Saudi producer Mona Khashoggi on her new musical, a tribute to Umm Kulthum

Saudi producer Mona Khashoggi on her new musical, a tribute to Umm Kulthum
The show will make its Middle East debut at Dubai Opera on May 3. (Supplied)
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Updated 28 April 2022

Saudi producer Mona Khashoggi on her new musical, a tribute to Umm Kulthum

Saudi producer Mona Khashoggi on her new musical, a tribute to Umm Kulthum
  • ‘Umm Kulthum & The Golden Era’ makes its regional debut next month

DUBAI: When it comes to musical theater, London’s West End is second only to Broadway in terms of significance. It’s a rare occasion, though, when an Arab-focused production finds its way into the ranks of globally renowned shows such as “The Lion King,” “Wicked” and “Les Misérables.”

But in 2020, just a couple of weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic forced theaters worldwide to close their doors, Saudi playwright, producer and arts patron Mona Khashoggi introduced Londoners to “Umm Kulthum & The Golden Era” — a show based around the life story and seminal songs of the late Egyptian singer, who died in 1975. The show will make its Middle East debut at Dubai Opera on May 3.

Khashoggi came up with the idea for the show when she arrived at the sad realization that musical theater had become a lost art in the region.

“I was sitting there thinking, ‘Why don’t we, Arabs, make something like “Mamma Mia”?’




Lubana Al-Quntar as Umm Kulthum in the musical 'Umm Kulthum & The Golden Era.' (Supplied)

There used to be so many musicals in the Arab world, but now — apart from some in Lebanon — it’s just concerts,” Khashoggi tells Arab News. “I wanted to do a musical in the West End, but with an Arab story.” 

That proved to be a hard sell. “I went to all of the Arab producers and nobody wanted to do it,” Khashoggi says. “They were all afraid to touch it, because Umm Kulthum is like a goddess.”

So the producer took matters into her own hands, writing her first international play. One that demonstrates the rise of Umm Kulthum from Qur’an orator to iconic diva. 

The story begins with Umm Kulthum’s humble childhood in the rural Egyptian Delta. Her supportive father, a sheikh, played a crucial role in her life, teaching her how to read Qura’nic verses aloud. That practice had a huge influence on her singing.




Mona Khashoggi is a Saudi playwright, producer and arts patron. (Supplied)

By the 1960s, Umm Kulthum — “The Star of the East” — was at the top of her game. She released her biggest hits, including “Alf Layla Wa Layla,” in her sixties and seventies and was revered by almost everyone in the Arab world, from all backgrounds. She had plenty of fans in the West too, including superstars like Maria Callas, Bob Dylan, and Robert Plant.

In 1967, her sold-out shows at the Olympia in Paris helped finance and rebuild the Egyptian army under the rule of her friend, Gamal Abdel Nasser. She became a symbol of national pride. “I think she was super clever,” Khashoggi says. “She was a fellaha (village girl), who became the greatest woman in the Arab world. . . She loved the soil that she stood on and was proud of who she was.”

Her death was international news. “When she died, the whole Arab world mourned her,” Khashoggi says. “Who gets that kind of treatment?”

For the producer, this was a deeply personal project. Her late father Mohammed was a good friend of Umm Kulthum and when the singer died it hit him hard.




Sanaa Nabil, Umm Kulthum's great-grandniece, will perform in the show. (Supplied)

“My dad locked himself in a room for three days. As a child, it was a very traumatizing experience,” she recalls. The musical’s exploration of Umm Kulthum’s important relationship with her own father is a nod to Khashoggi’s relationship with Mohammed, who introduced her to a whole world of culture during her childhood, which was spent in Lebanon and England. 

The musical has two actresses playing Umm Kulthum — Sara Masry plays the younger version and Syrian opera virtuoso Lubana Al-Quntar the older. There will also be a special guest performance by Sanaa Nabil, the great-grandniece of Umm Kulthum. While the song lyrics are in Arabic, the dialogue is in English, making it a bilingual show with the express purpose of attracting foreign and younger audiences. 

