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.

REVIEW: Fatih Akin’s ‘Rheingold’ raises Red Sea pulse rates

REVIEW: Fatih Akin’s ‘Rheingold’ raises Red Sea pulse rates
Updated 07 December 2022

REVIEW: Fatih Akin’s ‘Rheingold’ raises Red Sea pulse rates

REVIEW: Fatih Akin’s ‘Rheingold’ raises Red Sea pulse rates

JEDDAH: Fatih Akin, the renowned German director of Turkish descent, has made dramatic cinema his calling card with films like “Head-On,” “The Edge of Heaven” and “In the Fade,” and his Red Sea offering “Rheingold” is just as exhilarating.

First premiered at the Venice Film Festival and based on events in German rapper Xatar’s 2015 autobiography “All or Nothing,” Akin's movie begins on a gruesome note.

The first 20 minutes are intense with Xatar (Giwar Hajabi), played by Emilio Sakraya, being brutalized in a Syrian prison in 2010 by fellow inmates, who want to know where stolen gold is hidden.

This takes Xatar back to childhood memories of his composer father Eghbal (Kardo Razzazi) being jailed at the beginning of the Iranian revolution in 1979.


A post shared by Fatih Akin (@fatih_bombero)

We are then swiftly taken through the terrifying Khomeini regime, the father’s plight and the spirit of his mother Rasal (Mona Prizad) who, following Xatar’s birth, declares: “Your name will be Giwar, born of suffering.”

“Rheingold” then takes us to Paris in 1986, and to Bonn where Xatar’s refugee family struggles to make a life out of misfortune.

The father abandons his family, leaving Xatar to assume a mountain of responsibility. He wanders into petty crime and drug dealing which results in him spending time at a Cologne juvenile detention center.

The man who emerges hits a reckless path to give his earlier tormentors a hard time.

In Amsterdam he sells drugs and falls in love with his old neighbor Shirin (Sogol Faghani). If she and his supportive mother are constants in his life, there is one more: his love for music, inherited from his father.

Xatar’s resolve to start his own label, and his desperate attempts to finance it, land him in a Syrian prison, and it is only after eight years that he walks out a reformed man.

Akin uses his trademark style of snappy montages, slow motion and freeze-frames to take us on a whirlwind trip through Xatar’s life.

He never lets go of his swagger, even in his darkest moments, steering us through 140 minutes of a strange yet riveting narrative.

Saudi filmmaker Ahd Kamel’s feature ‘My Driver & I’ commissioned as an OSN original

Saudi filmmaker Ahd Kamel’s feature ‘My Driver & I’ commissioned as an OSN original
Updated 07 December 2022

Saudi filmmaker Ahd Kamel’s feature ‘My Driver & I’ commissioned as an OSN original

Saudi filmmaker Ahd Kamel’s feature ‘My Driver & I’ commissioned as an OSN original
  • The film's cast includes Jordanian actress Saba Mubarak, Saudi rapper Quasai Kheder, Sudanese actor Mostafa Shahata and Saudi actor Baraa Alem

JEDDAH: Regional TV entertainment company OSN is to produce Saudi filmmaker Ahd Kamel’s work “My Driver & I,” in association with the Red Sea Fund, MAD Solutions, the UK Global Screen Fund, and production companies Corniche Media and Caspian Films, both of which are also based in the UK.

The production partnership was announced at the Red Sea International Film Festival in Al-Balad, Jeddah, on Tuesday.

Filmmaker Ahd Kamel at the Red Sea International Film Festival in 2021. (AFP)

Written and directed by award-winning Kamel, the film is co-produced by Jeddah-based companies Yellow Camel and Millimeter. The film will air on OSNtv and stream on OSN+.

MAD Solutions will hold all international distribution rights outside Arab-speaking territories.

“My Driver & I” is set in Jeddah in the 1980s and 90s and follows the story of Salma, a young Saudi girl from an affluent family, and Gamar, a young Sudanese man.

The film's cast includes Jordanian actress Saba Mubarak, who was at the Red Sea International Film Festival in Jeddah on Tuesday. (Supplied)

Gamar moves to Jeddah after being employed as Salma’s driver, and their relationship quickly develops into an intimate friendship that lasts throughout her teenage years and beyond. It is a story of independence and finding family in the most unexpected places.

