Egypt’s sweetheart Dalida: A unique talent born from a rare cultural mix

Egypt’s sweetheart Dalida: A unique talent born from a rare cultural mix
Dalida on stage at the Olympia in Paris, France in December, 1961. (Supplied)
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Updated 27 October 2022

Egypt’s sweetheart Dalida: A unique talent born from a rare cultural mix

Egypt’s sweetheart Dalida: A unique talent born from a rare cultural mix
  • For this week's edition of our series on Arab icons, the late singer’s brother explains how she captured hearts across the world with songs in several languages, including Arabic

PARIS: In May 1987, the Cairo-born French-Italian singer Dalida — one of non-English-language-music’s biggest-ever stars — took her own life. Her 54 years had been filled with both great success and great tragedy. Three of her partners had previously committed suicide, and Dalida had attempted to take her own life in 1967 after the suicide of her lover, the Italian singer and actor Luigi Tenco.

Despite the trauma of her personal life, though, her career was a story of almost-unbroken achievement. She packed out venues across the world, her songs (sung in nine languages) sold in huge numbers, and she was even a hit on the silver screen in films including legendary Egyptian director Youssef Chahine’s 1986 release “The Sixth Day.”

In France, where she lived most of her adult life, she was an undisputed superstar — a poll in 1988 published in Le Monde ranked Dalida second, after General de Gaulle, among personalities who had the greatest impact on French society. She continues to influence pop-culture today, with many of her hits being remixed as dance numbers. 

Here, her younger brother Orlando — with whom she co-founded their own record label in 1970, in order to give her more control over her career — shares his memories of his legendary sister with Arab News.

Dalida in Rome in the 1950s. (Getty Images)

Tell us about growing up with Dalida. What was she like as a kid?

Dalida — who was called Iolanda at the time — grew up with my brother and me, the youngest. My name was Bruno, but when I arrived in France and started my career, I was given the name Orlando. We grew up with the same education, in the same neighborhood, the same atmosphere, and yet we were totally different. If my brother and I had a very joyful, very happy childhood, this was not the case for Dalida. She was a little sick when she was little (she had an eye infection and underwent several operations) and, growing up, she always had this desire to go elsewhere — a desire to know the world, to rise, to learn, to be cultivated. She always had this goal: ‘One day, you will see who I am.’ She wanted to ‘become someone.’ She built herself with this goal in mind.

How connected did she feel to Egypt?

We lived there; we were born there. We bathed in its atmosphere. Egypt, at the time, was a country of unique sweetness, with a cultural mix that was extraordinary — all these languages, all these cultures, all these religions, all these people who rubbed shoulders, who were dating… There was no discomfort, no aggression. There was such a sweetness of life. We had a beautiful childhood in Egypt. Dalida adored Egypt, she always remained faithful to it, and, moreover, after a few years, she began to sing in Egyptian.

French actor Jacques Charrier poses with his wife, actress Brigitte Bardot (right) and Dalida at the opening of Dalida's show 'Jukebox' in 1959. (Getty Images)

What made your sister such a special talent?

This particular talent, we can’t explain it.  She had many talents, which were enriched by her voice — this tone which belonged only to her, indefinable; this warmth of the voice, this burst of sunshine. Above all, I think her voice was born from the Mediterranean, it’s a voice tinged with the sun, from the Orient. And the fact that she was of Italian origin and sings in French meant that she had a peculiar accent. Since 1955, this unique voice and the personality that went with it have taken over the world. Dalida has created immortal titles in all languages. To talk about the Middle East, “Helwa Ya Baladi,” for example, has become an anthem for the whole Arab world, and “Salma Ya Salama” too. The hundreds of songs by Dalida, all different, make her unique, because everyone finds something that touches them, a slice of life or the presence of Dalida. She knew how to do everything. She passed with truly astonishing ease from a song like “Je suis Malade” or “Avec Le Temps” to songs like “Gigi L’Amoroso” or “Salma Ya Salama” or to disco. Perhaps thanks to her place of birth and this plural culture, which remained in her memory and accompanied her during her adolescence, she had the chance and the power to sing in all languages. She drew on this mix and it made her career. Dalida will remain unique.

