Iraqi-Egyptian musician Nadin Al-Khalidi: A voice for the voiceless

Iraqi-Egyptian musician Nadin Al-Khalidi: A voice for the voiceless
She arrived in Sweden as a refugee in 2001, having fled Baghdad with her sister. (Supplied)
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Updated 13 March 2020

Iraqi-Egyptian musician Nadin Al-Khalidi: A voice for the voiceless

Iraqi-Egyptian musician Nadin Al-Khalidi: A voice for the voiceless
  • The Iraqi-Egyptian musician on ‘creating music you can dance to as well as conveying serious messages’

LONDON: 1980 to 1988. 1990 to 1991. 2003 to today. These are the dates that are seared into the mind of Iraqi-Egyptian musician Nadin Al-Khalidi — the dates of the wars that changed her life completely and displaced or killed thousands in the country where she was born.

Al-Khalidi has risen above the sorrow and loss to make a life as a successful musician in a completely different culture to the one she was born into. She arrived in Sweden as a refugee in 2001, having fled Baghdad with her sister. By that time, they were orphans.

After the end of the first Gulf War in 1991, the family had moved from war-ravaged Baghdad to Cairo to get medical treatment for Al-Khalidi’s mother, who had been diagnosed with cancer. Sadly, she died soon after their arrival.




Al-Khalidi has risen above the sorrow and loss to make a life as a successful musician in a completely different culture to the one she was born into. (Supplied)

The family stayed in Egypt for several years before returning to Baghdad in 1997. But any hopes they had of living normal, peaceful lives were soon shattered.

“The situation in Iraq became unbearable. I had already witnessed many horrible things during the two wars. Early in 2001, there were public executions of women who were suspected of being prostitutes — though it later came to light there was a political rather than religious agenda behind these charges. I witnessed the execution of a woman right outside my building in Baghdad,” Al-Khalidi tells Arab News.

After the death of their father in 2001, Al-Khalidi knew she and her sister had to get out of Iraq somehow. After a tense, often frightening crossing into Jordan, the two young women finally ended up in a refugee camp in Sweden. It was there that Al-Khalidi began to rebuild her life, finding solace in music.




Al-Khalidi poses with her music teacher Josefin (left) and her late mother (right). (Supplied)

In Baghdad she had studied violin, learning to play Western classical music. It was in Sweden that she was first introduced to “world music” (a catch-all term that basically covers anything that isn’t of Western origin) —including Arabic music.

“I discovered that singing in Arabic — my mother tongue — really moves me,” she recalls. “It taps deep emotions and feelings.”

Al-Khalidi eventually settled in Malmo. And it was there that she met the five Swedish musicians and sound engineer with whom she would eventually form the successful group Tarabband. 

“Our name comes from the Arabic expression ‘tarab,’ which means ‘ecstasy through music’ played by wandering musicians or troubadours” she explains.




Al-Khalidi settled in Malmo, where she met the five Swedish musicians and sound engineer with whom she would eventually form the successful group Tarabband. (Supplied)

Tarabband’s sound is a mix of haunting melodies and the kind of rhythms that make you want to leap out of your chair and dance, as Arab News witnessed at the band’s performance during this month’s Arab Women Artists Now (AWAN) Festival in London. But beneath the celebratory vibe, Al-Khalidi is committed to using her voice to speak for the displaced and the oppressed. “In Tarabband, we are always trying to get a balance in creating music which you can dance to as well as conveying serious messages,” she says.

Her songs, she told The Guardian in 2016, are based on “my nightmares and my PTSD, my relationships and loyalty issues — the fact I can’t have light relationships.”

Her intense focus on her music and her commitment to acting as a voice for displaced people and refugees has, she admits, taken its toll.




In Baghdad she had studied violin, learning to play Western classical music. (Supplied)

“Last year I collapsed. I woke up one morning and many realizations came to me all at once: I am now forty, I have no family, I am constantly touring and my priorities in life go mainly to my music projects,” she says. “But this is what I choose to do. And there is also huge joy in it. It is very energy consuming. I am the only female in the band, which is challenging — and, of course, there are cultural differences there to deal with as well. But the whole band has a strong and solid humanitarian and artistic culture.”

