French Algerian musical icon Souad Massi: ‘If we lose our humanity, we are lost’

French Algerian musical icon Souad Massi: ‘If we lose our humanity, we are lost’
Souad Massi’s newest album is inspired by the Gallo-Roman deity Sequana. (Supplied)
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Updated 25 October 2022

French Algerian musical icon Souad Massi: ‘If we lose our humanity, we are lost’

French Algerian musical icon Souad Massi: ‘If we lose our humanity, we are lost’
  • Ahead of her debut in Saudi Arabia, the singer-songwriter discusses her stunning new album, ‘Sequana’

DUBAI: In the darkest moments of the COVID-19 pandemic, Souad Massi would walk down to the river. The water inspired her, made her feel better about herself, helped her to reflect. It was there that she discovered Sequana, the goddess of the River Seine.

“It was a very strange and wonderful discovery for me,” says the Franco-Algerian singer-songwriter. “I didn’t know anything about her but she inspired me. She was a goddess of healing and that’s what I needed during COVID. That’s what we all needed, I think. I was impacted like a lot of people and we lived in fear in that moment and had time to reflect. So a lot of things inspired me in that moment.” 




‘Sequana’ is Souad Massi’s 10th studio album and an eclectic blend of genres and moods. (Supplied)

The Gallo-Roman deity would go on to not only lend her name to Massi’s new album, but its title track, too. In the latter she speaks directly to her two young daughters. “I wanted to tell them that life is beautiful, but it’s OK if you have problems, if you’re afraid of the future, if you don’t know what job you can do, or if you have difficulty communicating with other people,” explains Massi, who was born in Bab-el-Oued, a district of Algiers, and moved to Paris in 1999. “It’s very hard for them. So I asked Sequana if she could help me, give me courage. Because I want to give hope to my daughters.”

A collection of 11 songs, nine of which have been written by Massi, “Sequana” is the artist’s 10th studio album and an eclectic blend of genres and moods. Set for global release on October 14, the launch will be accompanied by a concert at Maraya in AlUla — Massi’s first performance in Saudi Arabia. She will also appear at London’s Barbican on October 29, cementing a stunning new chapter in her career.




Souad Massi has built an enviable reputation for herself over the course of the past 20 or so years. (Supplied)

Once a member of the Algiers-based hard rock group Atakor, Massi has built an enviable reputation for herself over the course of the past 20 or so years. Renowned for the powerful distinctiveness of her voice and the poetry of her lyrics, she released her first solo album, “Raoui,” back in 2001 and has been charming audiences across the world ever since.  

In “Sequana,” she sings about the causes that are closest to her heart, whether they be love and exile or the importance of human relationships. In that sense the album is a continuation of what has always been Massi’s calling card — an unfailing determination to speak out for what she values the most. 

“I talk about human connections, about the importance of empathy, the importance of love,” says Massi, apologizing for her broken English. “I understand that we are fragile, but if we lose our humanity we are lost.”

 

 

The first single from the album, “Dessine Moi Un Pays” (Draw Me a Country), came out in June and, although perhaps rooted in the loss of her own homeland, draws on the more recent displacements of people from Syria and Afghanistan. It is nature, however, that takes center stage in the album. In the press material that accompanies its release, Massi states that “what we must always maintain, whatever life brings our way, is our connection with nature, firstly for the beauty it offers, but also for its mastery in the art of resilience.”

The album’s cover also features Massi with two daisies delicately placed over her eyelids, representing what she says is a symbol of resistance. “This earth is beautiful and I want to stand with those people who try to protect it and fight for it,” she says simply. 

 

 

The musical palette that accompanies these themes is broad. Massi is known for her generous embrace of musical styles, incorporating rock and chaabi into an otherwise acoustic sound. On “Sequana,” she has branched out further, adding calypso, chanson and bossa nova to the musical traditions of her native North Africa. In doing so, she has created an often-hypnotic blend of genres, thanks in no small part to the English producer Justin Adams. Having worked with the likes of Rachid Taha, Juldeh Camara, Tinariwen and Robert Plant, Adams is no stranger to the world of successful global collaborations.  

