Singer Farrah El-Dibany discusses performance for President Macron’s victory rally

Singer Farrah El-Dibany discusses performance for President Macron’s victory rally
Macron’s team contacted El-Dibany to invite her to perform “La Marseillaise” – the French national anthem. (Supplied)
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Updated 06 May 2022

Singer Farrah El-Dibany discusses performance for President Macron’s victory rally

Singer Farrah El-Dibany discusses performance for President Macron’s victory rally
  • ‘It was surreal — and so intimidating,’ says the Egyptian opera singer 

DUBAI: On a recent work trip to Geneva, Egyptian opera singer Farrah El-Dibany received an unexpected phone call. It was April 23, the eve of election day in France, where President Emmanuel Macron was running for reelection against right-wing candidate Marine Le Pen. Macron’s team contacted El-Dibany to invite her to perform “La Marseillaise” – the French national anthem – in Paris after his possible victory speech at the foot of the Eiffel Tower, an event that would be watched by millions. No pressure at all. 

“I was skeptical at the beginning. I couldn’t grasp the size of this event,” El-Dibany tells Arab News from the French capital, where she lives. “I was pacing round the room like crazy. It was very tense. I had to organize things quickly — including the dress.” That dress — a red strapless gown by Lebanese designer Gemy Maalouf — attracted almost as much media attention as El-Dibany’s a capella performance.

“I was so stressed I couldn’t sleep,” she continues. “I woke up early, took the train to Paris, and went straight to rehearsals. It was surreal. I don’t know how this all happened.”




Post-performance, Macron kissed El-Dibany’s hand out of respect and appreciation. (Supplied)

She was well aware of the challenges of taking on one of the most famous melodies ever written.

“It was so intimidating,” the mezzo-soprano recalls. “I was non-stop rehearsing it. I was afraid to mess it up or forget a word, because everyone in the world would be watching, not just France. I’m not French, so I cannot permit myself a mistake. A French person can make a mistake — it’s his country and anthem.”

Despite the short notice, and the pressure, the performance was a triumph. El-Dibany performed a two-minute operatic take on the anthem, surrounded by a mass of Macron supporters who began singing with her. Post-performance, Macron kissed El-Dibany’s hand out of respect and appreciation.




El-Dibany performed a two-minute operatic take on the anthem. (Supplied)

“He was very nice and welcoming,” she says. “I’d met him before, so he knew me as a singer. When I came on stage, I saluted him and he (returned the gesture).”

The televised performance was a significant and symbolic cultural moment. El-Dibany became the first foreign artist to perform the national anthem following a presidential victory declaration in France. That was unlikely to have been a coincidence, given Macron’s ideology of advocating social diversity. According to El-Dibany, the last time a non-French artist gave a rendition of the song was American opera legend Jessye Norman in 1989, to mark the 200th anniversary of the French Revolution.  

“It is definitely the highlight of my career,” El-Dibany says. “It’s something unique and something that I will never forget.”

Hers is a career with many highlights to choose from, too. She became the first Arab artist-in-residence at the prestigious Opéra National de Paris, founded by King Louis XIV in 1669, landing a three-year contract there. She has received France’s Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (awarded to those who have made a significant contribution to the “enrichment” of French culture). Her talent has taken her to the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization, Beirut Chants Festival, Institut du Monde Arabe, the Palais Garnier, and the Giacometti Foundation, among others. She’s been called the “Egyptian Carmen,” singing compositions by Mozart, Beethoven, Bizet, Tchaikovsky, and Rossini, as well as paying tribute to Arab icons including Dalida, Asmahan, and Fayrouz.

El-Dibany was born in Alexandria in 1989. She attended the city’s well-known conservatory for piano lessons from the age of seven and sang in her school choir.

“I grew up in a very musical and artistic atmosphere, although none of my family members are professional musicians,” she says. “My parents definitely noticed that I had a voice. They kept supporting me.” 

El-Dibany’s mother was a banker, her father an architect. At one point, El-Dibany looked set to follow in his footsteps. She travelled to Berlin and studied architecture and opera at two different universities.

“Studying two things at the same time was very challenging,” she says. “It was a marathon and everyone around me — except my parents — was telling me that I would never be able to do it.”

It was her grandfather who first introduced El-Dibany to the greats of opera: Luciano Pavarotti, Plácido Domingo, Maria Callas, and Teresa Berganza. 

“What I like about opera is the theatre behind it,” she explained. “It’s a combination of acting and singing. I love (inhabiting) a role. When I sing an aria, I’m in a role, in a moment.

“People still think opera is kind of like screaming,” she continues. “It is very dramatic, but we don’t scream; we have a technique. With this technique, we can (hit) all these different notes or registers. People don’t understand that behind this singing there’s a lot of technical work.”