She is striving for balance in her life, she says, but she recognizes that her true calling is music — and telling the stories of others who don’t have a voice. She is determined to stand up for those whose lives have been blighted by war and feels strongly that politicians should take responsibility for the consequences of their decisions.




The singer is determined to stand up for those whose lives have been blighted by war. (Supplied)

“I have witnessed the impact on civilians — the destruction of a nation, a culture, dreams and hopes, the education and healthcare systems, infrastructure…” she says. “Their actions have resulted in continuous misery for those who have been attacked.”

She hopes that perhaps she can have the same impact on others that other musicians, particularly US folk singer and activist Joan Baez, had on her.

“I discovered (Baez) when I was 17. Her way of telling stories through songs and between songs really touched me,” says Al-Khalidi. “When I first got her tape I didn’t know who she was, but she was singing in a (bomb) shelter in Vietnam. You could hear the bombs in the background.




Tarabband recently performed at the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan. (Supplied)

“Somehow I felt she was singing for me because I was witnessing terror myself,” Al-Khalidi continues.  “Then — at the age of 32 — I met her backstage at a concert in Sweden. When I talked to her, I knew I was on the right path.”

Al-Khalidi was particularly moved by the rapturous reception Tarabband received after their recent performance at the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan. “Before we went, I was expecting misery and sadness,” she says. “But what I experienced was about 500 young girls who are stronger and happier than you. The moment you sing and play there are sparks coming out of their eyes.”

Al-Khalidi knows she was lucky: Her own experience as a refugee ended relatively happily, and she is full of praise for Sweden — the country that opened its doors to her and her sister in their time of need.




Al-Khalidi is committed to using her voice to speak for the displaced and the oppressed. (Supplied)

“I was given a very warm reception and ended up living with a well-known Swedish opera singer (Marianne Mörck). I lived with her for six years and I still call her ‘mamma.’”

But although her experience has been overwhelmingly positive — there have still been incidents that remind her of the abuse and intolerance many refugees face daily.

“Outside the bubble of my music and the people who know me I am just a random person on the street. I have dark hair and the family name Al-Khalidi,” she says. “I have been physically threatened by a Nazi type on a train.” And even people close to her have surprised her with their attitude to refugees in general, she says.




It was in Sweden that she was first introduced to “world music.” (Supplied)

“I would say there is still this perception from some people in Europe that refugees are trying to invade Europe with their culture and religion,” she continues. “I am not religious, but I am a hard-working, responsible woman. I’m honest. I show up on time. I am loyal to society. I pay taxes and live an honorable life. My black hair does not define me as a human being. My actions, hard work, engagement and morals are what define me.”

As, too, does her ongoing willingness to express the hopes and fears of those who often do not have a platform to express them themselves.

“I have seen death and bombs, but my experience is nothing to the mental and physical experiences of many other people around the world,” she says. “Telling their stories is my duty and calling. The memories and trauma I have experienced, I can’t delete. But I can make some peace with my past by writing music and singing about it and by sharing stories of other people, especially with the Western world.”


French-Algerian singer Lolo Zouai performs new single on Vevo CTRL

French-Algerian singer Lolo Zouai performs new single on Vevo CTRL
The French-Algerian singer dropped the music video for “Galipette” a couple of weeks ago. YouTube
Updated 26 July 2021

French-Algerian singer Lolo Zouai performs new single on Vevo CTRL

French-Algerian singer Lolo Zouai performs new single on Vevo CTRL

DUBAI: This week, French-Algerian singer Lolo Zouai performed her latest single “Galipette” on Vevo CTRL, Vevo’s performance series that highlights both emerging and established musicians making an impact on the industry. 

During the live session, the Brooklyn-based artist began singing her new hit while holding an oversized blue teddy bear before tossing it aside when the beat dropped. 

She joins other artists such as French Montana, Common, Lil Baby and Giggs, who have all stepped up to the mic in Vevo’s online musical series. 

