Moroccan rapper ElGrandeToto pledges to ‘share our stories’ ahead of first North American tour

Moroccan rapper ElGrandeToto pledges to ‘share our stories’ ahead of first North American tour
'There’s nothing we can do more than share our stories and raise our flags as high as they’ll go,' the rapper told Arab News. (Supplied)
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Updated 16 November 2023

Moroccan rapper ElGrandeToto pledges to ‘share our stories’ ahead of first North American tour

Moroccan rapper ElGrandeToto pledges to ‘share our stories’ ahead of first North American tour
  • The Moroccan hip-hop superstar has had a stellar year, but, he tells Arab News, there’s a lot more to come 

DUBAI: In 2023, the Moroccan rapper ElGrandeToto (real name Taha Fahssi) may have cemented himself as the most popular musical figure in the Arab world. On the world’s largest streaming service Spotify, the iconoclastic superstar is averaging a staggering 2.5 million monthly listeners — more than Nancy Ajram, Amr Diab or Mohamed Ramadan — a surefire sign that the region’s cultural scene is truly embracing Arabic hip-hop. But the genre’s defining artist — along with Egyptian rapper Wegz — is already aiming even higher. With his first North American tour just weeks away, and a new album coming soon, the 27-year-old star is ready to bring a style he helped innovate to the world stage.   

“I’ll be honest with you, growing up, I never thought any of this was possible,” Fahssi tells Arab News. “I never thought I would be able to make a living at this level, let alone perform on stage at the El Rey Theatre in Los Angeles. But once I started to put my all into this, it all started to feel inevitable. 

“It’s also not lost on me that this is happening at a time when the entire world is resonating with the joy and the pain of our region. People are rallying behind Palestine at a moment of deep injustice, just as they rallied behind Morocco at the World Cup last year when they defied all expectations,” he continues. “It feels like God is watching all of us, and there’s nothing we can do more than share our stories and raise our flags as high as they’ll go.”  

There was one moment in the life of Fahssi — born in Casablanca in 1996 — that changed everything. Ironically, it was also the moment he lost everything. It was 2016, and the then-20-year-old had not yet decided what to do with his life, often fleetingly inspired by different interests that he’d never followed through. He’d long been drawn to music and dance, and had flirted with the idea of becoming a rapper, but even privately it seemed like nothing but another one of his temporary dreams.  

“Around that time, I’d started telling myself that I was finally going to get a proper job — a normal job in a call center or something. I was sure I was just going to stick with society’s plan, the normal path for an ordinary life. And then a funny thing happened. My house burned down,” says Fahssi. 

In the weeks before the fire, hip-hop had dominated his focus. He’d been practicing his rhymes, and in the days leading up to the fated event he had bought a number of items for a potential studio at his house so he could start recording what he’d sketched out (“I was only missing a pair of headphones,” he says). With the set up nearly finished, he went home to find that no home remained.  

“I realized, standing there, how quickly everything can disappear. At the end of the day, there’s so much you can’t control — but there’s still a lot you can. So I told myself I’m going to live this life exactly as I want it and, at that moment, I wanted to do rap music. When God wants me back, I’ll go, but until then I’m going to give this my soul. As long as I’m alive, I’m going to do this my own way,” says Fahssi. 

“Thank God I listened to myself for the first time in my life. And good thing it was also the first time I had a good idea, you know?” he continues with a laugh.  

His family was not as receptive as he’d hoped, though. They wanted him to go back to school, to continue on with the ordinary life that he’d been touting just days before, unaware that he was newly determined to accomplish much more than any of them could have imagined. He made a deal with them: “Give me one year, and If I mess it up, I’m going to do whatever you want me to do,” he recalls. He knew already that day would never come.  

“A part of me knew what I was going to say in my rhymes since I was in fourth grade, but I had a lot of work to do. After the incident, I prepared myself deeply for six months, practicing and working at it tirelessly. And then the very day that I told myself I was ready, I went straight into the booth to record, and dropped my first single directly after,” Fahssi says. “And you know what? It put me straight on the map. Straight. Within nine months of starting, I had my first hit. Everything came together super-quick.”  

If there’s one thing that the rapper attributes his near-instant success to, it’s honesty. His music resonates, he believes, because he channels both his culture and himself as authentically as possible. Outside of music, he often bites his tongue and shies away from conflict, but when he’s rapping as ElGrandeToto, he lets his innermost thoughts out in a way that connects with audiences across the region, and now the world.  

“My art represents not only myself, but all the people like me,” he says. “In some ways that’s a mindset, in other ways that’s a shared journey. But it’s also about being able to reveal the things that are hard to say. Sometimes you’re just not doing well, and I’ll communicate that rather than try to cater to something contrived. 