The million dollar questions remains: Why has Umm Kulthum’s global popularity endured to this very day? There are a number of factors to consider, including her singular voice, her iconic image, and the stirring lyrics and memorable melodies of her romantic and patriotic songs, which are still being revisited and reinterpreted by contemporary musicians.

“She commands her audience,” Khashoggi says. “The way she expresses herself is incredible; you don’t have to understand Arabic. One minute she’s angry and the next she’s tender. She’s a rollercoaster of emotions in one minute.” 


Exclusive: Netflix’s Tinder Swindler stars recount transformation from victim to inspiration for women

Exclusive: Netflix’s Tinder Swindler stars recount transformation from victim to inspiration for women
Updated 17 May 2022

Exclusive: Netflix’s Tinder Swindler stars recount transformation from victim to inspiration for women

Exclusive: Netflix’s Tinder Swindler stars recount transformation from victim to inspiration for women
  • Norwegian-born Cecilie Fjellhoy and Stockholm native Pernilla Sjoholm to deliver special keynote address at Arab Women Forum
  • Defrauded by a con artist, they have hit back by speaking up about their experience of romance scams

DUBAI: Just swipe left. At least that is what many an indecisive Tinder user may have found themselves doing after the notorious case of the dating app fraudster dubbed the “Tinder Swindler” came to light in an explosive Netflix docu-drama earlier this year.

Despite being defrauded by the conman, Norwegian TV personality Cecilie Fjellhoy and Swedish business owner Pernilla Sjoholm are hitting back by speaking up about their experience.

The women will appear during a special keynote address titled “When women fight back” at the Arab Women Forum, held in partnership with Arab News, at the Palazzo Versace Dubai on May 17.

“It was very traumatic,” Sjoholm told Arab News, reflecting on her experience ahead of Tuesday’s forum appearance. “It wasn’t only about the money you have lost. You have lost the way you viewed yourself, how you viewed everything.

“I used to think about fraud as: ‘Oh my God, who gets defrauded? You must be of lower intelligence or something.’ And I’m very embarrassed to say this today, because of what I lost.

“I was 31 years old, and it was not the way I would have imagined my life to be. To lose everything. You also lose your soul.”

 

 

Based on an expose by Verdens Gang, a Norwegian tabloid newspaper known under the abbreviation VG, the program unearthed the story of Israeli national Shimon Hayut, who allegedly posed on the dating app Tinder as Simon Leviev, claiming to be the son of a diamond mogul.

Hayut notoriously charmed women and persuaded them to loan him money, swindling an estimated $10 million from people across the globe.

According to reports, Hayut followed a pattern. After matching with unsuspecting women on Tinder, he would take them on a lavish first date and slowly build up a relationship, all the while dating other women.

Israeli national Shimon Hayut used the Tinder app to scam unsuspecting victims. 

Eventually, the fraudster would confide in them that a nefarious set of “enemies” were after him, persuading the women to send him money on the understanding that he would quickly pay them back.

After a nifty piece of counter-swindling by one woman, Ayleen Koeleman, who had been alerted to the con by the expose in VG, Hayut was arrested in 2019 and sentenced to 15 months in prison for fraud in Israel.

However, Hayut served only five months behind bars before being released. He has never been charged for crimes related to Fjellhoy and Sjoholm, and denies their claims of fraud.

And the story does not end there. In a shocking twist, Hayut is now pursuing a Hollywood career, while the women he targeted remain in debt to this day.

“We were very disappointed,” said Sjoholm. “Unfortunately, there is no extradition from Israel to Europe. So he’s still there.

From 2017 to 2019, Shimon Hayut used the dating app Tinder to swindle about $10 million from women around the world. (Shutterstock)

“We don’t think that they handled this case properly and they should have. And, unfortunately, that is the way it happens in a lot of fraud cases. I mean, I just know the numbers in Sweden. They drop 96 percent of all the cases they get, because they have too much.”

Instead of consigning themselves to a life of victimhood, both Sjoholm and Fjellhoy are working to inspire women across the world to identify and fight back against romance scams.

“We have talked about a lot of the shame that surrounds fraud and I think that it’s so important to stand up and say that this could happen to anyone,” said Sjoholm.