“Really proud of how this came out,” she wrote, sharing a clip of the performance on Twitter. 

The 26-year-old’s live session comes just a couple of weeks after she dropped the electrifying official music video for “Galipette.”

Wild and disruptive, the clip is directed by Amber Grace Johnson and is a visual trip, featuring the artist boxing underwater — Zouai admits she trained for almost two months before to make sure she was in good shape for this scene — crashing a mattress store and a synchronized dance routine performed by the UCLA champion gymnastics team.

With lyrics in both French and English, the track is a reminder of the artist’s rich cultural roots.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Lolo Zouaï (@lolozouai)

Born Laureen Zouai in France to a French mother and an Algerian father, the singer relocated to San Francisco with her family when she was three-months-old.

“Galipette” was recorded in New York and produced by the up-and-coming singer’s long-time collaborator Stelios, who has worked with the likes of Young Thug and MIA among others.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Lolo Zouaï (@lolozouai)

It has been a busy few months for the rising star, who released her debut album “High Highs to Low Lows” in 2019, appeared in global campaigns for Coach shot by Juergen Teller and became a face of Tommy Hilfiger and Adidas France’s new Superstar campaign all in one year.

And it appears that the singer isn’t slowing down anytime soon.

This year seems to be just as promising for the artist, whose highly anticipated second album is on its way and who is also set to open up for British crooner Dua Lipa on her “Future Nostalgia” European tour.


Enduring style of the sandal: From traditional staples to Yeezy Slides, put your best foot forward

Enduring style of the sandal: From traditional staples to Yeezy Slides, put your best foot forward
Instagram/@tamashee
Updated 26 July 2021

Enduring style of the sandal: From traditional staples to Yeezy Slides, put your best foot forward

Enduring style of the sandal: From traditional staples to Yeezy Slides, put your best foot forward

DUBAI: There can’t be a more beloved item of footwear in the Middle East than the sandal, and while increasing numbers of Arab men are rocking collectible sneakers with their thobes in 2021, deep down, the open-toed classic will always remain the footwear of choice. The question is, just how should you wear them?

First things first, did you know that the sandal is actually the OG of all footwear? In 1938 a 10,000-year-old pair was discovered in Fort Rock Cave in Oregon, US. That makes it the oldest shoe going. Sandals in the Middle East are always open-toed and have a leather covering across the front of the foot—meaning that there’s no need for a strap at the heel to keep them in place. While in many parts of the region they would evolve from free open toes to a na’l—featuring another piece of leather to separate the big toe—there was also a need to leave room for a sock, so bedouins could wear them as the desert evenings grew colder.

Sandals in the Middle East are always open-toed and have a leather covering across the front of the foot. Instagram/@tamashee

However, when it came to Western fashion, things were a little more complicated and they quickly become the footwear of choice for uncool, suburban dads. Amazingly, what nearly killed it actually saved its life. Thanks largely to the normcore fashion movement, suddenly the sandal was back in the game. Whether it was David Beckham wearing them with sports socks and a Tom Ford suit or Justin Bieber sporting something with a chunky sole, the sandal was reborn. Not that the Arab world needed such a renaissance, of course, here it had always been on-point.

Now, with luxury brands crafting new editions each year—not to mention elevated streetwear options like the impossible-to-cop Yeezy Slides—it becomes clear: The sandal is no longer a dull, lifeless addition to your wardrobe — right now it’s the star of the show.

“For price and design Birkenstock is great and very reliable,” GQ Middle East’s Fashion Editor explains. File/Getty Images

Here, GQ Middle East’s Fashion Editor, Keanoush Zargham, explains how, when and where you should go open-toed.

“A relaxed, cosy fits work best,” Zargham said when explaining what look you should style your sandals with. “This could range from an oversized tailored suit to a pair of wide slacks with a tank top and cardi thrown on to complete the look.”

While sandals are the norm in professional environments if you’re wearing regional attire, what about pairing them with Western clothes at work?

