The Riyadh Season, in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, celebrates the late musician Riad Al-Sunbati, by organizing a huge concert entitled “Masterpieces of Al-Sunbati” on Thursday, to present his most prominent works, at the Abu Bakr Salem Theater, in the Boulevard City area.
The concert will be performed by a number of singers, most notably: Sherine Abdel Wahab, Ahmed Saad, Saber Al-Rubai, Mai Farouk, Iman Abdel-Ghani, and Fouad Zabadi, and the orchestra is led by Maestro Hani Farhat.
The son of musician Riad Al-Sunbati, pilot Muhammad Al-Sanbati, considered the upcoming event a distinguished tribute to the name of his late father from Saudi Arabia, especially in light of the huge interest from those in charge of the event for weeks, due to their desire to present a distinctive musical evening worthy of the audience in the entire Arab world.
Al-Sunbati revealed to Al-Sharq the behind-the-scenes preparations for this ceremony, explaining that it had been arranged more than a month ago, and those in charge of the “Punchmark” company organizing the event contacted him to agree on the details and program of the ceremony.
He added that a special exhibition had been created in the theater, which includes his father’s possessions, so that the guests of the ceremony would have the opportunity to view them, stressing that “these possessions are very valuable, and include certificates from presidents and ministers, as well as from UNESCO, and we will also display his glasses, his watch, and his timekeeper.” The audio recorder, the radio through which he used to listen to the Holy Qur’an, his camera, his personal pens, his passports, his ID card, and rare photos of him.”
Al-Sunbati’s son praised the choices of singers participating in the work, saying, “A group of major stars, with beautiful and strong voices, and their singing of my father’s melodies will be a unique experience for them, and I think they will present diverse songs, far from his poems, which were always distinguished by Umm Kulthum.” .
He confirmed that the autobiography of his father, Riad Al-Sunbati, will be published soon, as his wife is currently continuing to write it, as she was very close to my father, especially in the last decade of his life. He continued, “My wife at the time used to memorize all the songs, as she was one of his fans, especially since she had an artistic sense. Her grandfather was the late Zakaria Al-Hijjawi, a historian of popular arts.”
He continued, “My wife always looked forward to his life history, the beginning of his journey from his birthplace in the city of Mansoura, his move to Cairo, his joining the Institute of Music, and other stories.”
Regarding presenting his father’s biography in an artistic work, he said that he does not mind, of course, and welcomes any artistic project that allows this. “If there is a professional writer who expresses his desire to work on this project, I will support him at that time by reviewing the biography that my wife is currently writing.”
Singer and composer
He explained, “Riyad Al-Sunbati loved singing in his childhood, as he accompanied his grandfather all the time, as he works in singing, and he is also a close friend of the artist Sayed Darwish. The latter asked to accompany my father to Alexandria to discover his talent and become a professional singer, but my grandfather refused that at the time. Under the pretext that he wants him to be by his side in Mansoura to help him.”
He added, “My father moved to Cairo several years later, joined the Institute of Music, and passed the application tests at that time, when he presented before the committee a collection of Tawashih by Sayyed Darwish playing the oud, and after a very short period he was appointed as a teacher, and that was a unique event.”
He continued, “Riyad Al-Sunbati then went on to play the oud in one of the music companies, before he was allocated a segment to play on the Egyptian radio, after which he decided to become a professional composer and stay away from singing.”
He pointed out that “Riad Al-Sunbati received many honors in his life, the most important of which was the UNESCO honor in 1977. Despite this, he was completely away from the press and the media. He focused on his works that he presented to the whole world, not just Egypt.”
Umm Kulthum and the Nightingale
Muhammad Al-Sunbati touched on the period that brought his father together with the artist Umm Kulthum, as they cooperated together for approximately 30 years, explaining that “their relationship witnessed great tension at some point, and the interruption continued for approximately 5 years, and it was decided at that time to cooperate with Baligh Hamdi and Muhammad Al-Muji.”
He pointed out that a group of friends intervened to resolve the dispute between Umm Kulthum and Al-Sunbati, including Hassan Al-Hafnawi and some of those close to them, explaining that they presented the poem “Al-Atlal” immediately after the reconciliation.
Regarding the reason for his lack of work with Abdel Halim Hafez, he explained that “he only performed two songs with him in one of the films, even though he loved his voice very much, and his constant response to this question was that Abdel Halim used to resort to it at times when he wanted to present only a special song, as my father “He was the only one who could employ the voice of the nightingale.”
Muhammad Al-Sunbati revealed the nature of his father’s personality away from artistic life, saying: “My father was a quiet personality, and he did not like to appear in the media, and this was not arrogance as some thought, but he was an anti-social person, and his friends were very limited, including Umm Kulthum and Muhammad Abd. The Giver of All”.
He added, “His relationship with his six children was very exceptional, and he was very afraid of us, so he enrolled my sisters in the nuns’ schools, while he did not allow me and my late brother, Ahmed, to leave the house at any time, and we would always drive us to school in his private car.”
He added, “Riyad Al-Sunbati, his life was very organized and calm, and when my brother wanted to enter the world of art, my father advised him at the time that this field was difficult and that he must impose himself with his work only and nothing else.”
Regarding the details of the last years of his life, he said that his father suffered from asthma for 15 years, and the medical team treating him advised him at the time to stay away from dust and pollen, even though he was living at the time in a huge villa in Heliopolis, surrounded by trees and flowers, and some called it “Sunbati Forest”.