The album’s opener, “Dessine Moi Un Pays,” features Kabyle-style acoustic guitar, a violin quartet, and the Syrian flautist Naïssam Jalal. Elsewhere, the mandole (an Algerian steel-stringed instrument akin to the mandolin) helps to transform “Dib El Raba” into a joyful mid-tempo groove. Other collaborators in what is an entirely new musical line-up for Massi include the English singer Piers Faccini and the singer-songwriter Michel Françoise, who wrote the lyrics for both “Une Seule Etoile” (A Single Star) and “L’espoir” (Hope).

 

 

“You know, I grew up in Algeria and was at the crossroads of Africa, Europe and the Middle East,” says Massi, who listened to chaabi and the songs of the Kabyle (a Berber ethnic group) growing up. “We were really at the center of it all and that was really interesting for me as an artist, because I heard all this music and I travelled a lot and met a lot of people. So when Justin and I spoke about my songs, the lyrics and my inspiration, he told me to be natural and to follow my instinct. So it was simple. I can play traditional music, I can play rock music, I have a classical base, so why would I limit myself? I don’t want to limit myself. I want to be free like I am in my life and I want to translate this in my music.”

Folk music and the guitar — two hallmarks of Massi’s sound — remain a central component of “Sequana.” It is they, she says, that provide the kind of intelligence required to transform pain into song and feature prominently on both “Sequana” and “Dib El Raba.” 




Souad Massi performs at the Radio 3 Awards For World Music Winners Concert at the Carling Academy Brixton on April 7, 2006 in London. (Getty Images)

“Folk music was my first love and I’m one of those people who need a story, who need to understand, who need to live a song with its lyrics,” says Massi, an admirer of Bob Dylan and Joan Baez. “The first folk songs were just one person with a guitar speaking about their pain, about the difficulties of life, of oppression, of heartbreak. Music was there to accompany what they wanted to say. And when the lyrics are rich and true, that’s when music is at its most powerful.”

Nowhere is this truer than with the Chilean folk singer Victor Jara, to whom Massi has dedicated the album’s final song. Inspired by the folk traditions of his homeland and by singer-songwriters such as Violeta Parra, Jara wrote songs of protest that advocated political reform and social justice. He was tortured and executed by the regime of Augusto Pinochet in 1973.

“I love this man who died for freedom and I have a lot of respect for him. When I discovered his life and the story of his death, I was very sad, but I wanted to transform this sadness into something real. I have a lot of respect for people who are generous, who don’t care about their life, who are gentle, who think about others, who give their life for us,” she says. “Because freedom is a gift to others. People like Victor Jara give us this gift.”


Dutch Moroccan model Imaan Hammam stars in charitable zine  

Dutch Moroccan model Imaan Hammam stars in charitable zine  
Updated 26 November 2022

Dutch Moroccan model Imaan Hammam stars in charitable zine  

Dutch Moroccan model Imaan Hammam stars in charitable zine  

DUBAI: Dutch Moroccan Egyptian model Imaan Hammam was photographed for a 36-page zine by Australian photographer Max Papendieck, with all proceeds from the sale of the self-published work going to the She’s The First (STF) organization.  

Hammam is an ambassador for the grassroots organization that helps empower young women through education around the world. 

She was photographed by New York-based Papendieck for an image-based zine that comes with a displayable plexiglass case. 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Imaan Hammam (@imaanhammam)

Hammam first teamed up with STF in 2019, when she brought her Instagram followers along on a learning trip to visit young girls in The Gambia.  

“The girls and boys were getting ready for the talent show that was taking place that day. I was so excited to see what they were working on, from dancing to poetry to singing. My role for the day was to accompany them and offer any advice that I might have,” she later explained of the “life changing trip” on Instagram. 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Imaan Hammam (@imaanhammam)

The 26-year-old model previously opened up about her involvement with the non-profit organization and how she hopes to champion young women in an interview with Harper’s Bazaar US. 

