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Bassam Saba, famous supporter of Arab music, dies at 62

This obituary is part of a series on people who died in the coronavirus pandemic. Learn more about the others here.

Bassam Saba, a prominent Lebanese musician who promoted Arab music in the West before returning home late in his career to take charge of the National Conservatory of Lebanon, died on December 4 in Beirut, Lebanon. He was 62 years old.

The cause was complications from Covid-19, said her daughter, Mariana Saba.

A skilled violinist trained in Western music who also played the nay (an Arabian flute), Western flute, and lute-like oud, Mr. Saba worked hard to spread the appreciation of Arabic music internationally. , helping to start the New York Arabic Orchestra performing with the Silk Road Ensemble, created by cellist Yo-Yo Ma. Her official biography also lists collaborations with Sting, Alicia Keys, Herbie Hancock and Quincy Jones, as well as international orchestras .

He has performed with some of the greatest cultural figures in the Arab world, including Fairouz, the famous Lebanese singer, and Marcel Khalife, the songwriter and oud player.

Mr. Saba was born on October 26, 1958 in Tripoli, in northern Lebanon, to Antoine Saba, an oil company worker, and Delena Saba, a housewife. He grew up in a house of amateur musicians; her older siblings taught her how to play no.

He left the country as a teenager in 1976, the year after the start of the 15-year civil war in Lebanon, and studied music at the Conservatoire Municipal des Gobelins in Paris and at the Gnessin school. from Moscow before settling in the United States, where he lived. in Northport, NY

Ms Saba, his daughter, said his love for Arabic music was contagious and he introduced art to people whenever he could, once volunteering to teach his high school choir how to sing. . muwashahat, a genre of Arabic song that dates back centuries.

“I just remember how happy he was to do that,” she said. “He gave so much without expecting anything in return.

Ghada Ghanem, singer, vocal coach and friend of Mr Saba, said he was one of a handful of musicians who sought to elevate the reputation of Arab music in the United States, efforts that led him to co-found the New York Arab Orchestra. in 2007.

Mr Saba’s last performance, playing the flute in a Telemann chamber piece, was on October 17 at a church in the town of Bsharri as part of an effort to raise funds for the conservatory and d other relief efforts.

Ms Ghanem said he caught the coronavirus at a conservatory board meeting three days later. “The day after the meeting someone said to her, ‘I tested positive, beware,’” Ms. Ghanem said.

Together with his daughter, Mr. Saba is survived by his wife, Diala Jabner.

Ms Ghanem said he was known to be down to earth despite his many musical accolades.

A parking attendant at the conservatory was always thanking Mr. Saba for helping him get a raise. Ms. Ghanem said, “I remember he said to me ‘Ghada, please tell him to stop trying to kiss me! You have to help me!'”

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