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.”


US show ‘Last Light’ latest TV series to be filmed in Abu Dhabi

US show ‘Last Light’ latest TV series to be filmed in Abu Dhabi
Updated 26 September 2022

US show ‘Last Light’ latest TV series to be filmed in Abu Dhabi

US show ‘Last Light’ latest TV series to be filmed in Abu Dhabi

DUBAI: A thriller set during an environmental collapse has joined a growing list of US television shows shot in Abu Dhabi with the support of its film commission.

“Last Light,” a five-episode series streaming on Shahid VP in the Middle East, was filmed in multiple locations in the emirate, with the capital doubling as the program’s fictitious city of Luzrah. 

The Emirates Palace and the Ritz-Carlton Abu Dhabi are featured ‘Last Light,’ as well as the expanse of the Abu Dhabi desert. (Supplied)

The show stars Emmy-nominated Matthew Fox, best known for his role in “Lost,” and Joanne Froggatt of “Downton Abbey,” as well as Amber Rose and Hakeem Jomah. The program also features Paris and London as locations.

The action and drama series is directed by award-winning director Dennie Gordon, who has worked on over 100 hours of network television, including the critically acclaimed American superhero television series ‘Legion’.

“Finding a desert like this, unobstructed dunes as far as the eye can see, is such a privilege,” said Gordon in a statement. 

‘Last Light’ star Matthew Fox shooting a scene in Abu Dhabi. (Supplied)

The Emirates Palace and the Ritz-Carlton Abu Dhabi are featured, as well as the expanse of the Abu Dhabi desert.

Scenes were also filmed at the Arkan Cement Factory, the Abu Dhabi Global Market, Al Danah, Mussafah and a military base.

The series, an adaptation of Alex Scarrow’s best-selling novel about a world without oil, is the latest to join the Abu Dhabi Film Commission’s extensive roster of supported foreign productions.

The series received location support and a 30 percent rebate on production costs from the ADFC. It was produced by a crew of 145 people, 90 of whom were locals.


 


Egypt’s 19th century gift to France inspires new children’s book ‘Grace the Giraffe’

Egypt’s 19th century gift to France inspires new children’s book ‘Grace the Giraffe’
Updated 26 September 2022

Egypt’s 19th century gift to France inspires new children’s book ‘Grace the Giraffe’

Egypt’s 19th century gift to France inspires new children’s book ‘Grace the Giraffe’
  • Egypt's Muhammad Ali Pasha gave female giraffe from Nubia to King Charles X
  • Paris-based couple Oliver Gee and Lina Nordin Gee took inspiration from the historical story for their children's tale

DUBAI: In 1827, the people of Paris saw the rarest of sights. The ruler of Egypt, Muhammad Ali Pasha, sent an unusual diplomacy gift to King Charles X of France: A female giraffe from Nubia, dubbed “la belle africaine,” that caused a sensation and set trends in French society.

This real-life and little-known story inspired Paris-based couple Oliver Gee and Lina Nordin Gee to create their third and latest children’s book, “Grace the Giraffe,” which will be released in October.

Paris-based couple Oliver Gee and Lina Nordin Gee created their third and latest children’s book, ‘Grace the Giraffe.’ (Supplied)

It captures a light-hearted aspect of this historical event. “A few books have been written about the giraffe, but they’re quite dry,” Oliver, an Australian, and host of The Earful Tower podcast, told Arab News.

“We thought the fun part of the story was just as much this reaction from Parisians,” he continued. “It’s a fashion story of people going crazy, where women had their hair looking like the horns or ears of the giraffe.”

Originally from southern Sudan, the giraffe was transported via the Nile and crossed the Mediterranean, landing in Marseille. “She was in a boat with a hole so her head could stick out, which is amazing,” noted Oliver.