“I suppose the difference between me as a rapper and me as a person (is that) in my music, I don’t have any filters, or any boundaries. I’ll say what I truly think rather than be polite as I would as myself. I’m a caring person, but I’m a freaking stupid artist, you know? I’m a crazy artist,” he continues. “But it works.”  

As proud as he is of his own success, what excites him most is the voices that are rising in the scene around him. A movement cannot be made of just one or two, after all. He’s bowled over by the voices he hears coming out across the region, from rapper Afroto in Egypt — who he believes marks the true future of that scene — to A.L.A. and Samara in Tunisia, and rising rapper Haleem from Sudan.  

“I never thought I’d hear something this good coming out of Sudan, but, with all the crises and difficulties, these amazing talents still find a way to emerge. And there are so many others. I’m hearing their songs played in clubs all over Europe, and it makes me so happy. Even if we’re all different nationalities, we’re still the same squad, and have the same goals,” he says. “It makes me so proud, and makes me work even harder. We’re all about to take this to another level.” 

Brazil’s Foz do Iguacu, Jordan’s Petra become sister cities

Brazil’s Foz do Iguacu, Jordan’s Petra become sister cities
Updated 01 March 2024

Brazil’s Foz do Iguacu, Jordan’s Petra become sister cities

Brazil’s Foz do Iguacu, Jordan’s Petra become sister cities
  • This year is 65th anniversary of diplomatic ties between the two countries
  • Mayor: Brazil seeks to ‘strengthen commercial, cultural, friendship relations’ with Arab states

SAO PAULO: Foz do Iguacu in Brazil and Petra in Jordan officially became sister cities this week.
A memorandum of understanding was signed by Foz do Iguacu’s Mayor Chico Brasileiro and Maen Masadeh, Jordan’s ambassador to Brazil.
The ceremony took place at the Palacio Cataratas, the city hall headquarters in Foz do Iguacu.
The MoU consolidates a partnership that promises to strengthen cooperation in various areas such as culture, local economic development, public services and social policies.
“In 2024, we celebrate 65 years of diplomatic relations between Brazil and Jordan, and signing this document … means that we (Foz do Iguacu and Petra) are aligned with foreign policy,” Masadeh said.
The process began in 2018 when the Foz do Iguacu city hall expressed its interest in establishing ties with Petra, recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the Wonders of the World.
Foz do Iguacu has one of the seven Natural Wonders, the Iguacu Falls, and one of the Wonders of the World, the Itaipu Dam.
“We are very excited about this partnership,” Brasileiro said at the signing ceremony. “This is a strategy of Brazil, to … strengthen its commercial, cultural and friendship relations with Arab countries.”
The first concrete step toward implementing the MoU took place on Thursday with the opening of the exhibition “City of Petra, Jordan” at the Cultural Foundation in Foz do Iguacu.
The free exhibition, which will continue until the end of March, portrays the historical and archaeological richness of Petra in southern Jordan, with stunning images, authentic artifacts and detailed information.
“The presence of this exhibition in our city is not only a celebration of the history and beauty of Petra, but also a bridge that connects our communities in a special way,” said Juca Rodrigues, president of the foundation.
“Cultural diversity is a treasure that should be shared and appreciated by all, and this exhibition is a crucial step in that direction.”
Jihad Abu Ali, director of international affairs in Foz do Iguacu, said: “This is a moment of joy and fulfillment, as we see the materialization of the fruit of a collective effort to promote cultural understanding and friendship between our communities.”

AlUla gets its very first global campaign, ‘Forever Revitalising’

AlUla gets its very first global campaign, ‘Forever Revitalising’
Updated 01 March 2024

AlUla gets its very first global campaign, ‘Forever Revitalising’

AlUla gets its very first global campaign, ‘Forever Revitalising’

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia’s ancient city of AlUla is launching its first-ever global marketing campaign.

Revealed on Feb. 29 with launch events in six major international cities — Dubai, London, New York, Paris, Shanghai and Mumbai — “Forever Revitalizing” is being described as a “data-driven endeavor” that aims to redefine tourism in the region.

Melanie D’Souza, executive director of destination marketing at The Royal Commission for AlUla, described the new brand campaign as a “transformative moment” for AlUla as it looks beyond the historic site’s travel potential to spotlight the programs and initiatives designed to “create a better future for all those who live, work and visit our ancient oasis.

“This initiative redefines AlUla as more than just a travel destination by emphasizing its profound heritage, breathtaking landscapes and rich cultural tapestry, presenting a holistic view that transcends the conventional,” she told Arab News in an email interview.