“Because it’s so common that fraudsters get away with fraud due to people being scared of sharing their story. So I definitely know that we helped a lot of people and hopefully will help a lot of people in the future as well.”

According to Action Fraud, the UK’s national reporting center for fraud and cybercrime, the majority of victims of romance fraud are women. Sjoholm believes women are specifically targeted for their perceived emotional vulnerabilities.

“I think that we women are more emotional people,” she said. “These fraudsters work a lot with emotions, because it is a form of emotional abuse.”

 

 

The Tinder Swindler case has raised many questions about what responsibility dating apps ought to hold for romance scams and what more they could be doing to safeguard users.

“I don’t feel like there was a lot that the dating app could have done in our case,” said Fjellhoy, also speaking to Arab News ahead of the forum.

“I feel like just doing proper identity checks so you can’t catfish someone, for example. We see that they have some, but I feel like fraud is much larger than just what happens on the dating app. They take you away from the dating app. It’s just one avenue of many that fraudsters are using.”

Beyond dating apps tightening their safeguards, there have also been calls to improve awareness in schools so that young people are better equipped to spot catfishing — the use of fake accounts to lure victims — and romance scams.

“If you’re going to educate young people, maybe teach them more about what kind of different people exist in the world,” said Fjellhoy.

“There are some people that don’t have empathy, there are psychopaths and narcissists who will take advantage of your empathy and those types of things. But I think it’s important to not put too much emphasis on us as victims as well.”

Indeed, there is a danger of victim blaming if the responsibility for spotting scammers is placed on users, when the onus ought to be on clamping down on fraudsters.

“We didn’t do anything wrong here,” said Fjellhoy. “And fraud will always happen. But, when fraud happens, how do we, as a society, talk about how to stop it?”

Nevertheless, there are several red flags that dating app users can look out for, says Sjoholm, including “love bombing” — the practice of lavishing someone with attention or affection with a view to influence or manipulate them.

However, Sjoholm believes that the very nature of social media makes it difficult to determine the truth about someone. “When it comes to social media, it is entirely about everyone wanting to show off their best side,” she said.

“Everyone wants to show off the good parts. When it comes to social media, I would say that 95 percent is just fraud in general.”

The mental health repercussions of romance fraud cannot be understated, as victims grapple with both the financial fallout and intense feelings of shame. “Regarding how your mental health is when you realize you’ve been defrauded, I think, for me, why I felt so low that I ended up in a psychiatric ward is that no one took you seriously,” said Fjellhoy.

 

 

“And I feel like, for example, you go to the police and they just brush you off. And I tried to contact the banks and they told me: ‘Well, you still need to pay down the loans.’ And you’re still mentally low. It’s double — emotional and economic. You see no way out.”

As a result of her ordeal, Fjellhoy established the Action Reaction Foundation to focus on the mental health challenges of survivors and to lobby for stronger laws as well as policies to protect victims.

One of the lasting effects of the ordeal is an inability to trust others easily. “I’m still having trouble with trust,” said Sjoholm.

Pernilla Sjoholm

“I have more good days than I have bad days. But even on my good days, when someone does something very nice toward me, I can sometimes feel like there’s an agenda behind it. That someone is there to hurt me.

“I can still socialize. I can meet new people, but I’m having a very hard time to really talk to people. I don’t want to take away trust. You should be trusting people, you should be helping people, because that is what makes this world better. But, of course, this has been a tremendous trauma.”

For Fjellhoy, it is also about having trust in the system to protect victims and take their claims seriously. 

Cecilie Fjellhoy

“That the police will be there to protect you, that if you go to the bank, and you’re saying you’re being defrauded, you can get some peace and quiet to figure things out, that they will give that to us,” said Fjellhoy.

“Just so many things that could have made everything that happened afterward much easier, which would have made the fight easier.”

For others who have fallen victim to romance scams, Fjellhoy’s advice is to speak up.

“Please report it to the police, no matter what,” she said. “We know that it hasn’t gone our way. But they need to know about all cases so they can see how big it actually is.

“Please, report it.”