“That depends on where you work,” Zargham noted. “The other day I wore a pair of Toga Virilis sandals to the office and nobody said a word. Do wear them with socks, though. Nobody wants to see your bare feet in a meeting.

Yeezy slides have become a real powerhouse. Instagram/@yeezymafia

“For price and design Birkenstock is great and very reliable. If you’d like to splash a little more cash, splurge on some Bottega Veneta sandals with intrecciato weaving detail,” he added.

When it comes to slides, the fashion expert says it’s all about how you wear them.

“They’re a little more relaxed, but I love them. Yeezy Slides have become a real powerhouse. Add some socks, a pair of oversized shorts, a relaxed tee and hoodie and you have a great look going on.”


Zuhair Murad celebrates Jennifer Lopez’s birthday with fashion tribute

ennifer Lopez performed at the Citizen VAX LIVE concert in May wearing a jumpsuit by Zuhair Murad. (Getty Images)
ennifer Lopez performed at the Citizen VAX LIVE concert in May wearing a jumpsuit by Zuhair Murad. (Getty Images)
Updated 25 July 2021

Zuhair Murad celebrates Jennifer Lopez’s birthday with fashion tribute

ennifer Lopez performed at the Citizen VAX LIVE concert in May wearing a jumpsuit by Zuhair Murad. (Getty Images)

DUBAI: Lebanese designer to the stars Zuhair Murad celebrated US singer Jennifer Lopez on Saturday, taking to Instagram to toast the queen of pop’s special relationship with the fashion house.

The hitmaker is known for her love of Zuhair Murad gowns and regularly hits red carpets, and the stage, in glittering outfits by the designer.

The fashion house celebrated the singer’s birthday on July 24 by releasing a short video of the numerous occasions she has donned a gown by Murad.

“Celebrating the beautiful Jennifer Lopez today, by reminiscing over some of our favorite #ZuhairMurad looks of hers,” the caption read. “Happy birthday @jlo! Cheers to your everlasting youth and to more #ZMxJLOMoments!”

Murad is one of Lopez’s go-to designers for special red carpet events and performances.

The “Let’s Get Loud” singer previously opened up about her affinity for Murad’s designs, describing the couturier as “probably her favorite designer” in a past interview with Venture Lifestyle.

“I discovered him years ago when I was doing a show, and I was so jet-lagged and I was up in the middle of the night watching Fashion TV, which they had in this country I was in,” explained the hitmaker. “He had this beautiful show and I was like, ‘who is this guy?’”

Lopez went on to explain the hurdles she faced when trying to get in touch with Murad, who doesn’t seem to have been a household name at the time.

“I came back (to the US) and I said, ‘Do you guys know Zuhair Murad?’ and nobody knew who he was, none of the stylists, nobody in the United States knew who he was. I was like, ‘You have to get me this dress for the Met Ball,” she said, referring to the Met Gala, an annual fundraising gala for the benefit of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute in New York and one of the fashion world’s most eagerly anticipated events. 

“I wore his dress to the Met Ball and after that, I just started using him for everything — he designed my last tour — we just have a great relationship. He’s a beautiful man, a beautiful designer,” Lopez added.


US-Egyptian jewelry label Jacquie Aiche snaps up celebrity fans

US-Egyptian jewelry label Jacquie Aiche snaps up celebrity fans
Updated 24 July 2021

US-Egyptian jewelry label Jacquie Aiche snaps up celebrity fans

US-Egyptian jewelry label Jacquie Aiche snaps up celebrity fans

DUBAI: From British actress Emily Blunt, to US stars Justin Bieber and Khloe Kardashian, Egyptian-American jewelry designer Jacquie Aiche’s celebrity fan base expanded this week.

 The label has quickly managed to emerge as a A-lister-loved brand, with stars like Kylie Jenner, Emily Ratajkowski and Shanina Shaik adorning themselves with the Los Angeles-based jewelry house’s signature diamond-encrusted body chains, anklets and stacked gemstone rings on the red carpet.

This week, Blunt showed off an ornate ring by the label while doing press interviews for Disney’s “Jungle Cruise,” her latest film in which she stars alongside Dwayne Johnson and Edgar Ramirez.