As AlUla’s first-ever global marketing campaign, “Forever Revitalizing” has been launched with the goal of transforming the city into a world-renowned heritage and cultural destination.

“At its core, ‘Forever Revitalising’ aims to drive visitor numbers and spur economic prosperity by showcasing AlUla’s comprehensive revitalization efforts. From ecological restoration projects within nature reserves to the rejuvenation of age-old crafts and traditions, and the advancement of local skills and cultural enrichment, the campaign positions AlUla as a pioneering figure in the creation of an experience-driven economy,” said D’Souza.

AlUla Old Town. (Supplied)

The new campaign coincides with a significant increase in visitor numbers to AlUla, rising from 185,000 in 2022 to 263,000 last year, she added.

Additionally, the share of international visitors increased from 25 percent to 35 percent, reflecting the destination’s growing global appeal.

“This aligns with AlUla’s strategic vision for ‘light touch tourism,’ aiming to attract 1.1 million visitors by 2030, while steadfastly maintaining its commitment to sustainability and preserving the destination’s integrity,” she said.

Hegra AlUla. (Supplied)

The campaign is specifically targeting four kinds of travelers: The luxe seeker, wanderlust nomad, intrepid voyager, and affluent and active retirees. This highlights AlUla’s amibition to remain a luxury destination.

“Modern tourists, increasingly disillusioned with overcrowded and inauthentic destinations, seek authentic, meaningful connections. They prefer destinations that offer a genuine sense of place, sustainability and social responsibility — qualities that AlUla has been promoting since opening its doors to the world three years ago,” said D’Souza.

The recently opened Dar Tantora The House Hotel in AlUla Old Town is a promising new addition to the area, D’Souza said.

The hotel was designed by Egyptian architect Shahira Fahmy.

Fahmy, who was selected by The Royal Commission for AlUla, and her team restored 30 buildings in the historical village. They turned multiple old two-story mud-brick buildings into the boutique hotel.  

The architect previously told Arab News that the early inhabitants in the city used the ground floor as a workplace and to meet with family and friends, while the first floor was for bedrooms and bathrooms.  

People who lived in the city 800 years ago whitewashed the interior walls and adorned them with red and blue murals, Fahmy said. Her team managed to preserve the existing designs in collaboration with the archaeological team. 

Banyan Tree Resort AlUla Canyon Pool. (Supplied)

“This boutique hotel revitalizes the ancient mud-brick structures of Old Town, which was continuously inhabited since the 12th century until the 1980s. It stands out for its commitment to cultural preservation, employing local artisans for restoration efforts and showcasing the area’s rich heritage through traditional decor, furniture and artistic treatments, complemented by storytelling elements that bring the intangible heritage of the area to life,” she added.

Looking ahead, three new luxury hotels are all set to open in AlUla.

“The Sharaan Resort by Jean Nouvel, inspired by ancient Nabataean architecture, promises to blend seamlessly with the Sharaan Nature Reserve’s landscape, embodying innovative design while respecting the environment,” said D’Souza.

“The Chedi Hegra is another milestone, positioned within Saudi Arabia’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site, Hegra. Opening in mid-2024, it will offer guests unparalleled access to the historic site, featuring guest rooms with views of Hegra’s monumental landscape, an International Summit Center, hospitality pavilions and private villas,” she added.

In 2027, AlUla will welcome the AZULIK AlUla Resort. “This project, a collaboration between AZULIK and Roth Architecture, will be located in the Nabatean Horizon District, integrating design elements that highlight ancient rock art, utilize natural waterways for irrigation and promote eco-friendly transport to minimize environmental impact,” said D’Souza.

British e-tailer unveils modest fashions for Ramadan by global designers

British e-tailer unveils modest fashions for Ramadan by global designers
Updated 01 March 2024

British e-tailer unveils modest fashions for Ramadan by global designers

British e-tailer unveils modest fashions for Ramadan by global designers
  • Creations of 30 regional and international designers will be available until the end of April

DUBAI: British luxury e-tail platform Farfetch has unveiled a modest-wear fashion campaign for Ramadan by 30 regional and international designers, which will be available until the end of April.

Beyond ready-to-wear garments, the exclusive collections also have fine jewelry, footwear and homeware.

The participating labels include Dubai-based brands Bambah, Baruni and Dina Melwani, Italian label Brunello Cucinelli, Swiss jewelry brand Chopard, South African British label De Beers, Lebanese brands Jean Louis Sabaji, Saiid Kobeisy and Rayane Bacha, Italian fashion house Missoni, Turkish label Les Ottomans, British label Malone, Budapest-based fashion house Nanushka, Amsterdam-based brand Polspotten, Australian label Rachel Gilbert, New York-based Sachin & Babi, Emirati label Shatha Essa and British brand Yoko London.

