Mourning Algerians paid tribute on Saturday to Arab singing legend Warda, whose body was returned to her homeland after she died of a heart attack in Egypt two days earlier.
Known throughout the Arab world as Warda al-Jazairia (Warda the Algerian), or simply as the “Algerian Rose”, the singer won a passionate following in the north African nation and across the Arab world after she started singing Algerian independence songs as a young girl.
Hundreds of Algerians, most of them women, lined up at the Palace of Culture in the capital Algiers to pay their respects as the diva’s body lay in state Saturday morning.
Female security agents kept close watch as fans brought in bouquets of flowers and recited a funeral prayer. One young man in his 20s started hysterically sobbing and shouting, “Warda, Warda”, before being escorted out.
Warda, who died at her Cairo home aged 72, was later buried in a well-known cemetery in Algiers, alongside other Algerian national heroes.
“I am totally devastated. The Algerian Rose has faded, I feel as though I am dead,” cried 61-year-old Khalfa Benamar, who had travelled 250 kilometres (150 miles) to see the funeral.
In a rare honour seldom accorded non-political people, members of the Republican Guards attended the funeral.
Hundreds of sobbing and chanting women also gathered at the cemetery, though the burial itself was open only to men, in accordance with Algeria’s Muslim custom.
Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia and the brother of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, Said Bouteflika, were among the attendees, along with Warda’s distraught son Ryad.
“I could not stop myself from accompanying her to the cemetery,” said Samia Mabrouk, 40. “Her voice lulled me in my childhood and she gave so much to this country.”
Warda’s appeal spanned generations and was broad across the Arab world, where she appeared in movies and sang songs by some of the region’s greatest composers.
But in Algeria, she came to represent more than just a singer.
Warda Fatouki was born in France in 1939 to an Algerian father and Lebanese mother. At the age of just 11, she sang Algerian independence songs in her father’s Parisian cafe and soon became a symbol for the independence movement.
Algeria is this year celebrating 50 years of independence from France. For the occasion, Warda recorded a song called “We’re still standing”, which radio stations have played repeatedly since her death, as television stations have broadcast old concert footage.
She “never ever hesitated to offer her voice and even her income to the National Liberation Army,” Culture Minister Khalida Toumi said.
All of Algeria’s newspapers paid homage Saturday to the singer, splashing photos of her on covers and running special sections.
After Algerian independence, Warda returned home and married in 1962. Ten years later, she returned to Egypt and performed some of her best-known songs and took roles in several films. She spent most of her life in Egypt.