87. 

Egyptian filmmaker Ahmed Shafik made “El-Shahrourah,” a TV drama based on her life (Sabah was played by Lebanese singer and actress Carole Samaha), which aired in Ramadan in 2011. For background, Shafik talked with Sabah for hours about her life.  

“I grew up listening to Sabah. She is a great artist, a great singer, a great actress. It was an incredible feeling the first time I went to meet her,” Shafik told Arab News. 

A picture from the late 1960s (R to L) Sabah with Egyptian actresses Leila Taher and Maryam Fakhreddine shooting a movie in Alexandria. (AFP)

“The (show) was based on her words. We — (writer) Fedaa El-Shandawily and I — sat with her in the hotel she stayed in until she died, and we would visit her daily. When the show was written, we read the episodes for her and it was exactly what she said,” he continued. “Her life was full of suspense and a lot of drama. At times, Sabah would tell us stories and cry, and at times she would recall memories and laugh.”  

After the show aired, Sabah’s family reportedly filed lawsuits against the production house. But, according to Shafik, none of the cases came to trial because he had the recordings of his interviews with Sabah.  

“Sabah herself did not file a lawsuit,” he noted. “Sabah cared for her professional career and did not care for her personal life, her family.” 

The singer married 10 times and was rumored to be in multiple relationships throughout her life. “She was trying to find stability and make a family. Most of the men in her life wanted the rich and famous Sabah — not a family,” Shafik said.  

In 2021, Sabah was among the Arab female artists featured in the Arab World Institute’s six-month exhibition, “Arab Divas, from Umm Kulthum to Dalida.” Maïa Tahiri, CEO of, the cultural platform that helped support the exhibition, told Arab News, “Umm Kulthum, Warda Al-Jazairia, Asmahan, Fayrouz, Sabah, Dalida … (these women) have influenced not only several generations but have created a bridge across cultures. It was very moving to see daughters with their mothers and grandmothers at the exhibition, sharing their memories and ideas, rocked by the famous songs of these incredible women who contributed so much to the Golden Age of the Arab world. 

“Sabah is an icon, not just in the Middle East or the Arab World,” Tahiri added. “The fact that she acted in almost 100 movies and interpreted approximately 3,500 songs explains her global fame… Her freedom, her frankness and her love for fashion also explain the fascination people still have when it comes to her.” 

Tahiri said that throughout her lustrous career, Sabah remained faithful to her dressmaker, William Khoury. “Even though she mostly performed in Egypt, it was extremely important to her to have her stage costumes made in her homeland, Lebanon. The exhibition put forward a large panel of Sabah’s outfits, revealing her appreciation for boldness,” she said.  

That boldness carried over from her risqué dress sense to her personality. Lebanese radio presenter Chady Maalouf, who met Sabah many times between 2001 and her death in 2014, told Arab News, “Dealing with Sabah meant dealing with a very professional star, whether in punctuality, commitment or frankness and clarity in the answers.”  

Sabah with the Lebanese couturier William Khoury in 1974. (Image credit: Madonna Khoury)

Sabah, he said, “was one of the first to carry the Lebanese dialect — through her songs — to Egypt and the Arab world, bringing it closer to the Arab public at a time when the Egyptian dialect was dominant in the world of singing and acting.” 

Maalouf’s favorite interview with the star was his first, recorded in her house at the time in Hazmieh. “Sabah was always elegant, even at home,” he said. “The dominant color of the furniture and curtains was turquoise. She showed me some of her (ornaments) after our interview. One was a gift from Fayrouz and Assi Rahbani, and another piece was from the Egyptian actress Soheir Ramzi.” 

Sabah performing in Alexandria in 2003. (AFP)

An interview in 2006 he recalled “was one of the few times I saw Sabah sad. She had tears in her eyes, because our meeting coincided with an Israeli attack on Lebanon, and rumors were circulating in the press that she was celebrating her birthday when the country was being bombed.”  

The conversation that has stuck with Maalouf the most, though, was when he asked Sabah why she didn’t move to the US where her daughter, son and two grandchildren lived.  

“She replied: ‘I love them all very much, but there I will feel that I’ve become merely a grandmother and forget my glory, and that I am Sabah. I love myself and don’t like to be insignificant.’ Then she added, ‘I’m not selfish, but I love the artist in me,’” Maalouf said. 

“I believe that this phrase really sums up her life: Janet Feghali loved Sabah and lived for Sabah. And she did it well.”