“Being a woman and having this type of career and this job, I just felt like at some point I was like, ‘Oh, my God, I have to help women like me, or girls like me, to tell them and show them that you’re able to dream big and be able to pursue any kind of dream you have,’ she said of her partnership with She’s the First.  

During the conversation, the model also revealed that her mother, who immigrated to the Netherlands aged 19, is a huge source of inspiration for her.  

“I just have so much respect for her and for her journey that she had,” she said. “My mom didn't always have it very easy, and I feel like I did. And that's why I think I'm so strong about helping women like my mom, or some girls like me that have always had a dream.” 

Hammam is one of the most in-demand models in the industry. She was scouted in Amsterdam’s Centraal Station before making her catwalk debut in 2013 by walking in Jean Paul Gaultier’s couture show. 

Since then, she has appeared on the runway for major fashion houses, such as Burberry, Fendi, Prada, Marc Jacobs, Moschino, Balenciaga and Carolina Herrera, to name a few. 

Hammam, who has been featured in leading fashion publications, such as Vogue and V Magazine, also starred in international campaigns for DKNY, Celine, Chanel, Versace, Givenchy, Giorgio Armani and many more. 


Saudi icon Mohammed Abdu — ‘The Artist of the Arabs’

Saudi icon Mohammed Abdu — ‘The Artist of the Arabs’
Updated 26 November 2022

Saudi icon Mohammed Abdu — ‘The Artist of the Arabs’

Saudi icon Mohammed Abdu — ‘The Artist of the Arabs’
  • In our latest Arab Icons feature, we profile the Saudi singer, oud player and composer who remains one of Khaleeji music’s biggest draws 

DUBAI: With a career spanning 60 years, Saudi singer and oudist Mohammed Abdu, dubbed ‘The Artist of the Arabs,’ has been an inspiration to many — and not just for his music.  

Abdu was born in Asir province, Saudi Arabia, on June 12, 1949. His father, a fisherman, died when Abdu was just three years old, leaving behind his wife and five other children.  

Mohammed Abdu performing in Kuwait in 2001. (Supplied)

Unable to provide for her children, Abdu’s mother surrendered her children to Ribat Abu-Zinadah — a local Yemenite hospital for orphaned families. She then petitioned King Faisal bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud to find her children places at an orphanage, which he did. Abdu spent the remainder of his childhood in an orphanage in Jeddah. 

“This was really the actual struggle,” Abdu once said in an interview on Rotana’s “Ya Hala” show. “I remember every moment and every detail in my life. God gave me a memory that helps me remember things from when I was one. My struggles were of a child who wanted to be like the rest of the children in his neighborhood. They were all rich. I would see this and dream of reaching this level one day.”  

Saudi singer and oudist Mohammed Abdu, dubbed ‘The Artist of the Arabs,’ has been an inspiration to many. (Getty Images)

This was Abdu’s motive to work hard and build a name for himself. His got his first job when he was only seven, as an assistant to a mailman. He also raised money by helping housewives with their shopping and selling fruit and vegetables on the street.   

While he was interested in music as a kid, Abdu’s dream was to be involved with sailing or seamanship, like his father. He even joined a shipbuilding institute. But eventually, he abandoned the idea of becoming a sailor and turned to his true calling: music.  

Abdu began his music career in the 1960s when Saudi presenter Abbas Faiq Ghazzawi invited him to sing on the radio show “Baba Abbas.” Two songs in particular — “Al-Rasayel” and “Ab’ad” — became extremely popular. Both remain part of his live sets today. 

“Ab’ad” was a hit around the world, with Iranian and Indian translations both garnering airplay, and even European bands performing covers of the track.  

With his strong voice and distinctive style of oud playing — reminiscent of the Syrian-Egyptian virtuoso Farid Al-Atrash, Egyptian composer Baligh Hamdi, and fellow Saudi Talal Maddah — Abdu toured the world. It was at a concert in Tunisia in the 1980s that he first received the soubriquet “The Artist of the Arabs,” from then-Tunisian President Habib Bourguiba. 

