CAIRO: Anyone who grew up in Egypt in the 1980s will almost certainly remember the theme song for the opening credits of soap opera “Zay Al-Hawwa,” performed by Ali El-Haggar and Hanan Mady. That’s why a recent cover version by Egyptian singer Nouran Abu Taleb — accompanied by bassist Samer George — triggered intense bouts of nostalgia among Egyptians of a certain age.
Abu Taleb’s version of this TV classic is delicately intimate, her hypnotic voice giving it a touch of magic.
“Covering songs help you mature as an artist and curate your own vision. I’ve also found that nurturing different music influences helped me figure out what kind of music I wanted to be making,” Abu Taleb tells Arab News.
The cover is part of an ongoing series from Abu Taleb and George, which has so far included a version of Egyptian singer Mohamed Mounir’s “Shababeek,” which earned Abu Taleb an invite perform the song live with Mounir; and a rendition of Kuwaiti band Guitara’s “Ya Ghali,” originally released in 2003, which garnered 16 million views on YouTube.
The aim of Abu Taleb’s collaboration with George is not to simply reproduce the original songs, however. Beyond their nostalgic quality, what has attracted people to their work, Abu Taleb says, is the unusual sound of a vocalist being accompanied only by a bass guitar — something that allows them to experiment with the compositions.
“Samer has been doing these voice-and-bass collabs for a while now, but mainly in English jazz, where they are more common. People are not really used to seeing a bass guitar accompanying a vocalist. So to use bass as a solo instrument in Arabic songs was completely new,” she says.
Abu Taleb only joined forces with George in 2018, after they had both performed separately on the same bill. “Samer is one of the most well-established jazz musicians in Egypt,” Abu Taleb says. “The bass guitar has a Western sound. My background, on the other hand, is more in Arabic and Oriental music, and I perform in Arabic.” That blend led George to suggest performing a tribute show to the iconic Lebanese diva Fayrouz — “(her) songs have a bit of both worlds,” Abu Taleb explains.
That show was a hit, and the duo went on to repeat their performance on a number of occasions. With things going so well, they decided it was time to expand their sound, and formed a band with percussionist Hany Bedair and clarinetist Mostafa Said — once again performing covers, with the exception of a Sufi-themed song written by Abu Taleb. (These days, the band also includes pianist George Nabil and drummer Marwan Wahid Zaki.)
Eventually, though, they did release an original track, 2019’s bossa nova-inspired “Fawazeer.” Other singles followed including their own soap-opera theme for the opening credits of 2019’s “Alamat Istifham.” In October, Abu Taleb released “Fil Lail,” a pop track that has garnered more than 130,000 views on YouTube.
Genre-hopping has been a distinctive feature of Abu Taleb’s career so far, and one that looks set to continue on her debut album, which she hopes to release this year. The record will see her collaborating with the poets Nada El-Shabrawy and Hazem Wefy, among others, and will span several genres, she says, including electronic and slow rock.
While Abu Taleb writes both music and lyrics, she also enjoys collaborating with other writers on both and is especially proud of mostly collaborating with other female writers on her lyrics so far.
“The quality of lyrics is particularly important to me,” she says. “So is poetic imagery.”
And while love songs are seen as outdated and cheesy by many of her peers, Abu Taleb says she will not shy away from them — not wanting to limit her creativity.
“I know our generation has grown bored with love songs, particularly since underground music made an appearance about a decade ago. We were looking for something different that talked about the people,” she says. “But I enjoy singing about everything, including love.”