DUBAI: The 20-year-old Dubai-based Egyptian singer Basmala Alaa — who goes by the artist name Bsmalla — recently released her debut single on Universal Music MENA, having signed to the label after garnering more than 4 million followers on social-media platform TikTok over the past few years.
At first, Alaa didn’t sing in her TikTok videos, but — as she gained popularity, she decided to test the water with some covers of popular Arabic songs.
“I’ve been singing since I was 10 years old,” Alaa tells Arab News. “The older I got, the more my voice developed. My parents noticed it and would say: ‘This child has something special.’ They supported me a lot, but I was also training myself.”
Self-taught Alaa might have inherited her love of music — and talent for it — from her father, who was in a band during his formative years in Egypt. “He made me listen to music and helped me understand music,” she says.
“I will never forget how my family have always stood by me,” she continues. “Not many people have supportive families, so I want to thank mine.”
Alaa — who speaks with a noticeable Khaleeji accent, despite her Egyptian heritage, having grown up in the UAE — started posting videos of herself covering songs in a variety of Arabic dialects, from the Gulf to North Africa. Her followers were quick to praise her natural vocal ability. “What encouraged me was people’s comments, saying that my voice is exactly what you hear in the recording,” she says. “I’m not ‘faking’ my voice.”
Alaa says she’s a fan of Sherine Abdel-Wahab, Asala Nasri, and Kadim Al-Sahir, among others. As for Egyptian pop, she enjoys Tamer Hosny and Mohamed Hamaki.
Her own music isn’t easily classified. She has so far recorded six Arabic songs, she says (an EP is slated for release later this year) in a variety of dialects and genres. “I’m exploring what people like. I like to impress my audience. I love it when they like what I’m doing,” she says. “The style of singing that I like may not resonate with people — I love classic, romantic, calm songs with a lot of emotion, but I noticed that my audience love, from me, songs that have more excitement and a love for life.”
Her debut release, “Helo Moodak,” is a perfect example of the latter — a sweet pop song with a light-hearted video that includes touches of quirky animation with a comic-strip feel, stop-motion footage, and includes scenes of Alaa and a large cuddly toy that she’s alternately throwing around then hugging.
“It’s my favorite song so far,” Alaa tells Arab News. “It’s about a teenage girl who’s imagining being in love with someone. And that person is like her teddy bear.”
The song was written for her by lyricist Ehab Abdelazeem and composer Amr Al-Shazly. Alaa recalls feeling a little anxious during recording sessions, imagining how things would turn out.
“I’m not saying that I’m used to recording ‘officially’ yet, but I have recorded many songs. Still, there’s always that slight nervous feeling of thinking, ‘What will people say? What will their reaction be? How’s my voice? What about the video clip?’”
As it turns out, her nerves were unfounded. The song has been well-received, and there are already plenty of people posting clips of them singing and dancing along to the catchy track.
“I see a lot of children playing my song and I see adults imitating them,” she says. “That makes me happy. It makes me smile.”
As a member of the so-called ‘TikTok generation,’ Alaa’s story is somewhat akin to those of Lil Nas X and Olivia Rodrigo, who were also discovered through the video app. TikTok is unquestionably influencing the musical landscape, for better or worse. Alaa, perhaps unsurprisingly, prefers to see it in a positive light.
“TikTok is a platform for talent,” she explained. “Before I was on TikTok, I was singing on other platforms, but TikTok helped to show my talent more. People see me not just in one country, but all countries around the world.”
So far, Alaa has only performed online. She says she has turned down offers to do live performances, as she feels it’s still too early for her to take to the stage in the real world. “I want to establish myself more first, and I want to have a large repertory of songs,” she says.
The singer currently has 4.7 million followers on TikTok, a statistic she’s still struggling to get her head around. “It’s a very strange feeling. I said to myself ‘Four million people on the planet are literally following me!’ But it’s a very nice feeling at the same time. I’m very happy and I aspire to have more followers,” she says.
“Music is everything to me,” she continues. “Music always touches something in my heart. I would love to show people what’s in my heart through my music.”