El Dibany moved to France in 2016, looking to take her career to new heights — something that she says would have been almost impossible back home.

“The thing is, for opera, I cannot make a real career in Egypt. Yes, I have performed at the opera houses in Cairo and Alexandria, but at a certain point when you become really professional in this field, you find yourself needing more opportunities,” she explains. “Opera, at the end of the day, is not part of Eastern or Arabic culture, it’s very Western. There are more opportunities in Europe.” 

Perhaps one of the reasons why opera is universally loved is because it stirs people’s emotions, regardless of whether you understand the lyrics. “Opera is not about understanding the text; it’s about the voice,” El-Dibany says.

And protecting that voice is vital. El-Dibany avoids spicy food, drinks anise tea, and trys to avoid conversation on days when she’s performing. “Speaking is our enemy,” she says. “It tires the voice immediately.”

Despite her recent moment of global fame, El-Dibany isn’t resting on her laurels. She is eager to continue her upward momentum.

“The ultimate dream for me is to have the love of the people,” she says. “To have more and more people that would want to hear my voice and listen to me sing all over the world. This is what being an artist is all about.”


Actress Sonia Ben Ammar continues glamorous streak on Cannes red carpet

Actress Sonia Ben Ammar continues glamorous streak on Cannes red carpet
Updated 19 May 2022

Actress Sonia Ben Ammar continues glamorous streak on Cannes red carpet

Actress Sonia Ben Ammar continues glamorous streak on Cannes red carpet

DUBAI: The Cannes Film Festival 2022 has gotten off to a glittering start, bringing together cinema’s biggest stars from all points of the globe for film premieres in their most glamorous get-ups. Indeed, the annual film festival is just as much about the glitzy red carpet as it is about the films, so French-Tunisian model, singer and actress Sonia Ben Ammar made sure to deliver a strong look as she attended the “Maverick: Top Gun” red carpet premiere on Wednesday. The “Scream” star chose a silk gold Alberta Ferretti gown. She paired the sleeveless, floor-trailing dress with delicate jewelry from Bulgari and black pumps.

When it came to her beauty look, the multihyphenate raked her chocolate lengths back into a middle-parted voluminous updo with two face-framing strands on either side of her cheeks. As for her makeup, Ben Ammar channeled the 1990s with a warm, bronzed complexion, groomed eyebrows and mocha-colored lipstick.

Sonia Ben Ammar wearing Alberta Ferretti at the 75th edition of the Cannes Film Fesitval. Getty Images

Despite being just 23-years-old, Ben Ammar is a seasoned Cannes red carpet star.

The actress made her Cannes Film Festival debut in 2016 at the red carpet premiere of “The BFG” wearing a beige, floral-printed slip dress.

The French-Tunisian star went on to capture attention on La Croisette the following year, stealing the spotlight at the 2017 red carpet premiere of “The Beguiled” in a black embellished gown.

In the years that followed, Ben Ammar continued to experiment with head-turning pieces with a penchant for glamorous gowns, such as the Philosophy di Lorenzo Serafini mini dress with a long, trailing train that she wore to the “BlacKkKlansman” premiere at the 71st edition of the film festival.

No matter what the film premiere is, Ben Ammar always shows up with a striking look that oozes glamour and for that reason alone, she remains one of the most exciting faces on La Croisette.  


New survey reveals GCC residents’ travel intentions as world opens up post-pandemic

New survey reveals GCC residents’ travel intentions as world opens up post-pandemic
Updated 19 May 2022

New survey reveals GCC residents’ travel intentions as world opens up post-pandemic

New survey reveals GCC residents’ travel intentions as world opens up post-pandemic

DUBAI: As Joni Mitchell observed: “You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.” That has certainly proved true for travel since the onset of the COVID-pandemic saw worldwide restrictions on movement cause the industry to grind to a halt in early 2020. 

Many feared airlines and hotels would be struggling for years to come, but at this month’s Arabian Travel Market in Dubai, experts were bullish about the near future, with recovery looking extremely healthy. The ability to hop across borders for a long weekend or a summer vacation, or even a work trip — has now become something precious; the chance to escape everyday routine has become more alluring than ever. 

“Travel has moved from something that we took for granted to something that, now, we really need,” Paul Kelly, managing partner of Dubai-based consumer-insight company D/A, told Arab News. “That’s something that came through in this analysis: This huge pent-up demand — the emotional side of traveling has changed a lot.”

Residents of the GCC are eager to get travelling again, as research that D/A presented at the travel market proved. The company assessed millions of social media and online posts with its AI-driven “Sila” tool to discover the travel intentions and desires of more than 2.2 million Arab speakers across the GCC. What D/A found was that while many of the favored destinations remain the same (with one major exception — more on that later), the reasons for visiting them have changed significantly. It seems people are longing for relaxation in natural surroundings, along with cultural experiences, more than they are looking for shopping destinations and material acquisition.