What do you remember about her sudden success? How did it affect her? And you?

I was the witness to her story, and I became the witness to her memory. Dalida and I were accomplices — fans of theater, cinema and song. And I always encouraged her even though I was younger than her. I always accompanied her on her journey — her desires, her dream. I was always her confidant, even when she left for Paris. When I arrived in the capital in my turn, I sang a little too, but after five years I joined the adventure by her side and I never betrayed her — I served her and I keep doing it. So it was a career that we lived together, and I was a spectator, an admirer and also, later, her producer. In 1966, I became her artistic director and in 1970, we founded our own business. Even today, I take care of her as if she was still here. Dalida made me her universal legatee because she knew that I would continue to defend her memory and her interests, and that’s what I am doing. 

Dalida and her husband Lucien Morisse in Paris, March 1961. (Getty Images)

When did you first notice that her depression was getting worse? Was it something she struggled with throughout her life?

She used to say, “I succeeded in my professional life, but in my personal life, I did not succeed.” Why? Because she gave everything to her job, to her audience. She wanted to be Dalida, so she became Dalida. She did everything for Dalida and put aside her private life, which suffered as a result. This is the reason why she could not keep the men in her life, because after a while the men saw Dalida in front of them, not Iolanda. She always put her job first, and that’s why she found herself alone. It couldn’t last. 

Dalida (right) with her brother Orlando. (Supplied)

Towards the end, she realized that she was alone, childless and without a companion by her side. She began to understand that giving everything for her career — even if it was what she had wanted — had taken away her life as a woman, a wife and a mother. And, little by little, all this led her to have dark thoughts, made her depressed. But despite the dramas, she also had a life full of joy, satisfaction and happiness.

She experienced this terrible tragedy in her life of having three partners who committed suicide. These are things that you can’t explain. After a while she had had enough, maybe she thought she had done everything, and had everything. I don’t think Dalida wanted time to do its work either; she wanted to escape from time. She wanted to leave in full glory and in full beauty.

What do you think she was most proud of?

Dalida was not proud. Despite her status as an international star — an icon even today — she was always a humble woman. She never thought she had ‘succeeded,’ so she kept it simple, knowing well who she was. It was Iolanda who built Dalida — this blonde international star — but also this timeless Dalida. 

A shot of Dalida taken in 1955. (Getty Images)

What kind of a cultural legacy do you think she left?

Dalida is one of those rare artists who had a passionate connection with her audience. People loved Dalida passionately, even new generations. Today, people who weren’t even born when she left us love her and listen to her songs. In Montmartre, the bust on Place Dalida, installed in 1997 following a decision by the mayor of Paris at the time, Bertrand Delanoë, has become a cult place. Statistics show that in Montmartre the two most visited monuments by tourists from all over the world are the Sacré-Coeur and Place Dalida. And now there’s even a tour that starts at Dalida’s house on Rue Orchampt, goes to her final resting place in Montmartre cemetery, and then back to Place Dalida where her statue is, which tourists come to touch like a lucky charm.

RSIFF take two concludes with winning Saudi film

RSIFF take two concludes with winning Saudi film
Updated 09 December 2022

RSIFF take two concludes with winning Saudi film

RSIFF take two concludes with winning Saudi film
  • Hamza Jamjoom, a Saudi filmmaker and producer of the winning film, accepted the award on behalf of Al-Husaini

JEDDAH: Dec. 8 marked the closing ceremony of Red Sea International Film Festival round two, which celebrated storytellers and participants in the festival competitions who stepped out of their comfort zone to share their stories with the world.