The film's cast includes Jordanian actress Saba Mubarak, Saudi rapper Quasai Kheder, Sudanese actor Mostafa Shahata, and Saudi actor Baraa Alem.

Kamel said: “I have been developing ‘My Driver & I’ for several years and I wanted to base the film on my memories of Jeddah.

“The film tackles a discourse around a specific trend in Saudi households where servants come to be part of the family, and a universal journey of the Saudi girl.”

Joe Kawkabani, CEO of OSN, told Arab News: “OSN has been a broadcaster, but entering production is a whole new experience.

“To excel in the area, we believe it is important to work with local and regional companies that have the experience, and work at the grassroots level with talent which in turn can help us to produce and get to the level that we want to achieve.

“And this is one of the collaborations with MAD Solutions and Ahd Kamel that we’re very excited about.”

Kawkabani added: “There is a massive opportunity for Saudi youngsters and Arab talents in general. At OSN we are working hard to give them the voice and a platform to outshine.”

Alaa Karkouti, CEO and co-founder of MAD Solutions, and the Arab Cinema Center, said: “We always believe in supporting and encouraging talents in the MENA region.

“We worked on Ahd Kamel’s short film ‘Sanctity’ earlier and it was the first Saudi film to be selected for the Berlin International Film Festival.

“She is one of the most talented people to work with and we look forward to a positive collaboration.

“This movie is a real example of different nationalities working together, and the film has already attracted the attention of several companies around the world.”

Sheikha Al-Zain S. Al-Sabah, Vice-Chairperson of OSN, commenting on the collaboration, said, “This was very much needed in our part of the world, we feel that it will see the growth for further developments or projects that require co-productions on all ends, and allow for the extra building of a viable content and value chain while adding hope and inspiration to a lot of storytellers, visual storytellers, moving forward within the region.”

Al-Sabah stated that OSN has been on the sidelines for some time and hence, this was the right time for OSN to start their own IP, and partake in the creation and development of projects that they find to be both interesting and thought provoking and easily universal in scope.

Additionally, she stated that there is an exciting roster coming up for 2023 with many film and TV projects, all OSN originals, in progress.


French animator Michel Ocelot looks back on his career at RSIFF 2022

French animator Michel Ocelot looks back on his career at RSIFF 2022
Updated 07 December 2022

French animator Michel Ocelot looks back on his career at RSIFF 2022

French animator Michel Ocelot looks back on his career at RSIFF 2022

JEDDAH: On the sidelines of the Red Sea International Film Festival festivities, the French animation veteran Michel Ocelot sat down with his audience during one of the festival’s “In Conversation” sessions at Red Sea Mall in Jeddah on Dec. 6.

Ocelot, 79, is a writer, designer, storyboard artist, and director of an array of legendary animated feature films and mostly he is recognized for his “Kirikou et la sorcière” released in 1998 which translates to "Kirikou and the witch" and also his amazing animation "Azur and Asmar: The Princes' Quest" released in 2006.

“Kirikou et la sorcière” resampled the rebirth era of French animation in the cinema and it was a striking start for Ocelot’s artistic career who is strongly passionate about what he produced. “I know what I want, I’m doing it and I love it,” he said.

The animation art and drawings of Kirikou et la sorcière were fully handmade and the film was the boom for his animation career, Ocelot said that before this film come to life, he was just an artist.

“The life of a movie artist who doesn't exist much was very hard. But all of a sudden, I have an international success.”

Michel Ocelot, 79, is a writer, designer, storyboard artist, and director of an array of legendary animated feature films. (AFP)

He continued: “They are handmade and handmade, with not much money, it's part of that you can see somebody did them, not a company, not board of director, and literally like this, I discovered this parallel life of animation, little things are done in one's kitchen, but they exist.”

Ocelot is a role model for experts and emerging animation artists as the brilliance in his work will always remain a great inspiration for many generations, as his work is always nurtured by a visual atmosphere. “Kids who were kids at the time now adults, and come to me and thank me. And sometimes they cry. So, I'm lucky.”

Despite his true success, Ocelot has been through hard times, and that is what made him an outstanding expert in the field.