“Visiting cities for shopping used to be much (more popular). It was never as big as the ‘Beach Holidays,’ category, but ‘Shopping’ was always number two,” Kelly said. “It’s now the lowest. Beach destinations are still number one — for instance, since the pandemic, visitor numbers to the Maldives from the GCC are higher than ever. But the ‘Nature and Mountains’ category — so, lakes, for example; think Switzerland more than the Maldives — has become much more popular. And cultural tourism — say, music festivals, art events, and general cultural experiences — has also become far more important, especially among younger people.”

Here are some of the main findings from D/A’s research.

SAUDI RISING 

One country has seen a major increase in interest over the past three years: Saudi Arabia. While the glitz of the UAE — and particularly Dubai — remains in high demand, the Kingdom is now the second-most desirable destination for travelers from the GCC, according to D/A’s research. “Saudi has become a really big destination. That was never the case previously, except for pilgrims, but this research discounts religious travel,” Kelly explained. Clearly, the Saudi authorities’ efforts over the past few years to position the country as an attractive tourism destination have been a huge success. More and more Saudis are looking to take short breaks in their own country, and travelers from the Emirates, Oman and other GCC countries are taking the opportunity to explore the rich culture and stunning landscapes that had previously been all-but-impossible to access.

“This has all been driven by what’s currently open — festivals like MDLBEAST, the Riyadh and Jeddah seasons, AlUla, the sporting events,” Kelly said. “That stuff works.”

THINK LOCAL 

The top three destinations for GCC travelers were all in the Gulf: The UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait. This is a recent development, according to Kelly. “The Gulf countries were never really factors before – apart from the obvious, Dubai, which has always been a beacon for the Middle East. But what’s been interesting is the rise of Qatar, because of the World Cup, and then Saudi as well,” he said.

“Khaleejis like going for short breaks — five days or something. And a lot of people, for those breaks, are now staying within the GCC. Saudi hasn’t overtaken the UAE yet, but it’s really come up as a tourism destination,” he continued. “The whole concept of staycation within the region has really come up — people are staying for longer periods too. Shorter stays are much more valued now.” 

TURKISH DELIGHT

Turkey is one of the most desirable international locations for GCC travelers, according to D/A’s research. It’s always been popular, but what the social-media chatter suggests is that people aren’t just heading to the big cities anymore — instead it’s the country’s mixture of “beach and mountains” that is attracting attention, with its Mediterranean areas proving especially in demand.

FAMILIARITY BREEDS CONTENT

While GCC travelers are eager for new experiences, they’re also looking for the reassurance of the familiar. So destinations like the UK, the US and Thailand remain extremely desirable, but, Kelly said, they are now looking for new experiences in places where they may have been several times before. 

“What we found across most of the countries is that there’s a big movement towards new experiences, even in really familiar settings,” Kelly said. “So they like to go to the same places — London, for example, is a big destination. But while they’re in London, they want to do something different, maybe be there a bit longer and go out into the countryside. There’s also an eagerness to fill out itineraries a bit more, do more things.”

FORBIDDEN FRUIT

“People really wanted to go to the countries that closed their borders early because of COVID,” Kelly said. “You want to do what you can’t do, I guess.” China and Japan were the main beneficiaries of this particular quirk of our brains, with both featuring prominently on the wishlist of destinations in the Far East for GCC travelers. China, in particular, is a desirable place for studying for GCC residents, D/A found.


Illustrator Nourie Flayhan pays tribute to reporter Shireen Abu Akleh with digital drawing

Illustrator Nourie Flayhan pays tribute to reporter Shireen Abu Akleh with digital drawing
Updated 19 May 2022

Illustrator Nourie Flayhan pays tribute to reporter Shireen Abu Akleh with digital drawing

Illustrator Nourie Flayhan pays tribute to reporter Shireen Abu Akleh with digital drawing

DUBAI: The Lebanese illustrator discusses her latest digital drawing, which pays tribute to Palestinian-American reporter Shireen Abu Akleh, who was killed in Jenin earlier this month. 

When I heard the news of Shireen Abu Akleh’s death, I was in Portugal with my parents on a three-day vacation. I saw a couple of posts on social media, but it wasn’t very clear what was happening, so I went on Google Search and read a couple of very short reports, as the news was breaking. I went back on social media and my Palestinian friends were posting more and more about it. 

It was actually very shocking. I felt like I had to go back to the hotel and draw a tribute to her. Seeing her on the floor was really intense and I was deeply disturbed for a while. It took me some time to process what was happening. I feel like she’s done so much for everyone; the way she’s been reporting for so many years and has been a voice for the people — risking her life almost every day. 