At the end of the Eighties, Abdu took an abrupt sabbatical from music after the death of his beloved mother. It would be eight years before he performed or released another track.  

Egyptian singer Carmen Soliman, who partnered with Abdu after winning the first season of “Arab Idol,” releasing the 2014 Khaleeji track “Akhbari.”  (Getty Omages)

Aside from being an acclaimed performer, Abdu is also a talented composer in his own right. He wrote several of his own tracks, including “Al Remsh Al Taweel,” “Ya Shoog” and “Ya Sherouq Al Shams,” but has also written for other stars, including the Egyptian singer Carmen Soliman, who partnered with Abdu after winning the first season of “Arab Idol,” releasing the 2014 Khaleeji track “Akhbari.”  

Soliman told Arab News that composer Abdul Latif Al-Sheikh was the driving force behind this perhaps unexpected partnership. “He wished for a collaboration like that to happen, and he worked a lot until he made it happen,” she said. “I would like to thank him for choosing me. I could not believe it at the time. I felt like I would have a song in my history that would never be forgotten. And everyone would know that this song was composed by Mohammed Abdu. 

“He was my favorite singer to listen to,” she continued. “To me, Mohammed Abdu is a legend (whose like we will not see again). I love his voice. He has an amazing, strong voice. Through it, he can reach the hearts of the audience. I love his music.”  

Soliman cited “Ma’ad Badri,” “Ala El-Bal” and “Shebeeh El-Reeh” as some of her favorite Abdu songs. “His performance in these songs is non-replicable,” she said.  

Soliman also praised Abdu’s humility, which she said is not common among artists these days. “That, and his humor,” she said. “You feel like you are sitting with someone from your family. He is very down-to-earth and close to the heart.”  

Soliman is not the only singer who hails Abdu as an icon. Saudi artist Hassan Eskandarani, who is also a researcher of Saudi songs, told Arab News: “Mohammed Abdu is an independent school. He sang to all categories. 

“I can’t give my opinion on an artist who has (such a long) career,” he added. “Mohammed Abdu lives through three generations from the beginning of the Sixties. He played a pivotal role in expanding Khaleeji music outside of the Kingdom. I hope he keeps singing until he decides to stop.” 

Eskandarani says Abdu is “a stage master,” who has had a major influence on his own live performances.  

“Not everyone who sings a song on stage is a (real) singer,” he said. “Mohammed knows how to choose (songs) the fans like, so they engage with him.” 

Mohammed Abdu signs his record-breaking deal with Rotana on Nov. 8, 2022. (Supplied)

Abdu remains a vital and relevant musician. Only this month, he reportedly broke the record for the biggest acquisition of an artist’s back catalog (which includes an astonishing 122 albums) in the Middle East when Rotana announced on Nov. 8 that it had bought the rights to his works.  

“Rotana signed the largest deal of its kind in the Middle East – the agreement to purchase the full artistic content of Arab artist Mohammed Abdu,” the label announced on Instagram.  

Chairman of the Saudi General Entertainment Authority Turki Al-Sheikh said at the event: “It is a courageous move from Mohammed Abdu to give up (these precious) works that he worked hard on for 60 years. It is similar to someone giving away one of his children. 

“We at the General Entertainment Authority support the archiving of the artistic history of Saudi artists,” he added. “However, Mohamed Abdu remains ahead of the rest of the artists.”  


Fans opt for Dubai’s relaxed atmosphere over Qatar during World Cup

Fans opt for Dubai’s relaxed atmosphere over Qatar during World Cup
Updated 25 November 2022

Fans opt for Dubai’s relaxed atmosphere over Qatar during World Cup

Fans opt for Dubai’s relaxed atmosphere over Qatar during World Cup
  • Daily round trip to Qatar allows supporters to attend matches while enjoying city’s nightlife

LONDON: Dubai has enjoyed a huge boost in tourism as thousands of football fans have decided to base themselves in the UAE during the World Cup after being lured by the city’s relaxed atmosphere, the Financial Times has reported.

Supporters have reportedly preferred the vibrant UAE, making daily trips to Qatar on the shuttle flights that connect the countries during the tournament.