Spanish actor Antonio Banderas, supermodel Naomi Campbell, Indian actor Hrithik Roshan, DJ Khaled, former heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson, and Hong Kong actor and filmmaker Jackie Chan were among famous faces to appear on the red carpet.

Chan, who is known for his acrobatic fighting style, said that the ceremony night coincided with his 60th year in the film industry.

Jumana Al-Rashed CEO of SRMG left, Antonio Banderas the Spanish legend middle, and, Mohammed Al-Turki CEO of the Red Sea International Film Festival during the festival's closing ceremony. (Supplied)

“I want to thank the RSIFF for this — it is where I can see so many good friends and new friends. Also, this year marks my 60 years in the film business, and I want to share this to the friends around the world,” he said.
Winner of the young rising star award was Jeddah-born Saudi actress Sarah Taibah, 33.

Taibah said: “I didn't know that I would be nominated, thank you Red Sea Film Festival. I feel amazing and grateful for being honored in my country and city.”

A Saudi film wins the Red Sea International Film Festival's second round. (Supplied)

Saudi-Kuwaiti production “How I Got There,” an action drama by Zeyad Al-Husaini, won the Film AlUla audience award for best Saudi film.

Hamza Jamjoom, a Saudi filmmaker and producer of the winning film, accepted the award on behalf of Al-Husaini.

Film AlUla audience award for best film went to a Singapore-South Korean production “Ajoomma,” directed by He Shuming.

The ceremony concluded with a live performance by Lebanese singer Nancy Ajram.

Meanwhile, Red Sea Virtual Reality features a selection of the latest leading VR storytelling and art projects from award-winning international artists and directors.

The strand was adjudicated by London-based Egyptian documentary filmmaker May Abdalla, Bangladeshi artist Naima Karim and Tribeca Film Festivals Immersive Curator Ana Brzezinska

Brzezinska said: “It has been a real honor to be here at the Red Sea Film Festival to judge the virtual reality election. It is a really amazing moment for this medium with an explosive approach to creative ideas. From the sprint of many projects, it was a real challenge to pick just two.”

The Silver Yusr for Red Sea virtual reality went to “Eurydice” by Celine Daemen, while the winner of the Gold Yusr for Red Sea Virtual Reality was “From the Main Square,” a German film by Pedro Harres.

The Red Sea short competition was judged by filmmaker Joana Hadjithomas, Saudi writer and director Shahad Ameen, and Nigerian actor Ozzy Agu.

The jury gave two awards to the Mongolian and French drama “Snow in September” by Lkhagvadulam Purev-Ochir.

The Silver Yusr for short film went to “Will My Parents Come to See Me,” by Somalian director Muhamed Bashiir Harawe. The Golden Yusr for Short Film went to “On My Father’s Grave,” a Moroccan and French film by Jawahine Zentar.

The Red Sea competition was headed by Oliver Stone, president of this year's jury.

The Silver Yusr for best cinematic achievement went to “Hanging Gardens,” a production of Iraq, Palestine, Egypt, the UK, and Saudi Arabia.

The Silver Yusr award for best actor went to Adam Bessa. The Silver Yusr for best actress went to Adila Bendimarad.

The best screen award was won by “ Childless Village,” by Reza Jamali from Iran.

The Res Sea competition jury prize went to “Within Sand,” a Saudi feature film telling the story of a young man making his way through the desert with the help of a wolf.

“The film is based on actual events that happened in Saudi in early 1900. There is a responsivity to reflect the Saudi culture in the most appropriate way,” director  Mohammed Alatawi told Arab News.

The Silver Yusr award for best director went to Lotfy Nathan for his film “Harka.”

The Golden Yusr for the best feature film went to “Hanging Gardens,” by Ahmed Yassin Al-Daradji.

The festival’s third edition will be held next year in Saudi Arabia. The ceremony concluded with a live performance by Lebanese singer Nancy Ajram.

