x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

A song of success for Shamma Hamdan

The young singer will carry the hopes of an entire nation when she takes the stage on Friday night. We sit down with her older sister, Salama, to learn more about the first Emirati woman to make it to the finals of the hit reality show Arabs Got Talent.

The 18-year-old Emirati Shamma Hamdan has made it to the finals of Arabs Got Talent. Courtesy of MBC
The 18-year-old Emirati Shamma Hamdan has made it to the finals of Arabs Got Talent. Courtesy of MBC

It is not just Shamma Hamdan, the 18-year-old singer-songwriter and the only Emirati contestant on Arabs Got Talent, who is feeling the tension before her showdown on Friday night's live final of the popular talent competition. Her Dubai-based family are biting their nails in anticipation.

Speaking before jetting off to Beirut with her parents to join her now-famous younger sister, Salama, 20, explains that the last six weeks have been a whirlwind of activity for the family.

"I remember Shamma telling us her aim was to see whether she could get to the live-performance round in Lebanon," she recalls. "But none of us expected her to get this far. It is really something quite unbelievable."

Then again, Salama was aware of her sister's burgeoning talent, even before Hamdan herself.

"We would go to our friends' place or they would come to ours and Shamma would pull out her guitar," she says.

"Shamma would just play and I would watch how our friends were listening to her; they were really held captive by her performance. I just knew Shamma had something special."

Salama used that reasoning to convince her sister to enter the competition. Her advice was simple: be yourself.

The judges and television audience have embraced the 18-year-old Hamdan, who has thundered through to reach the finals with her unique musical blend of Khaleeji balladry and Spanish flamenco. Salama describes her sister's style as the culmination of her varied music collection, ranging from Khaleeji music to Western pop and rock. More impressively, Salama says her sister's fusion approach could attract new fans to Emirati and Khaleeji music.

"Shamma is unique in that way," she says. "There will be people who sometimes don't listen to that style of music because they think it is just the oud, but Shamma has shown it can be much more than only that. I think this is why the judges like her."

It may also be the reason why some segments of UAE society have criticised Hamdan's appearance on the talent show.

Hamdan has endured criticism on social networking sites for her initial appearance on the show in May, where she wore a purple suede jacket and a bandanna around her neck, and sported short, wavy hair.

Salama explains that the rebuke had also stung the family but they were consoled by the even greater support she received from locals.

"At first, it did hurt because they were talking about our little sister and member of our family," she says. "But later on, when people saw her talent, the number of fans overshadowed all of that, so it worked out well in the end."

With only two days to go until the final of Arabs Got Talent, Salama says she is not worried about her sister falling victim to stage fright. Instead, it is Hamdan's other tests occupying the family's mind.

"She has her school exams two days after the final," says Salama.

"We hope she can balance that pressure of the final and her studies all together, because it will be a very busy time for her."

With a family holiday to Europe on the cards during the Eid break, Hamdan is perhaps set to receive the best reward of all.

Arabs Got Talent, screening live from Beirut, airs on the Dubai-based satellite channel MBC4 on Friday at 10pm. The first prize is 500,000 Saudi riyals (Dh490,000) and a new Chevy Camaro, not to mention possible stardom.