‘Oussekine’: An immensely sad story of racist brutality

‘Oussekine’: An immensely sad story of racist brutality
Updated 16 May 2022

‘Oussekine’: An immensely sad story of racist brutality

‘Oussekine’: An immensely sad story of racist brutality

CHENNAI: Antoine Chevrollier’s four-part miniseries, “Oussekine,” is a dramatization of a ghastly event that happened one night in the center of Paris.

Malik Oussekine, barely into his twenties, meets a terrible end when policemen on motorcycles chase him into a building and brutally beat him to death. He had no criminal record, no political affiliations or sympathies. But he was an Algerian Muslim.

The series follows the Oussekine family, of a mother and her five children, who had left Algeria and made France their home, soon becoming citizens. They are proud and happy to be French, but are never allowed to forget that they are from another country.

The series follows the Oussekine family, of a mother and her five children. Supplied

The first episode of “Oussekine” begins on the evening of Dec. 5, 1986. While students are demonstrating on the streets of Paris against the Devaquet law, Malik Oussekine (Sayyid El Alami) is watching a concert by Nina Simone in Saint-Germain-des-Pres. He is excited about it, and before leaving home gently refuses to have the potato wedges his mother, Aicha (Hiam Abbass), has made. He says he would be late for the event and rushes out.

Post-concert, he is walking back home, happy about the entire evening, when he finds himself chased by police officers on motorcycles. He runs away and takes refuge inside a building, but a couple of men in uniform get inside and brutally beat him. Later as the episodes unfold, we learn all about the disillusionment, frustration and anger that are rampant in the force. And Malik was an unfortunate victim who was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Hiam Abbass portrays the student's mother. Supplied

The death is revealed in layers over the episodes, each about 60 minutes. Chevrollier packs in enough surprises to keep us glued to our TV sets, but the series does have its weak moments, giving us a feeling that it is not flowing as easily as it ought to be with some flashbacks appearing a bit confusing. The courtroom scenes are often listless, the only dramatic high coming from Malik’s sister, Sarah (Mouna Soualem), who at one point tells the two accused police officers not to dare look her in the eye. Some of the retorts made by the lawyer for the Oussekine family, Georges Kiejman (Kad Merad), are pointed and damning. Is this country not founded on the principles of liberty, equality and fraternity, he asks.

While Malik’s other siblings, Mohamed, Benamar and Fatna, make little or no impression, it is Sarah who is unforgiving. “Why are the accused not in handcuffs?” she questions the lawyer. Closest to her brother, she is as devastated as her mother, and the two actresses brilliantly convey a sense of immense sadness and helplessness.

Yet, the series does not moralize. Rather, it reminds us that life must continue. Acceptance is perhaps the greatest balm.


British-Moroccan model Nora Attal is Tiffany & Co.’s newest campaign star

British-Moroccan model Nora Attal is Tiffany & Co.’s newest campaign star
Updated 16 May 2022

British-Moroccan model Nora Attal is Tiffany & Co.’s newest campaign star

British-Moroccan model Nora Attal is Tiffany & Co.’s newest campaign star

DUBAI: Luxury jewelry house Tiffany & Co. teamed up with British-Moroccan model Nora Attal for its striking Elsa Peretti Bean Designs collection lensed by fashion photographer Sharif Hamza. In charge of creative direction was Ruba Abu-Nimah.

In the campaign video and photos, Attal is seen wearing dramatic statement pieces from the luxury jewelry brand’s latest offering designed by the late Italian jewelry designer whose creations for Tiffany & Co. are showcased in the collections of several art institutions, including the 20th century collection of the British Museum.

Attal dons hand-carved green jade and 18k gold necklaces and bean-shaped pendants adorned with silk cords, nets and tassels handwoven by artisans in Japan.

Peretti, who died in 2021, created her famous Bean design for Tiffany & Co. in 1974 during her first few years with the house. The jeweler saw the bean, a seed, as a symbol of life’s origins. Over the years, the bean motif has been reimagined at Tiffany & Co., from pendants and clutches to earrings, bracelets and other accessories. 

Speaking about the collection, Alexandre Arnault, executive vice president of product and communications at Tiffany & Co., said “Elsa Peretti’s legacy in the world of design and fashion cannot be overstated. The reintroduction of Peretti’s ‘Bean’ designs allows us to honor her creative influence using the same materials and forms that you see throughout her design vocabulary to expand on one of her most celebrated collections.”