‘Honoring Shireen.’ (Supplied) 

Illustration is how I can communicate my thoughts and feelings more clearly. Most of my work is digital illustrations and I use an iPad. My fingers were moving so fast, almost in rage, but I had to stop myself and give a softer emotion to it. I had to pour out appreciation and admiration of who she was. I wanted that to translate into the piece, rather than it being an angry piece. 

She was a very soft and kind person and I think that contributes to the halo around her head. At first, I wanted the flowers to be colorful, but then I wanted them to be kind of muted out and be white and very peaceful. She had an angelic face and was graceful till the end and I wanted that to be highlighted in the illustration. 

She was wearing a press vest when she got shot and part of me wanted to remind people not just about the job that she carried out until her last breath, but also that she was wronged and that hurt a lot people. 

The white, blank eyes may be disturbing to others, but to me they’re calming. It’s to remind people that, yes, there’s a human being behind that person, but there’s also a soul. 


MENA region music streaming charts ‘in development,’ industry federation says

MENA region music streaming charts ‘in development,’ industry federation says
Updated 1 min 8 sec ago

MENA region music streaming charts ‘in development,’ industry federation says

MENA region music streaming charts ‘in development,’ industry federation says

DUBAI: The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) has announced that music streaming charts are in development for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), including IFPI’s first ever regional chart.

IFPI published the “Global Music Report” in March and it showed that market revenues in the MENA region grew by 35 percent in 2021, making the region the fastest-growing area in the world. The numbers also portray that the market is mainly made up of streaming which is 95.3 percent of the region’s revenues.

The charts are presently being tested in four countries — Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and Morocco — alongside a first of its kind regional chart for the MENA region. The outcome is the product of collaborative and direct partnerships between the industry and the largest streaming services in the region, which include Anghami, Spotify, Apple, Deezer, and Youtube.

 IFPI additionally conducted a research study to demonstrate the industry’s interest in the region which showed that UAE residents listen to an average of 22.5 hours of music in a week which is 22 percent higher than the world average. The study explored music engagement of people in the country between the ages of 16-44, also found that 54 percent of people usually listen to a minimum of one Middle Eastern genre.

IFPI Chief Executive, Frances Moore said “both the research and the upcoming charts serve to demonstrate the passion music fans have for music here in the region. We are seeing how the presence and investment of record companies in the area and their work to develop and support local artists is driving positive developments in the music ecosystem.”

Highlighting the excitement of this endeavour, IFPI’s Regional Director for the MENA region, Rawan Al-Dabbas stated “this is an incredibly exciting time for music in the region. The combination of the forthcoming regional charts combined with the industry’s focus and investment in MENA going forward goes to demonstrate the exciting future for music in the region.”

She also mentioned some drawbacks for the region as there is an issue of streaming unlicensed music in the area. “There are challenges, for example unlicensed music is an issue in the region, and IFPI and our member companies are committed to working with governments here in MENA to tackle this and ensure that licensed music has a secure foundation from which to continue its exciting growth story,” she added.


Moroccan singer Jihane Bougrine explores mental illness in unique new single

Moroccan singer Jihane Bougrine explores mental illness in unique new single
Updated 18 May 2022

Moroccan singer Jihane Bougrine explores mental illness in unique new single

Moroccan singer Jihane Bougrine explores mental illness in unique new single

DUBAI: Moroccan singer and songwriter Jihane Bougrine this week released her latest single “Rahat El-Bal,” in which the France-raised artist explores the often taboo subject of mental health, bipolar disorder in particular.

In her new song, which translates to “Peace of Mind,” the star, who is signed to Universal Music, said she wishes to send a message of “hope and optimism” by shining a light on the mental illness.

She was inspired to write the song by a family member who was diagnosed with schizophrenia 20 years ago, she told Arab News.

At the time, her family faced myriad challenges. “Here in Morocco, with the traditions and culture, it’s taboo to talk about mental health,” the singer said. “So they used to tell us he was crazy. It was very tough for the family, so I decided to write it and put a name on it to say that people should not be afraid to talk about it.”

The song, which already has more than 250,000 views on YouTube alone, is a mix between indie, electro and pop genres. 

For the music video, the singer collaborated with the French director Julien Fouré, who she said “managed to put my words into an image.

“For him, photography and cinema are a way to send important messages to change the world,” Bougrine said. “It is very inspiring and (it was) easy to work with someone like him because he is very talented.”

The four-minute clip stars Moroccan actress Mouna R’miki.

Bougrine, who has lived in multiple cities around the world, said that traveling made her “wealthy” when it comes to music. “Music is a melting pot. I can have different rhythms in my songs. I don’t have any limits. The sky is my limit,” she explained. 

The singer added that she hopes her music will offer international audiences a glimpse of life as a Moroccan. “If (my songs) can be a small window to Morocco… and make people understand what we are feeling and what we are living, it would be amazing,” she said.