The giraffe endured a long and arduous journey as she was walked from Marseille to Paris for weeks. She grew physically along the way, accompanied by a procession of cows that provided milk. “By the time that she was in Marseille, a giraffe hadn’t been in Europe for 300 years,” said Oliver. “So today, it would be like an alien is here.”

In Paris, the giraffe lived in a zoo for under two decades until her death. “Everybody went to see her,” said Oliver. “Even in the small cities, half the population came to see her go past. It was insane.” She achieved her own kind of celebrity, as the elegant creature appeared on fans and ceramics. Luckily, the giraffe’s body has been preserved over the years and is currently on display at a museum in La Rochelle, France.

“Grace the Giraffe” was written by Oliver and illustrated by his wife, Lina. Told in rhyming couplets with little twists in the narrative, the charming piece of work features colorful spreads of Grace’s boat journey, extraordinary procession, and whirlwind arrival in the French capital.

The news of the book’s publication has been well-received online, sparking interest from readers of all ages. “From a history perspective,” said Oliver, “it’s cool to know that children and adults will be learning about a fascinating story.” 


Bahraini culinary star Tala Bashmi celebrates The Best Chef Awards ranking in Madrid

Bahraini culinary star Tala Bashmi celebrates The Best Chef Awards ranking in Madrid
Tala Bashmi is the chef patronne at Fusions by Tala in the Gulf Hotel, Manama. (Supplied)
Updated 26 September 2022

Bahraini culinary star Tala Bashmi celebrates The Best Chef Awards ranking in Madrid

Bahraini culinary star Tala Bashmi celebrates The Best Chef Awards ranking in Madrid
  • ‘I always saw a gap for a different version of Middle Eastern and Khaleeji cuisine,’ Bashmi previously told Arab News

DUBAI: Bahraini chef Tala Bashmi appeared in Madrid over the weekend to celebrate her ranking among the top 100 chefs in the world.

The culinary star ranked 93rd and is the only Arab on this year’s Best Chef Awards list, as well as one of just 18 women.

The gala dinner was held at the Crystal Gallery of the Palacio de Cibeles in Madrid and saw Spain’s Dabiz Muñoz named the best chef in the world for the second consecutive year.

“I do not feel like the best chef in the world, far from it. But I believe I have the best team in the world,” he said accepting the prize on the stage.

Chef patronne at Fusions by Tala in the Gulf Hotel, Manama, Tala Bashmi hit the red carpet at the event.

Bashmi grew up in Bahrain, and began her career at the Gulf Hotel, before heading to Switzerland to train at Grand Hotel Les Trois Rois and the Michelin-starred Prisma. 

She returned to Bahrain in 2014 and worked her way up through the ranks at the Gulf Hotel to eventually head Fusions by Tala, where she’s determined to reinvent Gulf cuisine. She was recently named Best Female Chef in the Middle East and North Africa by 50 Best.

“I always saw a gap for a different version of Middle Eastern and Khaleeji cuisine,” Bashmi told Arab News earlier this year. “I want to compete on a global scale by elevating our cuisine technically, visually, and flavor-wise,” she said. 


Actress Sofia Carson shows off Zuhair Murad look in New York

Sofia Carson showed off an ensemble by Zuhair Murad in New York. (Getty Images)
Updated 26 September 2022

Actress Sofia Carson shows off Zuhair Murad look in New York

Sofia Carson showed off an ensemble by Zuhair Murad in New York. (Getty Images)

DUBAI: US singer and actress Sofia Carson was spotted in New York wearing an ensemble by Lebanese designer Zuhair Murad this week.

Carson attended the Global Citizen Festival in a coordinating look from Murad’s resort 2023 collection. The outfit featured an embellished crop top and mini skirt set with matching thigh-high leather boots.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Sofia Carson (@sofiacarson)

The actress was dressed by celebrity stylist Nicolas Bru.

Metallica and Mariah Carey led an A-list of musicians at the event on Saturday, and President Joe Biden made a surprise video appearance, as the Global Citizen Festival sought to mobilize action against poverty and climate change.