Meanwhile, the campaigns just keep on rolling in for the London-born beauty.

Attal has had a busy 2022 so far, adding a number of advertorials to her ever-growing portfolio.

The 22-year-old fashion star recently fronted US fashion label Ralph Lauren’s adverts for Eid Al-Fitr alongside her family.

In the campaign video, the model appeared with her fiancé, cinematographer Victor Bastidas, her parents Charlie and Bouchra Attal, and her two siblings. 

She also starred in the campaign for H&M’s spring 2022 collection.

More recently, the model walked for Chanel’s grand prix-inspired cruise 2023 collection in front of a star-studded front row in Monaco earlier this month.

She appeared on the catwalk wearing a flowing monochrome dress printed with checkered racing flags and matched with a black, waist-cinching belt and a crossbody bag.


First photos of Lyna Khoudri in upcoming drama ‘Nos Frangins’ unveiled

First photos of Lyna Khoudri in upcoming drama ‘Nos Frangins’ unveiled
Updated 15 May 2022

First photos of Lyna Khoudri in upcoming drama ‘Nos Frangins’ unveiled

First photos of Lyna Khoudri in upcoming drama ‘Nos Frangins’ unveiled

DUBAI: French film distribution company Le Pacte has unveiled the first look at “Nos Frangins,” or “Our Brothers,” starring French-Algerian actress Lyna Khoudri, ahead of its global premiere at the upcoming Cannes Film Festival.

The hotly anticipated new film by three time Oscar-nominated director Rachid Bouchareb is launching in the Cannes Première section and tells the harrowing true story of French-Algerian student Malik Oussekine, who died in police custody in 1986, following several weeks of student protests against a university reform bill.

Khoudri stars in the film alongside a stellar cast that includes fellow French-Algerian actor Reda Kateb, Raphael Personnaz, Samir Guesmi and newcomer Adam Amara.

In the photos, the Algeria-born actress is pictured walking down the street alongside Kateb.

 The French-Algerian actress stars in ‘Nos Frangins.’ Supplied

It is not yet known what role the 29-year-old is playing.

It is not the first time that Oussekine’s tragic tale has been adapted for the big screen. The 1995 French film “La Haine,” starring Vincent Cassel, Hubert Koundé and Saïd Taghmaoui, was largely inspired by the case of the 22-year-old student protester who died after being badly beaten by riot police after a mass demonstration in 1986, which he did not take part in. 

The story is also being examined in “Oussekine,” a Disney+ series directed by Antoine Chevrollier that follows his family’s fight for justice.

Khoudri made her Cannes Film Festival debut last year during the premiere of Wes Anderson’s 2021 comedy “The French Dispatch” in July.

She is part of an ever-growing list of Arab stars working their way up the Hollywood ladder.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by lynakhoudri (@lynakhoudri)

The Venice Film Festival Orizzonti prize winner is set to star in French-Algerian director Mounia Meddour’s new drama “Houria,” and most recently appeared in the period drama “La Place D’Une Autre” and “Haute Couture.”

She is also set to appear in a new two-part adaptation of Alexandre Dumas’ classic French novel “The Three Musketeers,” in which she will star opposite Francois Civil as his love interest Constance D’Artagnan, formerly Bonacieux. In addition, Khoudri is shooting “Novembre,” a Cedric Jimenez-directed thriller about the French anti-terrorism services during the hunt for suspects after the 2015 Paris attacks.


