Our Moon, o our Moon
Why leave us, our Moon?
You left to entertain yourself, o our Moon.
But why would you leave us on earth, o our Moon?
In 1973, Saudi artist Talal Maddah performed this song on a stage in Egypt, at one of the most prominent concerts showcasing Arab musical talents.
Maddah gestures to the band to repeat a verse. He then adjusts his prescription glasses and pauses when the band plays the wrong verse. He begins to sing, then stops again.
Acknowledging that the whole band has gone to a place of no return, he switches to sing a Numeiri verse:
"I have four witnesses to your love ...
When every case needs just two."
Despite the hiccup, the smile never leaves his face, and he invites the band back to resume the original song and soon they find themselves back in sync.
The performance is almost interrupted again when Maddah approaches the maestro and qanun player, who tried to explain to him mid-performance the mistakes that everyone had made.
Pointing to his music notebook, the maestro turned to the musicians behind him, only to be stopped by Maddah pointing to the heavens and singing.
"The stars carry messages..."
After finishing this second verse, Maddah clapped his hands together to show the band the rhythm of the upcoming part, affirming his position as the master of the rhythms and strings.
A comment beneath this YouTube video reads: "Talal Maddah was invited to sing at the 20th edition of the Voice of the Arabs as the first-ever singer from the Gulf.
Originally, he was going to sing a song written and composed by a Saudi songwriter and composer, but instead (Egyptian composer) Baligh Hamdi presented him with a melody for the song "Ya Qamarna."
Maddah agreed and rehearsed, but Hamdi modified the melody at the last minute. The recorded mix-up ensued without enough time for Maddah and the band to rehearse after the changes. Improvising, Maddah sang two melodies until the band fell back into sync.
Upon his return to Saudi Arabia, Maddah was attacked for his “failure”. Although he viewed it as a success, the local media blew things out of proportion.
A second chance
He dismissed the criticisms and joined a music camp set up by Prince Muhammad Al-Abdullah Al-Faisal, Prince Badr bin Abdul Mohsen, and musician Siraj Omar to prepare for his next performance.
In 1974, he was invited to sing at the 21st Voice of the Arabs alongside "The Nightingale", Abdel Halim Hafez, in front of more than 50,000 people in Cairo.
With Prince Al-Faisal and Siraj Omar attending, Maddah took on the challenge and redeemed himself after his last ‘failed’ performance.
Performing his masterpiece “Magadir” he received overwhelming acclaim and Maddah stole back the limelight, reaffirming his place as the “Voice of the Earth.”
This was more or less the story narrated by the commentator on YouTube, although there is a different side to the story.
Maddah’s fans love telling stories about him, his songs, friendships, music, humanity and simplicity. So, anyone who wishes to research about the legendary Saudi artist is faced with many different tales.
This makes writing about him dangerous, as circulating stories are not always accurate. Mistakes in documentation, even if minor, could be grave and difficult to forget.
Nothing Maddah did or said could escape people’s attention as they followed him closely, monitoring his every move and writing it down, including his personal life.
This is what distinguished him as an artist and a person — his life became public property that everyone felt like they owned. But only some lucky people had the chance to hear his opinions, rare songs and how they came to be.
After the year 2000, when Maddah was physically unable to complete his final stage performance, people started to see him as a legend.
His journey began as far back as the 60's when he left the city of Taif to plant the roses of the Saudi song "Your Rose, O Planter of Roses."
But it did not end there; he made friends from all over the Arab world, embracing their diaspora, novels, and stories.
He loved to recite and share some of these stories, while others he considered too personal to share.
In an unforgettable testimony from composer Baligh Hamdi, he described Maddah's voice as "no joke." Coming from the guardian of Arab music — accurate, expressive, and awe-inspiring, only Hamdi could have made that statement.
Talal Maddah's voice is a raw material from the earth's reeds, mud, and wet soil, something that is difficult to describe and cannot be forgotten. Even his mispronounced words became iconic for those who sang his songs.
He did not fall prey to the fake world of stardom and its temptations.
He was not the only Saudi singer who sang about the colours and heritage of Saudi Arabia, but he was the one that stole the hearts of its people.