Zakaria (Abu Yahia) has reached the age of ninety. Many contemporary Dabke enthusiasts, learned from Dokhi (Abu Ali’s nick name, meaning Teacher) and took from his greatness.
He was always known by his long blonde moustache that gave him a heart warming look, a solemn figure, with a smile on the face, which portrayed light and strength. His wrinkles imprint a life that has passed, with an elegant body, which impressed his fans and admirers.
First a learnt student, he has become a professor for a new generation, who taught the art of Dabke of Baalbeck drawing on his origins.
Abu Yahya is not alone in his career – he was accompanied by Abu Mustafa Shalha (Tinderbox ‘Al-Adah’), Abu Yusuf (Maroon), Abu Majd, Ali Dokhi, Al-Shimaly, and others. Their role was to spread the love and art of Dabke, which was on its way to oblivion. They brought it back to life, especially at weddings. Many artists, such as Issa Raad, who followed his ways and techniques, became well known. With dancing groups coming into existence more and more, the Baalbeck Dabke was reborn.
Abu Yahya and the elders of Dabke did not stop at this point, but began to mentor Dokhi, touring cities of Lebanon and Syria, attending and entertaining weddings for the rich and poor alike, without distinction between them.
Close to him and his friends were many of the singers, for example, Assi Helani and other great female artists, like Majida Alroumi, Najwa Karam, and Melhem Barakat, Ali Holehal, or Sheikh Zaki Nassif, a renowned composer, and other legendary names in the art world. When a Dabke group would enter the stage, the dancing and thrills would fill the audience.
I met him in June 2011 in Baalbeck to record an interview about history and his memories. As he sat ill in his house, I was looking at a man who has been a prominent local and national figure for many decades. He is the son of Baalbeck; people who know him in person, or see him live, share their happiness and grief together. This collection of photographs traces his life since 1946 till present in recognition of the importance of positive role models and tradition for our communities and culture.
With many thanks to my friends who have helped me to collect the archival images for this story: Hikmat M. Awada, Maher Al Jobeh, Mostafa Salha.
Text by Diab Alkarssifi. Translation Saleima Alkarssifi.