Fans from participating countries have opted for Dubai’s more relaxed vibes and lively nightlife over Doha’s more straitlaced atmosphere.

“If you cannot stay in Qatar, Dubai is the place you would most like to go as a foreign tourist,” said James Swanston, a Middle East and North Africa expert at Capital Economics.

“It is somewhere safe, somewhere more liberal in terms of Western norms. It is the most attractive destination.”

Concerns were raised in the weeks before the tournament about available hotel room space in Qatar, while a controversial 11th-hour U-turn to ban alcohol in and around the stadiums resulted in many fans looking for an alternative place to stay.

Dubai has been buzzing with supporters from all over the world in recent days, and they have added to the many tourists in the city in search of winter sun.

Passenger numbers have surpassed 6 million a month in the latest quarter, topping pre-pandemic levels, according to figures released by airport operators.

“Dubai has extremely strong demand at this time of year and I’m sure there will be people traveling through Dubai to the World Cup,” said Issam Kazim, chief executive of Dubai Tourism. “This tournament will be a boost for the entire region.”

Although exact figures have yet to be disclosed, the Dubai Sports Council said the city was expecting an estimated additional 1 million visitors during the course of the tournament.

Paul Griffiths, CEO of Dubai Airports, previously described the city as “the major gateway” to the World Cup and predicted it would see more tourists than Qatar itself.

However, officials say the number of fans visiting the emirate with the sole purpose of catching games in Qatar is likely to be in the low tens of thousands, or the equivalent of a three percentage point increase in hotel occupancy.

Many match tickets have been sold to expatriates living in the city, which constitute up to 90 percent of Dubai’s 3.5 million population.

Although it is still too early to evaluate the impact of the World Cup across the region, the demand for hotel rooms has seen a massive surge compared to last year.

Many of the fans who chose Dubai as their base to travel to Qatar, or as the main hub to immerse themselves in the tournament atmosphere, have had the opportunity not only to enjoy the city’s lavish lifestyle, but to explore its world-class attractions.


Hip-hop stars Busta Rhymes, Fat Joe, Future and more to join DJ Khaled at SOUNDSTORM 

Hip-hop stars Busta Rhymes, Fat Joe, Future and more to join DJ Khaled at SOUNDSTORM 
Updated 25 November 2022

Hip-hop stars Busta Rhymes, Fat Joe, Future and more to join DJ Khaled at SOUNDSTORM 

Hip-hop stars Busta Rhymes, Fat Joe, Future and more to join DJ Khaled at SOUNDSTORM 

DUBAI: Calling all fans of rap and hip-hop. Globally renowned hip-hop stars Busta Rhymes and Fat Joe will join Grammy Award-winning American rapper, songwriter and record producer Future, along with Rick Ross and T.I., on the BIG BEAST stage at SOUNDSTORM, taking place in Banban, Riyadh, from Dec. 1-3. 

The legends will perform together with DJ Khaled as part of his “DJ Khaled & Friends” set on Dec. 2.   

Future, is an American rapper, singer, and songwriter. (Supplied)

MDLBEAST Chief Operating Officer and Head of Talent Bookings and Events Talal AlBahiti said: “We always aspire to cater for our audiences’ needs, and we are pleased to bring the biggest – ever programme of internationally acclaimed artists to SOUNDSTORM for a roller-coaster of thrilling memories and memorable moments.” 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by DJ KHALED (@djkhaled)

The lineup of performers also includes Bruno Mars, Post Malone, David Guetta, DJ Snake, Carl Cox, Marshmello, Solomun and Wizkid.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by MDLBEAST (@mdlbeast)

 

It also features Saudi women DJs including Biirdperson, DJ Cosmicat, Dorar, Kayan and Solskin alongside their peers Dish Dash, Vinylmode and regional star DJ Aseel. 

Last year’s event welcomed more than 730,000 attendees.