Though RSIFF festivities and sessions have come to an end, visitors can still enjoy their weekend watching movies from the festival and meeting red-carpet stars.


Culture ministry signs deal to support Saudi pop music

Culture ministry signs deal to support Saudi pop music
Updated 09 December 2022

Culture ministry signs deal to support Saudi pop music

Culture ministry signs deal to support Saudi pop music
  • The MoU included a discussion on producing Saudi pop music

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Culture signed a memorandum of understanding with international companies to develop and produce Saudi pop music, host musical events and train Saudi talents.
The signing ceremony took place at the ministry’s headquarters in the Jax neighborhood in Diriyah, where the ministry was represented by Acting CEO of the Music Commission Sultan Al-Bazei.
The MoU included a discussion on producing Saudi pop music, building a musical ecosystem, discovering Saudi talents and developing Saudi pop content, or S-pop, through a Saudi and Korean creative team of writers and producers.
Also discussed was the possibility of establishing a music education center, a training center, and studios for recording music and video clips.
The agreement falls within the efforts of the ministry and its affiliated entities to advance the cultural sector in the Kingdom, support Saudi creatives and empower them with the necessary skills to further their careers.

REVIEW: ‘Next Sohee’ at Red Sea International Film Festival shines a light on workplace cruelty

REVIEW: ‘Next Sohee’ at Red Sea International Film Festival shines a light on workplace cruelty
Updated 09 December 2022

REVIEW: ‘Next Sohee’ at Red Sea International Film Festival shines a light on workplace cruelty

REVIEW: ‘Next Sohee’ at Red Sea International Film Festival shines a light on workplace cruelty

JEDDAH: “Next Sohee,” South Korea’s competition title at the Red Sea International Film Festival, is a hard look at employee exploitation in the workplace.

The film by July Jung examines South Korea’s shoddy treatment of its workers, especially apprentices, who are frequently cheated out of their wages.

This is the second feature from Jung, whose debut work, “A Girl at My Door,” premiered at the 2014 Cannes’ Un Certain Regard and went on to win several awards at other festivals.

“Next Sohee” was inspired by a real-life incident.

At 138 minutes, the movie may be a trifle long, but it explores a pressing issue with a lot of sensitivity.

The film follows Sohee (Kim Si-eun), a high school student, who is thrilled to land a job as an internet service provider in a big company. But a few days into the role, she is shocked when her supervisor commits suicide in her presence. Her new boss is a brutally rude woman, who never misses an opportunity to humiliate Sohee despite her excellent record.

Added to this toxic mix are abusive clients, who often take out their dissatisfaction with the firm on her. In another scene she sees her boyfriend being pushed around by his boss outside his workplace.

Sohee eventually runs away, but shock and hurt take a heavy toll, and she ends her life.

An investigation led by detective Yoo-jin (Doona Bae), who had a personal relationship with Sohee, enrages the boss and the company leaders, who would rather ignore the issue.

The film is a slow-burning expose of workplace ills and the causes behind them.

However, some may find the narrative overly dramatic and exaggerated. For instance, Sohee gets angry with her boss and pushes her to the ground. Is this possible? July is trying to make a point, but this appears a bit over the top.

Egyptian actor Mohamed Farrag — ‘I used to put so much hate on myself’ 

Egyptian actor Mohamed Farrag — ‘I used to put so much hate on myself’ 
Updated 09 December 2022

Egyptian actor Mohamed Farrag — ‘I used to put so much hate on myself’ 

Egyptian actor Mohamed Farrag — ‘I used to put so much hate on myself’ 
  • The Arab actor — currently starring in MBC’s ‘Room 207’ — has overcome self-doubt to become one of the Arab world’s most-acclaimed leading men 

DUBAI: Mohamed Farrag did it the hard way. That’s why it feels different. As Arab News sits with the acclaimed Egyptian actor over lunch in Dubai, the proof is in the way that passersby greet him — they are not just meeting a star, they are meeting an artist whose work they deeply admire. 