Folk rappers from Ukraine win Eurovision in musical morale boost

Folk rappers from Ukraine win Eurovision in musical morale boost
Updated 15 May 2022

Folk rappers from Ukraine win Eurovision in musical morale boost

Folk rappers from Ukraine win Eurovision in musical morale boost
  • Kalush Orchestra beat out 24 competitors in the finale of the world’s biggest live music event with “Stefania,” a rap lullaby combining Ukrainian folk and modern hip-hop rhythms

TURIN, Italy: Ukraine won the Eurovision Song Contest Sunday with an infectious hip-hop folk melody, as the embattled nation rides a wave of public support across Europe.
Kalush Orchestra beat out 24 competitors in the finale of the world’s biggest live music event with “Stefania,” a rap lullaby combining Ukrainian folk and modern hip-hop rhythms from an energetic, breakdancing band.
“Please help Ukraine and Mariupol! Help Azovstal right now,” frontman Oleh Psiuk said in English from the stage, referring to the port city’s underground steelworks where Ukrainian soldiers are surrounded by Russian forces.
Following the win, Psiuk — whose bubblegum pink bucket hat has made him instantly recognizable — thanked everyone who voted for his country in the contest, which is watched by millions of viewers.
“The victory is very important for Ukraine, especially this year. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Glory to Ukraine,” Psiuk told journalists.
Coming in second place was Britain with Sam Ryder’s “Space Man” and its stratospheric notes, followed by Spain with the reggaeton “SloMo” from Chanel.
Ukraine beat out a host of over-the-top acts at the kitschy, quirky annual musical event, including Norway’s Subwoolfer, which sang about bananas while dressed in yellow wolf masks, and Serbia’s Konstrakta, who questioned national health care while meticulously scrubbing her hands onstage.
“Only at Eurovision do people celebrate bananas, heartbreaks and wash their hands in one and the same show,” Swedish fan Martina Fries told AFP Saturday ahead of the finale.
“Eurovision is a way to show that different countries can celebrate peacefully together.”

The joy of Eurovision is in its camp and theatrics, although the nearly three-month war in Ukraine hung heavily over festivities.
The European Broadcasting Union, which organizes the event, banned Russia on February 25, the day after Moscow invaded its neighbor.
“Stefania,” written by Psiuk as a tribute to his mother before the war, mixes traditional Ukrainian folk music played on obscure flute-like instruments with an invigorating hip-hop beat. The band donned richly embroidered ethnic garb to perform their act.
Nostalgic lyrics such as “I’ll always find my way home even if all the roads are destroyed” have taken on outsized meaning as millions of Ukrainians have been displaced by war.
President Volodymyr Zelensky thanked the group for topping the contest.
“Our courage impresses the world, our music conquers Europe!” he wrote on Facebook.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called the win “a clear reflection of not just your talent, but of the unwavering support for your fight for freedom,” while European Council President Charles Michel said he hoped next year’s contest “can be hosted in Kyiv in a free and united Ukraine.”
Kalush Orchestra received special authorization from Ukraine’s government to attend Eurovision, since men of fighting age are prohibited from leaving the country, but that permit expires in two days.
Psiuk said he wasn’t exactly sure what awaited the band as war rages back home.
“Like every Ukrainian, we are ready to fight as much as we can and go until the end.”

Other contenders at Eurovision included Sweden’s break-up belt “Hold Me Closer” from Cornelia Jakobs, Greece’s somber “Die Together” by Amanda Georgiadi Tenfjord, and “Brividi” (Shivers), a gay-themed duet from Italy’s Mahmood and Blanco.
Italy won the competition last year with “Zitti e Buoni” (Shut up and Behave) from high-octane glam rockers Maneskin, who performed their new single “Supermodel” during Saturday night’s finale.
Eurovision’s winner is chosen by a cast of music industry professionals — and members of the public — from each country, with votes for one’s home nation not allowed.
After a quarter-century of being shut out from the top spot, Britain had hoped to have a winner in “Space Man” and its high notes belted by the affable, long-haired Ryder.
Britain had been ahead after votes were counted from the national juries, but a jaw-dropping 439 points awarded to Ukraine from the public pushed it to the top spot.
Eurovision is a hit among fans not only for the music, but for the looks on display and this year was no exception. Lithuania’s Monika Liu generated as much social media buzz for her bowl cut hairdo as her sensual and elegant “Sentimentai.”
Meanwhile, Sheldon Riley of Australia — one of Eurovision’s few non-European entries — sang his self-affirmation ballad “Not the Same” through a sparkling face veil laden with crystals.
And since no Eurovision is complete without a smattering of gyrating and undulating bodies onstage, Spain’s Chanel came to the rescue with her energetic dancing and memorable “booty hypnotic” refrain.