Born Alexandra Nicholas Badran in 1924, in Mersin, Turkey, to Lebanese parents, she changed her name to Nour el Houda (“Light of Guidance”) just as she was becoming a famous actress and singing star. During her long career, which began at ten years old, El Houda recorded a huge chunk of classical, religious and popular Arabic songs and is considered one of the greatest Lebanese singers. For her tone, intonation, power and control, she was hailed as “the Girl with the Golden Voice” and was a cultural sensation for almost 30 years.

“Ala Oum el Manadili” is mostly a big, insistent groove and melody which eventually open up into a slow, bare, and moody bridge section that allows you to really hear her incredible vocal talent, before taking it back to the top for a fierce finale. Besides the lead voice and backing singers, the instruments I hear are the mijwiz (a reed clarinet), tablah, the buzuq (strings, long-fretted neck and a tone like a viola), and handclaps. The arrangement and the sounds are pretty typical for middle 1950s, popular Arabic recordings.

This is a song on two sides, so I edited them together in Logic Pro.



Sabah (born Jeannette Gergi Fighali in Lebanon, 1927) is a world-renowned singer, movie star and stage actress. Her repertoire of songs is in the thousands,somewhere around 3,500; but I have also read that she has upwards of 4,500 (!) in her songbook. She is a polyglot, fluent in Lebanese, Arabic, Turkish and the Egyptian tongue, which is now Egyptian Arabic but has the shadings and history of the original Coptic language. Unfortunately, not enough of her movie and stage career has been released in any medium: you had to have been in the theatres and movie houses of the middle east to have seen her, although a few movies can be still be found if you peep around.

Sabah’s musical output, however, is fairly well documented and she can be found on over fifty albums: plenty of CDs and 45s to be dug up; but to hear her on a 78 is rare. Her perfectly intonated, confidently sung phrases are such a thing of beauty, undulating and water like, as the Arabic scale is apt to be in the hands of a master.

This song, Wassaltina Lilbir, is a two part-er, and a short epic, on the Voix de L’Orient label.  It was recorded and manufactured in France sometime in the 1940’s. I have “glued” the two sides together with the agency of GarageBand, only the slightest tick happening at the beginning of what is the bridge(?) section. Sabah’s voice during this pivotal part of the song has to be one of my favorite female vocals of all time: her control, compassion and honesty shine, bringing the gravity back to the final swing through the main themes and ending.

Sabah – Wassaltina Lilbir (parts 1 & 2) <<PLAY