“It was hard to find my way because when I started animation didn't really exist, people wouldn’t know about this name. They were no real schools to learn from, and I had to go to a lab to emulate the process, where you have to have a camera, light, an editing table, and all that was expensive and out of my reach. So, I lost quite some time I learned by myself. But as I didn't go to any school, I'm still completely innocent and don't know how I'm feeling so amazing. I just made them.”

“I think I started at the year of one or two, I took a pencil and I drew and I never stopped. And then I was a happy child and I was always active. And I think I prepared myself for my job from my infancy. And I would draw in paint and cut and get into a disguise and decorate the house for the festivals and make a little gift with a nice package. And that's, my vision today”

He had a very interesting childhood as he has been raised in Africa, Kenya where his vibrant animation is inspired by its “Beautiful and benevolent people.”

“I remember the beauty of the people and the dresses of women on festival days, it was definitely intelligent. True elegance, happy elegance, and the details within which made my infancy in the world of animation special.”

Ocelot's extravagant animation made him a former president of the International Animated Film Association, as he had been moving between two countries with huge cultural and historic differences shaping his artistic style as his animation reflects a lot about great Africa from his personal perspective.

“I was at ease in those universities. So, I was never expatriates that didn't exist in my vocabulary. So that's always been a great part of my life. Being aware of different worlds and being at ease with them and being at ease with such different parts of the world. I can put myself in the place of other people easily and I know the relatability of things.”

Ocelot shared some of his career fundamentals when it comes to following an animation production career including commitment, sticking to original ideas is key, and leaving fear behind is a must.

“Give everything you have. Try not to listen to bad advice. Sometimes you get good advice, but it's better not to follow them. Don't be afraid to start.”

His new animation feature film that has been released earlier this year. “The Black Pharaoh, the Savage and the Princess” was screened for the audience after the conversation.

Saudi sci-fi thriller ‘Slave’ debuts at Red Sea International Film Festival

Saudi sci-fi thriller ‘Slave’ debuts at Red Sea International Film Festival
Updated 07 December 2022

Saudi sci-fi thriller ‘Slave’ debuts at Red Sea International Film Festival

Saudi sci-fi thriller ‘Slave’ debuts at Red Sea International Film Festival
  • Film’s director Mansour Assad ensured film’s intricate scenes were detailed, authentic 

RIYADH: “Slave,” a sci-fi thriller, premiered at the Red Sea International Film Festival 2022 this week and the film’s executive producer and director gave a glimpse of what went behind the scenes. 

“It is impossible for me to make another film in which I will have strong feelings like this movie because many of the events in this movie happened to me in real life or in a similar way,” said Mansour Assad. “The movie is a story that I have wanted to tell people for a long time.” 

Mansour Assad, executive producer and director of ‘Slave.’ (Supplied)

The main cast of the film comprises Mohammed Ali, Khairiah Abulaban, and Ziyad Alamri. 

The film tells the story of a man named Sakker and his wife, Latifa who made a movie that resulted in anger and backlash from society. 

Sakker was then presented with an option to continue living his life the way it is with society enraged at him and his wife or travel back in time to appease his community.

“He is a slave to his family, friends, and people. He cares about their opinion and the opinion of society, and he cannot settle anything unless society approves of it, so he is a slave to society,” Assad explained.

Sakker decides to return back in time to conform to the expectations of his community but then finds himself stuck in an endless time loop, becoming a slave to societal norms.

“The name of the movie is ‘Slave’ because it’s bold. The filming method is bold, in which the colors are blue, pink, blue, and red. Everyone who wears these colors is considered strange,” Assad said.

“The story is bold. We did not adhere to the traditional boundaries of stories we are used to. The story is long and contains science fiction … it requires double the effort of a traditional film.”

The director explained that the filming of each scene was intricate and detailed, requiring comprehensive training to ensure authenticity in the situations.

“The film had many different scenes, some were action scenes others drama that required specific training. Every time we filmed a specific scene, there was a lot of training behind it,” Assad said.

“Sometimes we would go to the main character's apartment, Alamri and we would both just sit there alone and practice the different scenes.” 