Blunt was dressed by Hollywood stylist Jessica Paster, who made sure to get mileage out of the ring by featuring it in several ensembles on the press tour, including outfits by Gabriela Hearst and Zimmermann.

For her part, Kardashian opted to show off a dainty body chain by the brand during a photoshoot for her label Good American’s latest swimwear release. She paired the jewelry, which wrapped around the torso, with a neon yellow swimsuit.

To wrap things up, Bieber showed off a pair of small hoop earrings by Aiche, which he paired with a red visor.

(Instagram)

Aiche, who was born to an Egyptian father and an indigenous American mother, launched her eponymous label from her garage in 2008. She has since amassed an impressive celebrity client list that includes the likes of Rihanna, Selena Gomez and Katy Perry, whose stylists flock to her Beverly Hills showroom in droves to adorn their clients in her signature delicate earrings, finger bracelets and chokers ahead of red carpet events. The jeweler is also the brainchild behind Chrissy Teigen’s bespoke engagement ring from John Legend.

The part-Egyptian jewelry designer’s store in Los Angeles is full of jewelry items made from delicate raw quartz, tourmaline, moonstone and countless other special stones. Her pieces often feature Arab influences like hammered gold, amulets and the evil eye talisman, as well as natural elements such as turquoise, fossils and precious gemstones, which are a nod to her indigenous American ancestors.

 


New exhibition in Manchester explores nature through British-Arab eyes

English-Moroccan creator Jessica El-Mal, lead artist and one of the co-producers of the installation, said her inspiration for the project came when the UK was still in lockdown. (Supplied)
English-Moroccan creator Jessica El-Mal, lead artist and one of the co-producers of the installation, said her inspiration for the project came when the UK was still in lockdown. (Supplied)
Updated 24 July 2021

New exhibition in Manchester explores nature through British-Arab eyes

English-Moroccan creator Jessica El-Mal, lead artist and one of the co-producers of the installation, said her inspiration for the project came when the UK was still in lockdown. (Supplied)
  • Manchester-based installation highlights stories of migration, diaspora
  • Lead artist: ‘After the year we’ve just had, this project and exhibition is the lightness we all need’

LONDON: A new mixed-media exhibition exploring the history, achievements and experiences of Arabs in Britain through the lens of people’s relationship with nature and green space has launched in the north of England.

Free to visitors and run by the Arab British Centre, the Manchester-based installation highlights stories of migration, diaspora, and the intricacies of the Arab-British experience in all its intersections and diversity. 

Themed around the idea of nature and named “Jarda” — “garden” in Moroccan Arabic — artists will give audiences a chance to “walk in nature through Arab eyes.”

English-Moroccan creator Jessica El-Mal, lead artist and one of the co-producers of the installation, said her inspiration for the project came when the UK was still in lockdown and when parks, fields and forests became people’s only outing.

The women-led exhibition encourages visitors to appreciate the green spaces available to them, while also exposing audiences to the Arab experience in modern Britain.

“Working with this group of amazing women has made me appreciate Manchester, myself and my femininity in a whole new way. After the year we’ve just had, this project and exhibition is the lightness we all need,” El-Mal said.

Amani Hassan, program director at the Arab British Centre, said: “Since it was first launched in 2019, our Arab Britain theme has set out to explore the history, achievements and experiences of Arabs in Britain.”

The program aims to overturn preconceptions, challenge prejudices, retrace the ways the Arab world has influenced and shaped British culture and society, and celebrate the contributions of Arabs in the country, past and present. 

“Jarda highlights the universal comfort and connection we can all find in nature through intimate and personal reflections on home, belonging and the power of community,” Hassan said.

“We hope that visitors to the museum enjoy their walk in nature through Arab British eyes and are encouraged to reflect on their own connections to it.”

The physical exhibition will be accompanied by a digital offering that will give people free access to a host of creative activities that aim to encourage people to reflect on their own connections with green spaces.

“Jarda” is open now, and will run until Oct. 10 in Manchester’s People’s History Museum.