MBC Shahid’s new series “Room 207” is perhaps Farrag’s finest work yet, and is just beginning to light a fire across the Arabic-speaking world as we speak — establishing him firmly as a leading man, and vindicating his entire approach to acting. 

“If there’s one thing I want to change about this industry, about the mentality of acting in Egypt, it’s this: Anyone can be well known — if I kill somebody, I’m going to be well known — but what’s the purpose of that fame?” Farrag says. “Fame shouldn’t be a goal, it should be a side effect.” 

Mohamed Farrag stars in MBC Shahid’s new series ‘Room 207.’ (Getty Images)

At 39, Farrag has reached the point where he’s earned the right to make such proclamations. After all, he was vital to the success of Mona Zaki’s super-sized 2021 Ramadan hit “Newton’s Cradle,” which became the most-watched Egyptian series of the year and continues to find an audience on Netflix, with many declaring it the best Arab series in years. 

“Room 207,” since its first two episodes debuted on October 31, is being rated even higher, pulling in big enough audiences to make a second season a foregone conclusion even with only half the first having aired.  

That a series that moves Farrag directly into the spotlight would get that sort of immediate reaction is no surprise. He’s built years of goodwill from committed, scene-stealing performances across film, television and theater. What is perhaps surprising about the show is that it it’s a homegrown Egyptian horror series that has become hugely popular. In general, horror is a genre in which only imports receive acclaim in the Arab world.  

“When I was first sent the script, I picked it up to glance at it before I went to bed. I ended up finishing it at 3 a.m. and immediately called the producer, waking him from a sound sleep. I told him that no one was going to do this project but me. I made that vow to him. I needed it to happen,” says Farrag.  

Riham Abdel Ghafour and Farrag in ‘Room 207.’ (Supplied)

The series is based on a novel by acclaimed Egyptian author Ahmed Khaled Tawfik, the third adaptation of his work since he passed away in 2018. The last, Netflix’s big-budget bet “Paranormal” (2020), failed to find an audience despite a massive promotional push, and while “Room 207” may share a passing resemblance, it’s resonating in a way that other adaptations have not, capturing what made Tawfik’s paperbacks fly off the shelves for decades.   

“To be honest, I started to think we were headed for a season two during the second week of shooting. And I’ve never felt that way before,” says Farrag. “This project has a very special place in my heart. I don't choose to do anything I don't love, but this one is special. And it’s not because I'm the hero, it’s because it’s not like anything I’ve seen before. The vibes, the writing, the cast, the way we shoot — I truly love this.” 

Mohamed Farrag with Mona Zaki in 'Newton's Cradle.' (Supplied)

Perhaps the reason that Farrag is responding to it so strongly is that it taps into the precocious boy he once was, the boy who fell in love with television in the first place. 

“When I was a kid, I didn’t want to watch cartoons, I didn’t want to play with my sisters. No. I was always watching TV — but very heavy series made for adults. It was drama, drama, and more drama all the time. I was like an addict, watching things meant for people far older,” says Farrag. “When I went to school, they asked every kid what they wanted to be. I said I wanted to be an actor. I didn’t even know what acting was, but I was committed.” 

At home, Farrag and his sisters would watch movies on VHS until they found a scene they liked in particular. Then they would press stop, and Farrag would quickly scribble down the scene from memory. Then they would act the scenes out together and record their best performances. 

“I still have the tape recordings of our voices from when we were kids. I still listen to them from time to time, when I miss the feeling. It was a feeling of innocence, of passion toward acting. Those were beautiful memories, and I still get emotional when I think about them,” says Farrag. 

There have been many days since Farrag began his career that he has needed those tapes — needed a reminder that he was doing this for a reason. It is only in recent years, he admits, that he has truly felt like he’s ‘made it.’ For years, he felt insecure not only about his career, but also about his ability, often having difficulty watching his own films and series because of how harshly he would judge his own performances. But his ever-growing mastery of his craft eventually overpowered his self-doubt, and made him a fixture on screens across the Arab world. 