Algerian artist Baya in the spotlight at new exhibition in Paris

Algerian artist Baya in the spotlight at new exhibition in Paris
Updated 25 November 2022

Algerian artist Baya in the spotlight at new exhibition in Paris

Algerian artist Baya in the spotlight at new exhibition in Paris
  • The iconic painter and sculptor created ‘a joyful celebration of nature and life,’ curator says 

PARIS: The mysterious Fatma Haddad – known by her artist name Baya – rose to fame aged just 16. She was elevated to the rank of icon by a generation of post-war French intellectuals. More than 20 years after her death in 1998, she continues to be venerated by critics and collectors alike. 

A new exhibition at the Institut du monde Arabe in Paris, with works donated by Claude and France Lemand, presents a selection of her drawings, gouache paintings and sculptures in a comprehensive tribute to Baya’s career, which spanned more than five decades. Many of the masterpieces on display in “Baya: Women in Their Garden,” which runs until March 2023, come from archives left by the artist’s adoptive mother, Marguerite Caminat. 

Baya at an exhibition of Algerian artists in September 1998. (A.O. Mohand-min)

Caminat was the first and greatest supporter of Baya’s exceptional artistic talent, which was noted by Parisian gallery owner Aimé Maeght on a trip to Algiers. Maeght invited the 16-year-old to contribute to a major exhibition in Paris in November 1947, where her work dazzled art lovers in the French capital, including André Breton, who wrote: “I speak not like so many others to lament an end, but to promote a beginning. The beginning of an age of emancipation and harmony, in radical rupture … And, of this beginning, Baya is queen.” 

“Baya was a gifted artist and a hard worker,” Claude Lemand, one of the exhibition’s curators, told Arab News. “She affirmed her personality, her identity, her autonomy, her decision to (be an artist) at a very young age, but without ever offending others.”  

BAYA, 'Lady and Birds in Blue,' 1993. (Alberto Ricci-min)

In 1953, Baya married musician El Hadj Mahfoud Mahieddine and took a 10-year break to devote herself to her family in their home in Blida, Algeria. When she started producing art again, new perspectives were revealed, no doubt influenced by the Algerian War of Independence, which had taken place in the interim. 

It was a pivotal period for the artist. “From 1963, she developed new themes, starting with her landscapes — her Garden of Eden — a joyful celebration of nature and life … surrounded by sunny mountains and dunes, with four rivers, the symbolic trees of Algeria — the olive tree and the date palm, and full of birds and fish of all colors. The birds sing, the fish dance,” Lemand said. “Oasis or island, the Garden of Eden has the colors of Algeria: the blue of the Mediterranean, the red of its land, the green of its vegetation, the gold of its dunes.” 

Some critics highlighted the repetitive nature of Baya’s work, and in response, Lemand explained, she developed other themes, including her “living stills,” which often incorporated musical instruments, inspired by her husband’s profession.   

“All the elements of her (still life works) are represented as living beings, their eyes always wide open to others and to the world, with expressive attitudes of seduction and mutual affection, participating in general harmony, in a symphony of forms and colors,” Lemand added. 

From 1963 onwards, Baya developed a third theme: women: “Musicians, dancers, mothers, women alone in their garden or in groups, blooming and happy, standing or sitting, surrounded by musical instruments and birds with which they converse,” Lemand said. 

Visitors to the exhibition will see the power of Baya’s joyful, vibrant paintings alongside the elegance of her clay sculptures. 

“Baya favors turquoise blue, Indian pink, emerald and deep purple. She paints with unparalleled finesse the world of childhood and motherhood, expressing her fascination for the memory of her mother,” Lemand said. “She drew first in pencil, then she put the color. She started with the women and then moved on to other elements, leaving blanks in her early works, before giving in to the ‘horror of the void’ of the Arab-Muslim aesthetic and filling with motifs all the spaces left empty in her compositions.” 

In her paintings, there is harmony between women and all living beings: “Each has their own language, which is understood by all the actors on the scene,” Lemand observed. 

Far from the naive image that some have of her work, Baya appears here as an empress of a lush kingdom where young women could freely put their dreams down on paper. As Breton wrote, Baya was the “Queen of happy Arabia.”