Retired Lebanese singer Donia Younes is back in the spotlight
British musicians and “The Guardian” celebrated
Friday – 28 Muharram 1444 AH – 26 August 2022 AD Issue No. [
Donia Younes in her artistic glory days
Beirut: Fatima Abdullah
Retired Lebanese singer Donia Younes is advancing with an age that has given her pride in art and its usefulness to the family. There is fear of a decline in health, so the question is directed to her daughter, a professor of international law, Rayan Assaf: “Can the mother speak? We fear that she will be overworked.” She replied laughing: “She is very young!” She tells “Al-Sharq al-Awsat” about stations from her beautiful time, and she chose to take a break from the lights at will. The pretext for dialogue, an article published by “The Guardian” about British musicians who fell in love with her and who combined her song “Abu Al Zulf” with Western music within a record that achieved huge sales. She spends her days in peace in her home.
The news reached her five years ago, and since that day she has been in awe. British musician, composer and producer Brian Eno, and compatriot David Byrne, guitarist, singer and producer known for his influence on the evolution of music and the creation of unique genres; Her heart was filled with indescribable pleasure when they brought “Abu Al-Zalf”, the symbol of the Lebanese heritage to the world: “What they did compensated me for my artistic absence.”
The story began when Eno entered Discotheque to sell records, and he was drawn to the “Music from the Islamic World” record, which included the song “Abu Al-Zulf” by Donia Younes. His admiration for what he heard was reported, and due to his extravagance he came up with “Fusion” which is a mix of Western and Eastern music inspired by the song he was fascinated with. At the time, he called the record “My Life in the Bush of Ghosts”, which he composed with Byrne and produced in America. Described by The Guardian as “a groundbreaking disc”, it sold out from its release in 1981 until its 25th anniversary in 2006.
There is a question about the singer with the voice, with comments demanding her name and identity, and whether she is still alive. Until the first communication between the musicians and the Younes family was via the “Zoom” after humanity stayed in houses. In a similar way as a gesture of honor, the “Guardian” took an interest in the story, which the singer describes as “surreal”. And by publishing the article, she was brought back into the spotlight as if in a celebratory way.
At a young age, she began an artistic life that earned her the title “The Choice”. From the school choir to the Lebanese radio, where the pioneer of music, Tawfiq Al-Basha, admired her voice and advised her to become a professional in the Conservatory.
She remembers her first collaboration with the artist Romeo Lahoud when the “Venice” theater attracted a large audience. On that day, the show continued for a year with Nadia Jamal, and then collaboration began to lead to collaboration, so she participated in the “International Cedar Festivals” and presented “The Accuracy and Decision We Walked” with Zaki Nassif for her performance of the song “The Mother” from his words and played on the piano, as a tribute to his sick mother. And don’t forget: “I want to know what I want, I sit and support my cheeks,” her popular song, which matches the popularity of what has been said to this day: “Why are you, my neighbor, we honor in the morning, the coffee is on the fire?
There were many stations before the last one, when she wished to devote herself to a mission no less noble; family. She remembers the stage when she and Wadih al-Safi performed the play “Tawahin al-Layl”, in which she sang one of the songs closest to her, “Your Love is a Prayer”. She recorded the song “La Oyouni Gharib” with her voice, but another fate pulled her life, so she became famous with the voice of Wadih Al-Safi and it is still repeated. I met Al-Rahbanah without any cooperation, the wide place for Fayrouz, “With her presence I will not be able to take my space.” She talks about selection again: “I wanted original art and I didn’t mind getting there at any cost. Choice is essential as a driving force of life.”
She chose to retire at the height of her fame, leaving songs that many people sing without knowing who sings them. Her marriage to an army officer, in the sense of military ranks in an institution of prestige at the time, reinforced her belief that one does not have everything and must choose. The mother tells three girls who gave them her years that she moved away lucky and no one forced her to retire. She understood the privacy of her husband’s work. Despite choosing “Abu Al-Zulf” as the only song by a Lebanese artist to participate among songs from several countries at a European festival celebrating people’s folklore, she apologized at the last minute: the family commitment asks her.
She violated her retirement by participating in the “Studio El Fan” jury in 1988 at the request of the late director Simon Asmar. When MTV invited her to an episode in honor of Zaki Nassif, she didn’t hesitate. Does regret hurt you, or is there a lump in your throat because of her early stop singing? She replied that she never stopped loving art: “I still sing alone and with my family, but I stopped singing for people. My faith in God is my comfort, because He is the maker of my destiny and the guide of my directions.”
Not long after she retired, infighting broke out, and she was obsessed with the prospect of survival. Donia Younes turns to what happened to say that she would not have known what the days hid if she had continued in art, and in her opinion he and marriage together become a thorny matter. Free time allows me to master what I do and it gives me energy, so I chose the family.”
Despite her family’s request to refrain from broadcasting her songs, as “a formula that helps with distance”, there are songs that have made their way, unconcerned by attempts to suppress them. “The people are loyal,” surprising her with their loyalty, as if she had never left.