Marking its 10th year, the six-hour festival brought thousands to New York’s Central Park and featured a sister show in Ghana's capital Accra, where performers included American R&B great Usher and British grime icon Stormzy, AFP reported.

Global Citizen awards tickets to fans in exchange for their commitment to take action to eradicate extreme poverty — such as contacting elected representatives to encourage foreign aid — and coincides with the annual UN General Assembly in hopes of raising pressure on world leaders.

Other performers included Maneskin, the new-generation Italian glam rockers who put on an energetic set, Spanish pop star Rosalia, and the Jonas Brothers, with Nick Jonas' wife, Indian screen star Priyanka Chopra, serving as master of ceremonies.

It is not the first time Carson has attended a high profile event wearing an ensemble from the Middle East.  

In July, she hit the red carpet at the premiere of Netflix movie “Purple Hearts” in a deep purple gown by Lebanese couturier Elie Saab.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Sofia Carson (@sofiacarson)

The actress, who stars in the film, attended the premiere at The Bay Theater in Pacific Palisades, California, wearing a gown from Saab’s Fall 2022 collection.

The dress boasted a tightly pleated purple skirt, along with a floral-embellished bodice with a statement high collar in black.

The 68-look ready-to-wear collection from which the gown hails was unveiled in Paris in March and was “about strong women, strong characters, a little rock ‘n’ roll,” the designer told Vogue US at the time.

It’s only fitting then that the dress was shown off by singer and actress Carson, who is signed to Hollywood Records and has a number of singles under her belt.

The multi-hyphenate most recently starred in “Purple Hearts,” which tells the story of an aspiring singer-songwriter and a soldier who fall in love against all odds.


UAE artists set to exhibit at the 16th Lyon Biennale of Contemporary Art in France

UAE artists set to exhibit at the 16th Lyon Biennale of Contemporary Art in France
Updated 25 September 2022

UAE artists set to exhibit at the 16th Lyon Biennale of Contemporary Art in France

UAE artists set to exhibit at the 16th Lyon Biennale of Contemporary Art in France
  • Wonderful talent showcase, says Noura bint Mohammad Al-Kaabi, minister of culture and youth
  • Hashel Al-Lamki, Mohammed Kazem, Chafa Ghaddar will work under event’s theme ‘Manifesto of Fragility’

DUBAI: Three artists from the UAE are set to represent the country at the 16th edition of the Lyon Biennale of Contemporary Art, which will run from Sept. 14 to Dec. 31, with the support of the Ministry of Culture and Youth and the Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi.

Multi-disciplinary creator Hashel Al-Lamki, conceptual creative Mohammed Kazem and mural artist Chafa Ghaddar will present their work at the biennale, which is being held under the theme “Manifesto of Fragility.”

Mural artist Chafa Ghaddar will present their work at the Biennale. (Supplied)

“It’s a wonderful opportunity for the UAE to showcase its talent at such a prestigious platform. We have immense respect for the Lyon Biennale, which is marking its 16th edition this year. The UAE is making its presence felt at global art events and this is one of its significant participations,” said UAE Minister of Culture and Youth Noura bint Mohammed Al-Kaabi in a statement.

“The UAE artists exhibiting at this event are known names in the contemporary art world and they will be presenting distinctive works enriched by Middle Eastern and Arab influences. I look forward to seeing their participation in the biennale, wish them a very successful exhibition and I look forward to seeing the fruitful results of the collaboration between these artists come to life.”

Featuring 230 works by 34 artists and more than 300 archival documents from nearly 40 collections worldwide, the exhibition will showcase new creations by living artists alongside historical pieces from museums in the French city.

It will also present loaned collections from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (also known as the Met), the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, and from many of Lyon’s leading cultural institutions, such as the Museum of Fine Arts of Lyon, the Lugdunum Museum and Roman theaters, and the Musées Gadagne.