“I think I’ve grown up now. Some elements have changed in my character, and it’s clear in my life, in my work, and in the way I see myself. I used to put so much hate on myself, but I’ve found a way out of that. I started to like myself, and I started to be able to watch my work up on the screen with pride,” he says. 

Farrag is in a particularly reflective mood. Perhaps it’s because he just walked out of MBC’s offices, where he witnessed the ecstatic reactions that the company has had to “Room 207” so far, and how committed MBC already was to making a second season happen — and committed to Farrag personally as an A-list leading man for years to come. It was the kind of meeting that makes those harder truths easier to admit, knowing that the happy ending is already here. That boy recording his voice into the tape recorder is now a man helping lead Arabic television to places it’s never been before.  

“I’ve always loved what I do. Even during the hardest moments, if I asked myself if I wanted to keep going, the voice inside me always repeated back, ‘Yes, yes, yes.’ But it feels different now,” he says. “I’m filled with more pride than I ever was before. I love everything that I’ve done, but now I’m excited for the next thing even more. Acting is beautiful, man.” 

Egyptian designer Azza Fahmy pays tribute to classic Arab singers with new jewelry collection 

Egyptian designer Azza Fahmy pays tribute to classic Arab singers with new jewelry collection 
Updated 09 December 2022

Egyptian designer Azza Fahmy pays tribute to classic Arab singers with new jewelry collection 

Egyptian designer Azza Fahmy pays tribute to classic Arab singers with new jewelry collection 

DUBAI: The veteran Egyptian designer Azza Fahmy’s jewelry has become some of the most sought-after in the world. Her signature gold-and-silver pieces, embellished with Arab designs and engravings, have been embraced by Egypt’s top entertainers, including Soad Hosny and Yusra.  

International stars such as Julia Roberts, Kerry Washington and Rihanna have caught on too. “When we explain to them what’s written, they’re happy, because it’s something new,” Fahmy tells Arab News from her base in Cairo. “I’m combining calligraphy, wisdom, and philosophy into what you’re wearing.” 

Fahmy started out professionally in the late Eighties, and her hand-crafted work is informed by her passion for the culture and history of the Arab world; be it the poetry of Kahlil Gibran, the symbols of ancient Egypt, or Mamluk architecture. She likes to call it “intellectual jewelry,” that not only reflects her cultivated upbringing but her ongoing drive to inform the public. 

“I was raised in a household that reads. Books are very important me. Through them, there were a lot of things I liked that affected me,” says Fahmy. “Our jewelry is intellectual because it holds an Arab identity that could change people’s lives, or delight them. I like to share my love of Arab culture with people.”

A piece that is particularly close to Fahmy’s heart is an 18-karat gold and sterling silver ring, inscribed with words from Warda’s classic track “Batwanes Beek.”  (Supplied)

Fahmy recently launched a new music-themed collection that pays tribute to iconic Lebanese, Syrian, Egyptian and Algerian singers who flourished between the Sixties and Nineties. In this collection, everyone gets their due — the lyricists and composers behind each song are mentioned too. “The Golden Age of Arab Love Songs” features rings, bracelets, and necklaces studded with romantic lyrics sung by the likes of Warda, Fayrouz, and Sabah Fakhri.   

A piece that is particularly close to Fahmy’s heart is an 18-karat gold and sterling silver ring, inscribed with words from Warda’s classic track “Batwanes Beek.”  

“I come from the generation of Abdel Halim Hafez, Umm Kulthum, Mohammed Abdel Wahab, and Farid Al-Atrash. They sang great songs,” explains Fahmy. “So I thought to myself, ‘Why don’t I transport that nostalgia?’ Maybe it stirred something in people.”