Gaby Charbachy, Isabel Marant. (Supplied)

From impeccably tailored suits to striking kaftans, modest evening dresses to luxurious loungewear, the collections cater to various tastes and occasions, with a focus on the social aspect of the month of Ramadan.

Egyptian designer Maha Abdul Rasheed, founder of Bambah, told Arab News: “We are so proud to be partnering with Farfetch once again for this year’s modest-wear campaign. The marketplace business model is diverse, efficient and helps us work at a sustainable pace.”

Bambah. (Supplied)

“The platform itself is also very technologically advanced which helps us streamline operations and logistics in a timely manner,” she added.

From glamorous evening gowns adorned with elaborate embellishments to chic separates with a modern twist, Bambah ensembles work well for a formal sahoor gathering.

Shatha Essa. (Supplied)

Emirati designer Essa said the inspiration for her capsule collection “draws from the intricate interplay of nature’s subtleties, reimagined through an abstract lens, emphasizing the brand’s commitment to innovation and luxury.”

She added that Farfetch has been “a gate to the world for Shatha Essa.”

“(It is) an invaluable platform to showcase our collections,” the Dubai-based contemporary womenswear expert told Arab News. “The platform has significantly amplified our reach, enabling our unique and traditional designs to touch a wider, discerning audience.”

Essa’s collections often feature luxurious fabrics, intricate embroidery and embellishments. Whether it is a flowing abaya, a structured blazer, or a statement dress, Essa’s designs blend traditional elements with contemporary silhouettes.

Saudi fashion shines at Paris Fashion Week: 16 designers showcase latest collections

Saudi fashion shines at Paris Fashion Week: 16 designers showcase latest collections
Updated 01 March 2024

Saudi fashion shines at Paris Fashion Week: 16 designers showcase latest collections

Saudi fashion shines at Paris Fashion Week: 16 designers showcase latest collections

DUBAI: Sixteen Saudi fashion designers are showing off their latest collections at an international wholesale exhibition during Paris Fashion Week.

The Saudi 100 Brands showcase, which runs until March 2, is an initiative spearheaded by the Saudi Fashion Commission and aims to position Saudi designers and brands within the global fashion landscape.

Karen Wazen at the showcase. (Supplied)

This season’s presentation features all-women-owned and led brands.

The festivities are taking place at the historic Les Cordeliers, coinciding with the women’s segment of Paris Fashion Week.

The participating brands include The Dropped Collection. (Supplied)

“The event includes fashion shows and celebratory gatherings, highlighting the cultural richness and creative prowess of Saudi fashion,” a statement from the Saudi Fashion Commission read.

The participating designers include Mona Alshebil, Apoa, Ashwaq Almarshad, Chador, Charmaleena, Dazluq, Kaf by Kaf, Mashael Al-Faris, MD29, Abadia, Pavone, RMRM, Samar Nasraldin, The Dropped Collection, Yasmina Q and Yataghan Jewellery.

Georgina Rodriguez stars in new campaign for Arab lenses brand

Georgina Rodriguez stars in new campaign for Arab lenses brand
Updated 01 March 2024

Georgina Rodriguez stars in new campaign for Arab lenses brand

Georgina Rodriguez stars in new campaign for Arab lenses brand

DUBAI: Argentine model Georgina Rodriguez is starring in another campaign for Arab brand Amara Lenses, whose products are available in the Gulf region.

In the short clip, posted on the brand’s Instagram page on Thursday, the Netflix star was spotted sporting the company’s brown and grey lenses.


A post shared by Amara Lenses (@amaralenses)

In one shot, she was seen wearing face accessories inspired by the Gulf region’s burqa.  

“Introducing our latest collection in collaboration with Georgina Rodriguez,” the brand captioned the post on Instagram.


A post shared by Amara Lenses (@amaralenses)

Rodriguez, who is now based in Saudi Arabia with her partner Portuguese footballer Cristiano Ronaldo and their children, was named the brand ambassador in March 2023.

“I’m so happy to be the face of Amara Lenses and it’s been wonderful to work with you,” she said in a video shared on the brand’s Instagram page at the time.


A post shared by Amara Lenses (@amaralenses)

Amara Lenses has previously collaborated with regional influencers including Saudi Arabian makeup artist Shouq Artist, Kuwaiti fashion blogger Fouz Al-Fahad, Bahraini content creator Zainab Al-Alwan, Kuwaiti influencer Fatima Al-Momen, and Egyptian actress Nour Ghandou.

The Arab brand sells lenses in various shades of grey, brown, green and blue.