Assad highlighted that one of the film’s scenes took place in a hospital where one of the characters was being treated. Before filming the scene, the director brought in a doctor specializing in the condition the patient faced in order to give insights into mannerisms, treatment, and condition.

“The doctor gave us advice on the condition, and the equipment in the hospital used to treat the patient on the scene. Every detail was focused on from the way the doctor spoke to the appearance and all of the details around him. Each scene we filmed required this intense level of training,” Assad said.

The film, which began shooting in October 2021 and concluded in August 2022, was shot in Riyadh. The filming phase of the movie took 9 days only but was filmed in three phases throughout the year to acquire funding as the filming process progressed.

“The time of writing the script and filming the scenes was different in this film, firstly I wanted to create this film without waiting for anyone. I wanted to work on it, I didn’t want to wait until I received support or funding, or when I became a better director. I wanted to create this film whether it turns out good or bad, I wanted more experience to do feature films,” Assad said.

“I began the film without any support and we filmed in three phases, each phase we would finish and edit the film and then go acquire funding by showing the producer or fenders what we completed,” he added.

The director’s advice to budding filmmakers is to start independently and not to wait for formal funding or support to come to them.

“Start your project yourself and make mistakes. People aren't going to judge you because they'll know that you did everything yourself so they will overlook many of your mistakes in the film. 

“You as a filmmaker will also gain more experience, when you go to an entity that has a fund they will be more confident in you because you made a film. 

“Make your first film and make it with the lowest budget you possibly can, you'll gain experience, and people won't judge your mistakes, everyone wins,” he said.

“I am waiting for the feedback and responses from audiences and critics, real and authentic responses. I don't need them to support me by flattering me. Or to say that they enjoyed the film when they didn't I want to hear all of their criticisms and observations, no matter how strong the criticism is, I don't get upset because this is going to help me,” the director said.  

Andra Day stuns in Lebanese label at ceremony awarding Black excellence

Andra Day stuns in Lebanese label at ceremony awarding Black excellence
Updated 07 December 2022

Andra Day stuns in Lebanese label at ceremony awarding Black excellence

Andra Day stuns in Lebanese label at ceremony awarding Black excellence

DUBAI: Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter and actress Andra Day stunned audiences at the Critics Choice Association’s fifth annual Celebration of Black Cinema and Television on Tuesday when she arrived on the red-carpet wearing Lebanese label Zuhair Murad.

In an off-shoulder metallic gown with billowing sleeves, the Oscar-nominated star’s look gave off festive vibes while remaining chic and stylish.

Meanwhile, the celebration culminated in the evening’s most anticipated honor — the presentation of the Career Achievement Award to Oscar-nominated actress Angela Bassett.

The actress most recently starred in Ryan Coogler’s “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” and is known for her roles in movies including “Boyz n the Hood” and the Tina Turner biopic “What’s Love Got to Do with It."

“My representation of you on screen put me on a path as a little Black girl — a high school student that lived in the Jordan Park housing project in St. Petersburg, Fla. — that I only dreamed of because of you,” Bassett said in her acceptance speech, addressing the packed room, according to a report in Variety.

“My dreams were not only fulfilled, but your stories have been immortalized — some of them for future generations to discover and enjoy.”

Another “Black Panther” star, Michael B. Jordan, was also in attendance. The actor received the Melvin Van Peebles Trailblazer Award in recognition of his seasoned career and upcoming directorial debut with “Creed III.”

The 35-year-old looked dapper in a purple jacket over a black button-down shirt and black loafers. He was joined by his parents, Michael A. Jordan and Donna Jordan, and his sister Jamila Jordan.

“The Bear” star Ayo Edebiri was also awarded the Rising Star Award, presented by IMDbPro for her work on the lauded FX series.

Other talent in attendance included “Abbott Elementary” creator and star Quinta Brunson; Quincy Isaiah, who plays Magic Johnson in HBO’s “Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty;” “Devotion” lead and Marvel star Jonathan Majors; and the ensemble cast of ABC’s “The Wonder Years” revival.

This year’s ceremony took place Dec. 5 at the Fairmont Century Plaza Hotel and was hosted by actor-comedian Bill Bellamy. The event serves to recognize Black performers and filmmakers who are making stellar contributions to the film and television industry.